Massive South stretches from Bray to Baltimore
Of the leading contenders, only FG’s Simon Harris is based in Leinster
While Fine Gael’s Simon Harris in Wicklow came in late, he is an energetic campaigner. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
South is a behemoth of a constituency and another illustration of the ridiculous nature of Ireland’s European electoral areas. It takes in 10 counties: the whole of Munster and the four southern counties of Leinster. Like Midlands-North West, it is impossible to imagine it as a self-standing entity, stretching as it does from Bray to Baltimore.
Half of Leinster is in Midlands North-West and half is in South. Of the main contenders, only Fine Gael’s Simon Harris is based in Leinster.
There are 15 candidates vying for four seats. European elections have a knack of upsetting predictions from the commentariat but of the three constituencies this seems the most straightforward.
The most surprising thing about South is who’s not in the race. There’s a strong tradition here of Independent candidates – TJ Maher and Kathy Sinnott, for example. While the likes of Independent Diarmuid O’Flynn will be carrying the flag, it’s surprising no strong IFA figure has put their head above the parapet.
The departure of Nessa Childers will make Sinn Féin’s task easier, as it will become the main repository of anti-Government and anti-Fianna Fáil votes. Its candidate, Liadh Ní Riada, was hired by Sinn Féin three years ago as its Irish language officer. Now the likelihood is she’s going to be an MEP without most people knowing very much about her.
Sinn Féin is showing in the mid-to-high teens in various polls, which places Ní Riada in contention. Toireasa Ferris got more than 13 per cent of the vote in 2009 but was nowhere in the hunt because she could not pick up transfers (it was only a three-seater then with a quota of 25 per cent). Sinn Féin has tended to score a few points more in opinion polls than its actual voting turn-out. Even if that is the case this time, she will attract more transfers and has no real rival for the fourth seat (unless an Independent comes from nowhere or Phil Prendergast can rouse dormant Labour voters with a high-risk campaign that’s very critical of her own party in Government).
What can be said with certainty is that Fianna Fáil’s Brian Crowley will be elected with a quota of votes and that Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly will poll respectably.
Crowley’s vote-catching abilities are phenomenal and he will do well irrespective of his party’s fortunes. The problem for the party is what’s known as quota-squatting – there’s no vote management or sharing. In 2009, Ned O’Keeffe was Crowley’s running mate and got 3 per cent of the vote. This time around it’s Kieran Hartley, who will do well to surpass that.
Fine Gael strategy
Fine Gael’s strategy makes more sense. Deirdre Clune has thrown everything at the campaign and has an army of helpers and a seemingly big war chest. With three strong candidates, Fine Gael should be in with a strong chance of taking a second seat. But don’t discount Harris in Wicklow. He came in late but is an energetic campaigner and he isn’t there to make up the numbers.
For Phil Prendergast it’s a tall order. Alan Kelly took the seat for Labour in 2009 because of an ability to attract transfers. Labour’s corporate brand is low and Prendergast can’t rely on transfers this time. She needs a high number of first preferences and it’s debatable whether she’ll get enough of them.
Of the rest, O’Flynn, who has fronted the bondholder bailout protesters Ballyhea says No campaign, is an interesting candidate who will attract anti-establishment and eurosceptic votes, but may not threaten the outcome. The Green Party candidate, Grace O’Sullivan, a Rainbow Warrior veteran and a former Irish surfing champion, is very interesting but her party has not recovered sufficiently. As of now, it looks like Crowley, Kelly, Ní Riada and Clune.