Midlands North West: European election constituency profile
Fine Gael’s Mairéad McGuinness and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan both likely to be returned
Peter Casey: The runner-up in the presidential election is standing here as an Independent candidate. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Covering 15 counties and extending from Malin Head to the M50, from Claddagh to the Cooley peninsula, the Midlands North West constituency gained no seat from the Brexit boundary revisions and so will return four MEPs again to the European Parliament in the forthcoming election.
However, there will be change here as sitting MEP Marian Harkin is not standing again, while Fianna Fáil – which won no seat in the 2014 election – is expected by most observers to take a seat this time. Will it be a straight swap with Harkin, with former minister and current Cavan Monaghan TD Brendan Smith (FF) slotting in?
Not if Peter Casey has his way. The runner-up in the presidential election is standing here as an Independent candidate (despite previous outreaches to Fianna Fáil) and his presence is the biggest wild card in the race. Few local or national observers predict Casey’s performance with much confidence.
They do agree on some other things, though. The first is that Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness is odds on to be returned. Her running mate, the former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh, has been attempting to get traction via the time-honoured device of picking a fight with her colleague, but there’s hardly two Fine Gael seats here, and if there’s only one it’s McGuinness’s.
Fianna Fáil’s candidate strategy went badly awry here in 2014, winning 18 per cent of the vote but splitting it too evenly and thus failing to make the 20 per cent quota. That probably won’t happen again, and transfers from the Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte should see Smith over the line.
Visible and active
Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy came second last time with nearly 115,000 votes (the quota was 129,000), and he has been visible and active since then. He will also have the benefit of the Sinn Féin election machine stumping for him in parallel with the local election campaign. Even if these are less propitious times for his party, Carthy can probably afford to drop votes and still win a seat.
The Roscommon-based Independent Luke “Ming” Flanagan topped the poll here the last time with 124,000 votes, and was elected on the second count. Flanagan rode the waves of popular discontent with austerity in 2014 to achieve that huge vote – as well as winning support on hot local issues such as turf-cutting in the west of Ireland – but he has been assiduous in cultivating his anti-establishment base since then.
He has been a frequent critic of the EU, and used social media to speak to his voters over the heads the established media, of which he is frequently hostile.
The age of austerity is over, and past results are not necessarily a guide to future performance, but it would be a shock were Flanagan to lose so many votes as to put his seat in danger. So where’s the room for Casey?
He will need a massive first preference vote to elbow his way into this contest, and while he certainly displayed an ability to do that at the presidential election, this is a different sort of contest.
For a start it’s not a foregone conclusion as the presidency was.
Secondly, the two big guns, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, are in the game this time. And it’s hard to see Casey attracting many transfers from the Green and Labour candidates if and when they are eliminated. Sources on the ground report little sign of a campaign yet, and Casey’s expert use of the media during the presidential election might be hard to repeat.
None of which means he can’t get elected. But it does mean he will have quite a battle on his hands to dislodge either Flanagan or Carthy, his most likely route to a seat.
Midlands North West (4 seats):
Cyril Brennan (Solidarity-People Before Profit)
Matt Carthy (Sinn Féin)*
Peter Casey (Independent)
Luke “Ming” Flanagan (Independent)*
Patrick Greene (Direct Democracy Ireland)
Dominic Hannigan (Labour)
Fidelma Healy Eames (Independent)
Dilip Mahapatra (Independent)
Mairéad McGuinness (Fine Gael)*
Saoirse McHugh (Green Party)
James Miller (Independent)
Diarmaid Mulcahy (Independent)
Olive O’Connor (Independent)
Michael O’Dowd (Renua)
Anne Rabbitte (Fianna Fáil)
Brendan Smith (Fianna Fáil)
Maria Walsh (Fine Gael)
* Sitting MEPs