The European elections in two weeks time will be the most significant since Irish voters first elected their MEPs in 1979. The leaders of the 27 remaining EU states are currently attempting to chart the future of the European project without the United Kingdom and the new European Parliament will have a critical part to play in that process.
The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll indicates that the State's two biggest parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are set to do well. Despite considerable uncertainty over the shape of the next parliament amid political upheaveal in so many member states, both Irish parties are affiliated to groups that will play prominent parts in shaping its politics. That could suggest that European issues are beginning to have some impact on the Irish electorate and that they are choosing how to vote accordingly. But a simpler explanation could be that the big parties have the best known candidates.
The poll findings indicate that Fine Gael is in a strong position to retain its current four seats and possibly gain an extra one while Fianna Fáil should improve on its dismal performance last time around when it won just one seat. It has a realistic chance of three this time. Fine Gael is doing much better in this poll than it did in the last European election in 2014, particularly in Dublin and Midlands North West, while the Fianna Fáil vote is more evenly spread across the three constituencies.
The Sinn Féin vote is down on 2014, particularly in Dublin where it is facing stiff competition from a plethora of left-wing candidates, and the party will be under some pressure to hold its current three seats. However, it is likely to do so if it gets transfers from the small left-wing parties as the counts progress. Independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan is well positioned to hold his seat but he could be the only Independent to get elected this time around in contrast to the last European election when three Independents were successful.
Prominent left-wing Independents4Change TD Clare Daly has a chance in Dublin. She is marginally ahead of Ciarán Cuffe of the Greens and Alex White of Labour but any one of them could be elected depending on the order of elimination. On past performance the Greens tend to be more transfer friendly than others as the counts progress so the party has a good chance of regaining the seat held for two terms by Patricia McKenna.
A complicating factor in this election is that two of the Irish seats will not be allocated until the British have finally left the EU. It means that the candidates elected to the fourth seat in Dublin and the fifth seat in the South will be left in limbo until Brexit becomes a reality. There is even a possibility that they will never be able to take their seats if the British ultimately decide to stay.