Noel Whelan: Expect surprises in European elections

Fianna Fáil appear set to regain foothold in Dublin with Barry Andrews

The analysis of election polls and counts inevitably moves quickly in the battles for the later seats in each constituency. Often the dramatic shifts reflected in who won the early seats are glossed over irrespective of how dramatic those achievements are in real terms.

We have already seen a bit of that in the coverage of the current European elections. The only poll published to date on the three euro constituencies was conducted by Ipsos MRBI and carried here in The Irish Times on Friday, May 10th. The poll comes with a higher than usual margin of error but Ipsos MRBI has a good record, particularly at predicting the first-count vote share.

The most emphatic revelations in last week’s poll was the phenomenal support indicated for two Fine Gael female politicians.

Maireád McGuinness polled 26 per cent in the Midlands North and West constituency. It is not surprising given her track record that she would top the poll but the fact that one in every four voters is likely to vote for her is remarkable. If the turnout next week mirrors that in 2014, then McGuinness could get about 180,000 votes, about 50,000 over the quota. Apart from our two former presidents, this would be the highest vote ever achieved by a female politician in Ireland in any election.


The surge in McGuinness’s vote is attributable to her growing standing in the European Parliament where she is now senior vice-president, her prominence and ability in the Brexit debate including on both British and Irish media and the additional vote available now that Marian Harkin is retiring. McGuinness’s vote share is all the more remarkable in circumstances where her Fine Gael running mate also polled 11 per cent.

The other phenomenal level of support indicated in the poll was the 22 per cent for Frances Fitzgerald in Dublin. Brian Hayes, the sole Fine Gael candidate in Dublin in 2014, got just 15.6 per cent. Fitzgerald looks to have nearly half of that again in circumstances where she has a running mate, Mark Durcan, who is polling a respectably, if inadequate, 7 per cent.

Badly treated

The size of Fitzgerald’s vote reflects more than just her profile as a former minister and tánaiste. It is an emphatic statement by Fine Gael voters and by many non-Fine Gael voters that they see her as having been badly treated when she was forced to resign from Cabinet in December 2017. Her massive vote next week will follow on from her exoneration at the Disclosure Tribunal. On first sight of Fitzgerald’s polls figures last week, one Fine Gael wag commented “well she has Jim O’Callaghan – the Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson – to thank for that!”

The size of Fitzgerald's vote reflects more than just her profile as a former minister and tánaiste

Fianna Fáil will suck up that slagging in circumstances where the same poll has good news for them in Dublin. They haven’t had an MEP in the capital since 2009 and they got only 13 per cent in 2014. Last week’s poll shows their candidate Barry Andrews on 18 per cent. As a former minister himself, the son of a former minister and the nephew of a four-term MEP, Andrews starts out with political advantages. That said, the fact the poll shows him so well-placed in what has been bad terrain for Fianna Fáil of late is an achievement worth pausing to reflect upon.

Agriculture vote

Another performance worthy of mention is that of Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly on 18 per cent and topping the polls in Ireland South. This is after all his third outing and it is some 16 years since he first came to national prominence as president of the GAA. The surprisingly strong Fine Gael performer in this constituency is Wicklow-based deputy Andrew Doyle. Doyle is a softly spoken but solid Minister of State and the fact that he is on 10 per cent suggests a capacity to garner the agriculture vote and a determination by voters in the Leinster counties in this constituency to have at least one of the seats go to a candidate from their area.

Andrew Doyle is a solid Minister of State and his 10 per cent suggests a capacity to garner the agriculture vote

Another performance of note is that of Luke “Ming” Flanagan who comes in second in Midlands North West on 16 per cent. It is no mean achievement for an MEP without a party machine to hold on to a European Parliament seat. Flanagan has had a low profile in national media over the last five years. He says that this is because it fails to cover his work. He is obviously doing something right however.

Finally, the poll reveals how two young and relatively politically inexperienced candidates could pull off real surprises next weekend. The two I will be watching closely are Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne, a Gorey-based county councillor who is surprisingly close to the party frontbencher Billy Kelleher in Ireland South; and Fine Gael’s Maria Walsh, a complete political novice who may pull off a second seat for Fine Gael in Midlands North West.