The European elections

 

DESPITE THE anger with the Government being reported from the doorsteps, today’s Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll shows it is quite possible that Fianna Fáil could return with four, or more probably three seats in the European Parliament elections. The swing against the party is not as pronounced in the poll on these elections as it would be if a general election was to be held now. But fewer seats, higher thresholds and greater recognition of existing MEPs could ensure the national mood is more disguised than it is likely to be in the local elections and the two Dáil byelections in Dublin on June 5th.

Opposition parties with established candidates will certainly benefit from the public’s anger. In each of the four three-seat European constituencies there are clear indications that there will be tight battles for the final seat, with transfers making a real difference. Since there are another 20 days to go before voting it is perilous to make hard predictions. Late surges such as those which gave Dana Rosemary Scallon her seat in 1999 or Kathy Sinnott in 2004 may well happen this time too. But on the evidence of this poll Declan Ganley of Libertas, for example, has as yet too narrow a base in Galway and too few indicated transfers to gain a seat in North West – unless he doubles his first preferences. In contrast Nessa Childers for Labour in East has a good chance of a seat, and Alan Kelly of Labour in South a sporting one. Eoin Ryan of Fianna Fáil is struggling to hold on in Dublin.

What stands out in this poll is the personal performance of Gay Mitchell and Proinsias De Rossa in Dublin; Mairead McGuinness and Liam Aylward in East; Jim Higgins and the Pat “The Cope” Gallagher in North West; and Brian Crowley, in particular, in Munster. It would seem, on the basis of this poll, that high profile candidates can buck the national trends in the European elections.

Relatively high figures for “don’t know” and lower ones for “will not vote” make it difficult to predict levels of turnout. These have been coming down in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union, reflecting voter ignorance or apathy about what is at stake. This is largely because of a failing in the political process rather than any lack of power for the European Parliament. On the contrary, it has steadily increased its role, with some 80 per cent of EU legislation now passed by co-decision between the Council of Ministers and the parliament. This proportion will increase further if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.

The parliament’s work is difficult to understand because legislation is elongated, party alignments are not as clear as in domestic politics and the relationship between voter preferences, executive decision and policy outcomes is unsatisfactorily obscure.

But, by and large, it would seem that the electorate has a different mindset when it is contemplating how votes will be cast in the European elections as distinct from its domestic disappointments with its political parties.