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Fianna Fáil battling to hold Midlands North West seat in Europe

Comment & Opinion

EYES ON THE PRIZE Fine Gael European candidate Maria Walsh pictured with optician Ciara McHugh while canvassing in Ballinrobe last week. A recent Irish Times poll puts the Shrule native in with a good chance of taking a seat. Pic: Conor McKeown

THE public have always been notoriously slow to engage in European elections and it is only now, ten days before polling, that most of the electorate are seriously contemplating who to give their European vote to.
Indeed, one does wonder what the turnout for a European election would be if it was not run on the same day as the local elections. Turnout is expected to be in the region of 70 percent on May 24 but it is probably safe to assume if the European election was a standalone, the turnout would be closer to that which turned out for last year’s Presidential election, which had only a 43.9 percent turnout.
However, last week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll will have focused the minds of the electorate and the poll for the four seats in Midlands North West predicts a proper dogfight for the last seat.
Fine Gael’s Mairéad McGuinness looks well on her way to retaining her seat in the European Parliament and that’s hardly a surprise, given the fact she is one of the most recognisable MEPs in the country. What is surprising is that she looks like substantially increasing her vote, with the poll having her on a huge 26 percent, up from just the 14.2 she got in the 2014 election. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is on 16 percent, down 3 percent from his poll-topping performance in 2014, but he too looks a shoo-in if that poll is accurate.
There are 15 other candidates in a big field but the poll suggests that realistically, only four of them have a chance of taking one of the two remaining seats, and a number of factors will come into play to determine who will be successful.
Sitting Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy polled 17.7 percent in the 2014 election and although The Irish Times poll only had him at 14 percent, that would probably be just about a good enough first preference total to get him over the line.
The main interest locally here in Mayo in the European election will be on the performance of former Rose of Tralee winner, and Fine Gael candidate, Maria Walsh. The Shrule native will undoubtedly have been nervous ahead of the publication of The Irish Times poll as she was probably very unsure of her position in the field, but she will be delighted to see she seems to be most definitely in the race for that final seat, on a mark of 11 percent.
However, there must be some doubt over the veracity of a poll that puts the two Fine Gael candidates on a whopping 37 percent, and leaves Fianna Fáil trailing on just 13 percent for their two candidates, so Walsh will know that one good poll result is not a guarantee of anything.
Peter Casey will too have been unsure of his standing before the poll but his late entry into the race has created more uncertainty and, at 9 percent, he certainly will have a bearing on who takes the last seat, if he does not take it himself.
Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith will be disappointed with a showing of 8 percent, as will his running mate Anne Rabbitte on 5 percent, but as previously mentioned, 13 percent seems a ridiculously low overall percentage for Fianna Fáil when one considers that they mustered almost 18 percent in a poor 2014 campaign.
Rabbitte especially will be hoping for a big vote in her native Galway and from the Fianna Fáil grassroots here in Mayo, and with no Marian Harkin in the race this time, she will be hopeful that the other counties in Connacht will also row in behind her.
So although it has been a slow burner to date, it looks like we are in for an exciting contest here in the Midlands North West constituency. As always with elections, the bookmakers have their say as to who will come out on top, and like The Irish Times poll, they cannot see a scenario where McGuinness, Flanagan and Carthy don’t take the first three seats. Paddy Power give Maria Walsh the slight edge over Brendan Smith for seat four, with Rabbitte and Labour’s Dominic Hannigan the only other candidates they see as having any chance of being elected. Still, elections can be unpredictable, and longer-shots like Saoirse McHugh from Achill (Green Party) and Olive O'Connor from Ballinrobe (Independent) could yet leave the bookies blushing.
With the count taking place again in the TF Royal Theatre, the eyes of 13 counties will be firmly fixed on the count in Castlebar that week.