SERIOUS STUFF Fine Gael European election candidate Maria Walsh and Minister for Community and Rural Affairs Michael Ring in discussion as counting took place in Castlebar. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Disappointment for Achill’s McHugh after exit-poll hopes seem dashed
Shrule’s Maria Walsh looks set to take a second seat for Fine Gael in the four-seat Midlands North West European Parliament constituency. The second-count results last night (Monday) have the former Rose of Tralee comfortably in fourth place following the distribution of running-mate Mairéad McGuinness’s surplus.
Walsh took an impressive 38 percent of McGuinness’s surplus, 6,036 votes, to leave her on a total of 70,536. That places Walsh over 12,000 votes ahead of Peter Casey (Independent) in fifth place, and almost 18,000 votes ahead of Achill’s Saoirse McHugh (Green Party) in sixth.
McGuinness was elected on the first count early yesterday afternoon with a very strong vote of 134,630. With the quota set at 118,986, that gave McGuinness a surplus of 15,734.
Comfortably placed after the first count in second and third place, respectively, were outgoing MEPs Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (Independent, 85,034 votes) and Matt Carthy (Sinn Féin, 77,619 votes).
The full count is unlikely to be completed before Thursday.
There had been high hopes for two Mayo MEPs after an RTÉ/TG4 Exit Poll was revealed on Friday night. It put 28-year-old McHugh in third place on 12 percent following an impressive display on an RTÉ debate earlier that week. The exit poll also had Mairéad McGuinness on 25 percent, Matt Carthy on 15 percent, Maria Walsh and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan locked on 10 percent each and Peter Casey on 7 percent.
McHugh and her team were in high spirits on Saturday morning at the prospect of a shock outcome. However, sample tallies on Saturday raised the probability of the margin of error in the exit poll being quite high – and so it proved when the first count results were revealed. Flanagan actually polled at 14 percent while McHugh polled under 9 percent.
McHugh is now up against it to make it into the top four. “From the tallies for the second preferences, it doesn’t look like I’ll catch up,” McHugh admitted to The Mayo News last night. “I’m disappointed in one way, considering the exit poll, but I’ve come around to being really heartened by the performance.
“Someone said to me my first preference would nearly fill the Aviva Stadium [she got 51,019 votes, the stadium capacity is 51,700]. That’s kinda cool. I couldn’t name 1,000 people I know, never mind 51,000.
“If anything, the vote shows how important people think the issue of climate action is. We increased our vote five-fold on the last European election in this constituency, and we got the vote we did with a tiny budget and a really small team, learning as we went along,” she said.
McHugh added that she does not know if she will stand in the general election for the Green Party, but she remains ‘hopeful but sceptical’ about how seriously the Irish Government is taking the issue of climate change.
“You should always believe what people do, not what they say. Just today (Monday) Richard Bruton and Seán Canney, Government ministers, signed another oil exploration license. If anything screams ‘we’re not listening’, it’s that,” said McHugh.
Fianna Fáil woes
The exit poll did correctly hint at trouble for Fianna Fáil, however, and their two candidates were both effectively out of the running after yesterday’s first count. Brendan Smith polled 42,814 votes, with running mate Anne Rabbitte further back on 30,220.
Minister Michael Ring was ebullient, saying he was delighted with the performance of Fine Gael and, in particular, Maria Walsh.
“If Maria Walsh takes a seat it will be one of the greatest political achievements in recent times, to take two out of the four here,” he told The Mayo News last night.
Fianna Fáil Deputy Leader Dara Calleary said his party’s return was ‘incredibly disappointing’.
“We’re going to have to look at that because right across the region we’re having good local elections. We have to have a look at it. Clearly there is a different profile of candidate demanded now.
“You would imagine sending out a poll-topping former cabinet minister along with a new, fresh TD … at one stage that would have been a good strategy and geographically well balanced, but clearly it hasn’t worked, and we have to look at all the reasons around that,” he said.