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'I'm not confident, but I am hopeful': New boundaries create new challenges for FG's MEPs

While the focus has been on Dublin and how to replace Gay Mitchell, Fine Gael is targeting half of the eight seats outside of the capital.

AS THE LARGEST party in the State, Fine Gael’s ambitions know no bounds right now and its targeting five seats in European elections next year, creating a significant challenge for all of its current MEPs in the redrawn constituencies.

While much focus has been on whether junior minister Brian Hayes might be the party’s candidate in Dublin – to replace the outgoing Gay Mitchell – the battles facing Fine Gael in the two other constituencies are just as intriguing.

With Ireland East abolished, a new super-constituency of ‘Midlands-North-West’ (MNW) – stretching from Mayo across to Louth and Donegal down to Laois – will see Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness and Jim Higgins (below) compete for two of the four seats.

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Both told TheJournal.ie in Brussels this week that they will definitely be running, with Higgins (above) even offering a prediction as to how it will turn out: “The way I see it is Mairead will take the first seat with [Fianna Fáil's] Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher.

“Then we’re going to have a dogfight between Marian Harkin, Sinn Féin and myself for the other two seats.”

Higgins is relishing the challenge and again dismissed speculation that party HQ may seek to replace him on the ticket with Mayo TD John O’Mahony pointing out the vast difference in the size of their support base.

“Look, there’s an awful gap between [O'Mahony's] 7,000 votes in Mayo in the last general election and 81,000 votes which I got in the European election [in 2009],” he said.

“That’s a fair bridge to gap and all I know is that I will be very confident come the next election that I will top the 81,000 votes that I had the last time. I will actually increase on that, my profile is huge, thanks to my staff in the office, they’re absolutely brilliant.”

“I know I am going to be the candidate, and I know I am going to be elected.”

McGuinness (below) is more guarded in her predictions, but said she is “enthusiastic” about the her new constituency, adding: “I think it’s physically very large.”

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The former journalist’s new constituency set-up sees her lose four counties in the old Ireland East – Kilkenny, Carlow, Wicklow and Wexford – and gaining several others including Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford and Westmeath.

“Elections are always tough. I’ve fought a few, I’ve won a few and I’ve lost one,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t mind if a third Fine Gael candidate is added to the ticket.

Meanwhile, in the redrawn Ireland ‘South’ constituency, sitting Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly (below) also faces a significant challenge to retain his seat, saying he is “not confident, but I am hopeful, in the sense that you can’t control how elections are going to go.”

“Your second election is the hardest election because I came in to the last election as president of the GAA and people looked at me with potential perhaps,” he said.

“Now they will be looking at me from the point of view of delivery. That’s the right way to have it.”

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Outlining the logistical challenge, he noted that in Ireland South from Bray to Ballinaskelligs in Kerry it is a 474 kilometres. Whereas in the new the Dublin constituency, from Balbriggan to Bray, the drive is less than 50 kilometres.

“But listen the decision has been made,” he said. “And we’re all in the same boat, so let’s have a go at it. An election is an election, it’s tough, it’s demanding but I am fit and raring to go.”

Kelly’s possible running mates include outgoing Irish Farmers’ Association chairman John Bryan with the former GAA president also name-checking two sitting Fine Gael TDs, the government chief whip Paul Kehoe and Agriculture Committee chairman Andrew Doyle.

“At this stage it is pure speculation,” he said. “There’s going to be a convention, sometime perhaps in January, and at that stage I am quite sure HQ and everyone else will have whittled it down to whoever is best.”

Pics: Photocall Ireland

Read: Will Brian Hayes run for Europe? ‘I haven’t made my mind up yet,’ he says

Read: Dublin a three-seater in Ireland’s new-look European constituency map

Read: This Fine Gael TD is not ruling out a European Parliament bid next year

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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