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Opinion: Who will be the winners and losers of the European Elections, 2019?

‘While lots of people have no interest it’s going to be absolutely fascinating for those of us who love the sport of electoral politics’ writes political columnist, Larry Donnelly

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

TO SAY THAT the current race for 13 seats in the European Parliament across three constituencies has been a sleepy one is an understatement.

Beyond us anoraks, most people are paying scant or no attention to the dozens of men and women who are now seeking to keep or capture what is a well-remunerated and enviable position.

This widespread apathy is one of an infinite number of variables at play as this under-the-radar campaign approaches its dénouement.  

How real is the national Green surge suggested by the polls? Where will left-wing transfers in Dublin go?

Will one of the two wildcards in Midlands-North-West, Peter Casey or Maria Walsh, sneak in at the expense of Fianna Fáil?

There are plenty more questions too. 

Following are some thoughts as to how it might shake out over the weekend, with predictions that are far from hard-and-fast and come with a major health warning.  

In truth, the last and even the second-to-last seat in all three constituencies could go in multiple directions.

While lots of people have no interest, it’s going to be absolutely fascinating for those of us who love the sport of electoral politics.

DUBLIN

In Dublin, it is highly likely that Frances Fitzgerald will get her sought-after transfer to Europe.  

Fine Gael remains the most popular party; she is seen as experienced and capable, and there is a sympathy factor for the former Tánaiste in some quarters in light of the circumstances of her departure from that post.  

The polls similarly indicate that Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews will probably succeed in his comeback bid to return to elective office and that Lynn Boylan of Sinn Fein, the sole incumbent seeking another term in the capital should also get over the line.

Less certain, however, is who will emerge to take the fourth seat.  

It seems that it will come down to Councillor Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party and Independents 4 Change TD, Clare Daly.  

My read is that, while the leftist candidates further down the pecking order are more likely to transfer to Daly (as well as to Boylan) Cuffe will get transfers from everywhere – especially if climate change is as big an issue on the doors as media reports have indicated it will be. 

And there is a reasonable chance that Cuffe could come third (or even second) if there is something of a Green tsunami.

PREDICTION: (in alphabetical order) Andrews, Boylan, Cuffe, Fitzgerald

DEFINITELY POSSIBLE: Daly

MIDLANDS-NORTH-WEST

Meanwhile, the only sure thing in this election is the sitting MEP, Mairead McGuinness, in Midlands North West.  

The well-known former RTÉ presenter has proven a skilful political operator both for Fine Gael and the European People’s Party. She is way out ahead in the polls.

It would seem that the next candidate elected will be the colourful independent incumbent, Luke “Ming” Flanagan.  

His support isn’t likely to be as strong as it was in 2014 when the country, and that region in particular, was still feeling the effects of the recession and anti-politician sentiment was rife. But it is still difficult to imagine Ming being defeated.  

Matt Carthy should hold a seat for Sinn Féin, although his interest in running for the Dáil and consequent refusal to confirm unequivocally that he will serve out the second term in Strasbourg, may give voters pause.

A genuine battle royale for the fourth seat could well transpire. That would feature the controversial independent, former presidential aspirant, Peter Casey, the Fine Gael newcomer and 2014 Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh and Fianna Fáil’s Cavan TD, Brendan Smith.

Fianna Fáil arguably made a strategic blunder in selecting two TDs, Smith and Anne Rabbitte of Galway, who have little name recognition outside of their own territories.

Indeed, the polls show both in the single digits and now Smith, the stronger of the two is evidently being given carte blanche to seek first preference votes throughout the constituency – in a desperate attempt to win a seat for Fianna Fáil.

Peter Casey’s campaign hinges to some extent on there being a latent but potent sympathy for his views on immigration and Traveller ethnicity. There certainly was in the presidential election and he ran very well in the constituency.

It remains to be seen whether his message and persona will resonate again.  

Moreover, and perhaps oddly at first glance, Casey’s stance in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment may cost him some first preference votes that he desperately needs.

Independent Fidelma Healy Eames and Michael O’Dowd of Renua will get anti-abortion votes that would otherwise go to him. That could be fatal if it is a close contest given that Casey is unlikely to be transfer friendly.

On the other hand, Maria Walsh is potentially the candidate most apt to attract transfers in a second-order election. She is a fresh face with an atypical CV who relates well to people and has surprised observers with her impressive showing in the opinion surveys.

If Fine Gael’s vote management is disciplined, my guess is that Walsh could pull it off and cause an upset to Brendan Smith.

PREDICTION (in alphabetical order): Carthy, Flanagan, McGuinness, Walsh

DEFINITELY POSSIBLE: Smith

IRELAND SOUTH

The mystery that has loomed large in Ireland South since Brian Crowley announced he would not seek re-election is where will his mammoth 2014 total of 180,000 first preferences travel?

It has been posited that his was a Fianna Fáil vote, a Cork vote and a personal vote. It is an undeniably powerful mixture of all three.

Looking at the latest numbers it seems that the popular ex-president of the GAA, Seán Kelly, will take a seat for Fine Gael and that the unsuccessful, Sinn Féin 2018 Áras hopeful, Liadh Ní Riada, will retain hers.

Long-time Cork TD, Billy Kelleher, is on target to win a seat and may obtain a big share of Crowley’s support.

Things get considerably murkier after that. 

Sitting MEP Deirdre Clune is one of those in contention, as well as three men from the Leinster end of the constituency: Fianna Fáil councillor Malcolm Byrne, Fine Gael TD, (and Minister of State for Food and Forestry) Andrew Doyle and Independents 4 Change TD, Mick Wallace.

The real upstart here, according to the polls, is the Munster-based Green Party, Senator Grace O’Sullivan. If 24 May turns out to be a red-letter day for the environmental movement in Ireland – she could pull a shocker.

Wallace benefits from broad name recognition and a high profile. His vote was well down in 2016 in his native Wexford though, where opinions vary about his tenure in office.  

Additionally, it is notable that he is fishing for votes in roughly the same pool as the independent, Diarmuid O’Flynn of Ballyhea Says No (Ballyhea is in north Cork) which could dilute his first preference tally.

Doyle will get a sizable vote in his Wicklow home and has cultivated the agricultural sector as a minister.  

Byrne is an articulate and appealing candidate with his ear to the ground in Wexford. He is a new sort of Fianna Fáil politician who also has been one of the best performers in radio and television debates and forums.  

Clune, who barely scraped in last time over present Minister for Health Simon Harris, has the advantages of incumbency and of being from voter-rich Cork, yet that could be a double-edged sword.

My guess – and this truly is a guess – is that Clune and Byrne will be the last ones standing, owing in part to the enormous grouping of erstwhile Brian Crowley backers for reasons of geography and tribe, respectively.  

It could surely go differently, however.

PREDICTION: (in alphabetical order): Byrne, Clune, Kelleher, Kelly, Ní Riada

DEFINITELY POSSIBLE (in order of probability): Doyle, O’Sullivan, Wallace

So there you have it – those are my predictions and as a senior colleague once said: “If you’re going to get something wrong you might as well get it spectacularly wrong.”  

And that eventuality is every bit as possible as my forecasting the #EE2019 results entirely accurately. We shall soon see.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie. 

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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