#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 28 October 2020

The 1% issue: Did Ireland's Brexit team get a bounce in votes?

Despite being a junior minister, Helen McEntee has earned a significant international profile due to Brexit talks.

Image: Cate McCurry

OVER THE COURSE of the election campaign, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party placed Brexit front and centre as a reason why people should reelect the government.

Varadkar argued that his team was best placed to negotiate a good deal for Ireland in the second phase of Brexit negotiations, which will be trade talks, beginning either this or next month. 

In the run-up to polling day, Varadkar had questioned Fianna Fáil’s front-bench ability and experience to be able to handle those trade negotiations. He also suggested that switching over to a different government in the middle of negotiations could cause instability.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hit back at this by saying that there was no shortage of experience within his party – Martin himself is a former Minister for Foreign Affairs.

He also argued that the entire European Commission is comprised of new members, and the British government has also been shaken up numerous times, meaning that a change of team shouldn’t disrupt negotiations.

So how did that argument play out with voters?

In the Ipsos/MRBI poll commissioned by RTÉ, TG4, the Irish Times and UCD, just 1% said that Brexit was the most important issue in deciding how they voted.

Among voters aged over 50, in Dublin, and male voters, this percentage share increased to 2%, but still bottom of a long list of other issues including childcare, the pension age, and climate change. 

Among Fine Gael voters, Brexit was the most important issue in deciding their vote in 5% of cases. 

The Brexit leadership

The Taoiseach became the first in the history of the State not to top the poll in his own constituency. He’s also the first Taoiseach since the ’80s not to bring his running mate over the line. 

In the end, it took until the fifth count for Varadkar to get elected. 

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was elected on the eighth count, taking the third of four seats in Cork South-Central.

Helen McEntee

The Minister of State for European Affairs has been a prominent figure within the European Union’s institutions, particularly during Brexit negotiations.  

Over the years, she’s appeared alongside Varadkar and Coveney on the world stage, giving updates on the various stages of Brexit, stressing the importance of the backstop, and explaining the inner workings of the EU.

This would have raised McEntee’s profile considerably and helped her get reelected; after the third count in Meath East, junior minister McEntee had double the votes of Cabinet minister Regina Doherty.

In 2019, Politico wrote a profile piece on McEntee, calling her Varadkar’s “secret weapon”, saying she was “extremely level-headed,” and “a very very good negotiator”.

In November, McEntee was elected as Vice-President of the European party that Fine Gael is a member of in the European Parliament – the European People’s Party (EPP).

The President of that party is former European Council President Donald Tusk, who tweeted out his support for McEntee during the election campaign – calling her “diligent” and an “exceptional diplomat”. 

Neale Richmond

Former senator Neale Richmond has been incredibly vocal on Brexit issues at home and abroad. As chair of the Seanad Select Committee on the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, which published a report based on the committee appearances of various stakeholders, he was very well versed on Brexit issues.

He has appeared many times on UK and other international media to explain Ireland’s stance at various key points along the Brexit timeline.

Lisa Chambers

Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers, one of the most prominent frontbenchers the party has. Chambers had been very prominent on national media on various Brexit issues.

Despite this, she lost her seat in Mayo today, partly because of the Sinn Féin surge. After Michael Ring topped the poll in the Fine Gael heartland, Sinn Féin senator Rose Conway-Walsh came second – an unexpected result. 

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary won the third seat, and Fine Gael’s Alan Dillon beat chambers to the fourth and final seat.

As the opposition’s Brexit spokesperson, her profile wouldn’t have benefitted as much as those who are in government.

Where are we with Brexit anyway?

The first phase of Brexit negotiations involved agreeing the conditions upon which the UK would leave the EU.

The agreement that was struck at the end of this first phase, the Withdrawal Agreement, includes the transition period and Irish protocol.

The transition period is the stage we are in at the moment – this keeps the UK in the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market until the end of this year.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping that a trade deal can be done between now and then; that trade deal would then come into effect after the transition period, which ends on 31 December 2020 but can be extended for one year or two.

About the author:

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel