Two of the 13 MEPs elected in Ireland face an uncertain wait as to when they can actually take their European Parliament seats.
While elections usually produce only winners and losers, Friday’s poll will create a new category of politician – limbo candidates.
Ireland is getting two of the 27 seats formerly reserved for the UK that are being redistributed among 14 members states as a result of Brexit.
The problem for the duo elected to the last seat in the Dublin and South constituencies is Brexit has not happened and does not look like happening any time soon.
So the UK is participating in the Euro elections and British MEPs are set to attend the inaugural plenary session of the new parliament on July 2.
That will leave Ireland’s limbo candidates sitting on the subs’ bench – content they have made the match day squad but not knowing when, or even if, they’ll get the chance to enter the action.
Who to send to the European Parliament is not the only decision facing the Irish electorate on Friday.
The local council elections are being held on the same day, as is a referendum on Ireland’s divorce laws – with a Yes vote set to reduce the lengthy time period separated couples have to wait before they can obtain a formal divorce.
Voters in Cork, Waterford and Limerick will also be able to participate in separate plebiscites on government proposals to create directly elected city mayoral positions with executive functions.
The first few ballots will actually be cast on Thursday, as voting on some of Ireland’s remote islands happens a day earlier.
Counting in the local elections and divorce referendum will begin on Saturday morning.
The European election count for Ireland’s three constituencies – Dublin, South, and Midlands-North-West – will commence on Sunday morning at centres in Dublin, Cork and Castlebar, Co Mayo. A Europe-wide embargo means the first results in that poll cannot be declared to 10pm that night. If previous elections are a guide, counting is likely to continue through into Monday.
Counting in the mayoral plebiscites is likely to get underway in the three impacted cities on the Monday.
The European and local government elections will be the first electoral test for Ireland’s main parties since the inconclusive general election of 2016.
The result delivered a hung parliament and precipitated months of negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, two parties with a century-old enmity dating back to Ireland’s Civil War.
A historic accord emerged that saw Fianna Fail agree to support a minority Fine Gael-led government through a confidence and supply deal for three years.
The parties renewed that arrangement late last year, extending what has been dubbed an era of “new politics” until early 2020.
While Friday’s elections focus on European and council issues, the results will no doubt be interpreted as a public judgment on Fine Gael’s performance in government and how effectively Fianna Fail has managed the delicate balancing act of holding an administration to account while at the same time propping it up.
Other smaller parties in the Oireachtas parliament, such as Sinn Fein, the Green Party and Labour, will hope to be the beneficiaries of any potential public disaffection with “new politics”.
In Northern Ireland, the European election will be held a day earlier – along with the rest of the UK on Thursday – and counting will begin a day later, due to historic reticence to count on a Sunday.
There are three seats up for grabs but it would represent a seismic political shock if the two largest parties north of the border – the pro-Brexit DUP and anti-Brexit Sinn Fein – failed to hold on to their respective seats.
So, realistically, only the third seat is in play, with the Ulster Unionists facing a tough fight to hold it. The UUP campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum but the party now advocates for Brexit, insisting it is the will of the people.
Northern Ireland voted 56% to stay in the EU three years ago, so the pro-European SDLP and Alliance Party are both confident they can wrest the seat from the UUP – a result that would see the region return two Remainers and one Leaver.
- Press Association