Crowded field in Dublin as well-known contenders do battle for just four seats

In the second day of a three-part series on the European elections, Elaine Loughlin profiles Dublin — the ‘constituency of death’.

Crowded field in Dublin as well-known contenders do battle for just four seats

In the second day of a three-part series on the European elections, Elaine Loughlin profiles Dublin — the ‘constituency of death’.

The group of death is a hackneyed phrase, but there is no denying the Dublin constituency is lethal.

With a former tánaiste, several former ministers, sitting TDs, a previous leader of the SDLP, and the President of Ireland’s daughter all in the mix, there is set to be a fierce battle for seats in the European Parliament.

The majority of the 19 candidates running for four seats in the Dublin constituency are well known, if not household names. The decision of two of the three sitting MEPs — Brian Hayes and Nessa Childers — not to run this time around has left some room in this crowded field.

Dublin, along with Ireland South, will also gain an extra seat — but one successful candidate will have to wait until Britain formally leaves the EU before taking up their parliament seat.

Perhaps the only positive to come out of Brexit is a new focus on Brussels and voters are undoubtedly more engaged in what happens in the European institutions.

Unlike the other two constituencies which will force hopefuls to clock up tens of thousands of kilometres on the campaign trail, the Dublin constituency’s geography is condensed.

While those running will also be able to take advantage of rush-hour Dart and Luas stations to meet large numbers of constituents, it will still be impossible to shake the hands of all 800,000 people eligible to vote and strong media appearances, as well as polished online campaigns, will be required.

With average rental prices now at €1,620 and the most expensive house prices in the country, Dublin residents will undoubtedly see housing and homelessness as a key issue. Also high on people’s agenda is climate change and to a lesser extent, transport.

Fine Gael has taken a bold but risky decision to put forward two candidates. Of the two, former tánaiste and justice minister Frances Fitzgerald is widely expected to win a seat.

Ciarán Cuffe, Green Party Dublin candidate for the European Parliament elections on May 24, chatting to Rita Pettigrew. He was canvassing with Claire Byrne, who is seeking re-election to Dublin City Council in Ringsend. Picture: Moya Nolan
Ciarán Cuffe, Green Party Dublin candidate for the European Parliament elections on May 24, chatting to Rita Pettigrew. He was canvassing with Claire Byrne, who is seeking re-election to Dublin City Council in Ringsend. Picture: Moya Nolan

Her running mate, Northern Ireland politician Mark Durkan, is hoping voters will see the threat of Brexit and other wider European issues as a reason to select him. However, the former SDLP leader has already received some criticism for announcing that he will remain living in Derry for the duration of the campaign and he is largely expected to act as a sweeper to bring Ms Fitzgerald across the line.

These European elections are a massive test for Fianna Fáil, having been left with no representation in Europe. The last elections in 2014 left it with just one MEP — Brian Crowley in the South — who later lost the party whip when he joined the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament.

In Dublin, Fianna Fáil has gone with the strategy of selecting one strong candidate, Barry Andrews, in the hope of clawing back a seat in the capital constituency. The former minister, who also worked as head of Goal, is strong on EU affairs and Fianna Fáil will be hoping this will give him the edge, especially during the televised debates which are likely to have a strong focus on Brexit.

Like Fine Gael, the Solidarity-People Before Profit grouping is also fielding two candidates. However, this strategy could end up with the same result as the 2014 elections where the vote was split between Bríd Smith and Paul Murphy, denying either of them a seat.

A somewhat crowded field of candidates from the left will also pose significant challenges for the two Solidarity-People Before Profit contenders. Of those left-leaning hopefuls, sitting TD Clare Daly is by far the best placed to claim a seat.

The Independents 4 Change politician, who has been a TD since 2011, has earned recognition for her campaigning on abortion rights, bin charges, and her support of Garda whistle-blowers involved in uncovering the penalty-points controversy.

Since announcing her intention to stand for Europe along with Dáil ally Mick Wallace — who is standing in Ireland South — she has been hotly tipped and could steal a significant number of votes from sitting Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan.

Ms Boylan, whose partner is sitting Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin, was first elected in the 2014 election and will be hopeful of retaining her seat. The surge in support and interest in recycling, climate action, and other environmental issues should boost support for Green Party candidate Ciarán Cuffe.

Back in 2014, the now Green Party leader Eamon Ryan narrowly lost out on a place in Europe with transfers favouring Nessa Childers, who took the final seat. This time around, the Dublin City councillor and former minister of state will be hoping to claim what was lost in the last European elections.

In what may also be a lucky break for the Green Party, a second student ‘day of action’ is set for May 24 — polling day.

On the day when there will be a media blackout on election coverage, attention could turn to the 1m young people expected to hit the streets across the world, including Dublin, as part of the Global Climate Strike.

The Labour Party is under pressure to gain ground in both these European and local elections. Labour, which has remained in the political doldrums since the 2016 general election, has put forward former minister of state

Alex White in Dublin. He will undoubtedly factor in the mix for the fourth and final seat. Likewise senator and daughter of the first citizen of Ireland, Alice Mary Higgins, cannot be discounted in the race.

‘This is the climate change election’— but housing on everybody’s mind

‘Clinging on long enough’ is the strategy Green Party candidate Ciarán Cuffe is taking.

An extra seat up for grabs and a crowded field of strong, recognisable candidates have left it all to play for in the Dublin constituency in the European election and transfers will be critical.

“We came very close last time around. Nessa Childers got that seat,” Mr Cuffe says of Eamon Ryan’s campaign in 2014.

I would hope that we are transfer friendly.

"There are a lot of people out there who have their main vote going to another party, but they are happy to give us the number two and I think we can attract a lot of transfers. The trick is to survive long enough in the count to get them,” the Green Party candidate says, having just arrived on his bike in an area of Dublin now known as Google-land.

Minutes later, the former minister of state, who lost his seat after 2011, when the party failed to return a single TD to the Dáil, is joined by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and Ryan’s predecessor, John Gormley, who are also travelling on two wheels.

With teenage activist Greta Thunberg inspiring thousands of Irish students to join global climate change protests and interventions, green issues and climate change are back in vogue politically.

Political parties have grasped the green nettle, from Solidarity-PBP, whose candidates stressed the importance of climate action measures at their campaign launch, to Fianna Fáil’s South candidate, Malcolm Byrne, who forced his party to rewrite part of its manifesto to strengthen promises on climate change.

“Climate change is in the news and, for me, this is the climate change election. All the other parties are talking about climate change, but it’s interesting to look at their record in the European parliament, particularly the EPP. Fine Gael’s party in Europe have a diabolical record on initiatives to reduce greenhouse emissions.

I think people need to look at substance over style.

"I am old enough to remember Charlie Haughey saying this will be the green presidency, we are going to save the whales — that was back maybe in the 1980s — so I have seen a lot of greenwashing over the years and I would look carefully at the green credentials of other parties,” says Mr Cuffe.

But in the capital, where the cost of buying a home in the city centre has doubled since 2012, where 4,315 adults and 2,806 children were in homeless emergency accommodation in Dublin in March and where rents continue to rise, housing is undoubtedly a massive issue.

Just off Barrow St, which Google has colonised in the past decade, the warren of red-brick terraced streets speak to a different, older Dublin. And those now living in the two-up, two-down former workers’ houses see the housing crisis as a critical problem.

One woman who opens her door to Mr Cuffe says her son was looking at a house further up the street, where the landlord is asking for €4,000 in rent a month.

“It’s just crazy that young people, nobody, can find housing in Dublin, so we are saying that the Government needs to build,” replies the European candidate.

A young mother, who works in one of the multinational companies whose steal and glass structures punctuate the skyline, says: “Housing — it’s an issue on every level, it’s an issue for people working in high-paid jobs. I think it is sometimes frustrating when the focus is on social housing, which I think is needed, but we need a mix.”

On another door, Mr Cuffe lays out the Green Party plan for a cost-rental model to a young professional who seems very interested in the notion of affordable rent. After the canvassing ends, Mr Cuffe is back on his bike.

Who’s running: From FF royalty to carers and aid workers

Barry Andrews (Fianna Fáil)

Barry Andrews, who served as minister of state, is considered Fianna Fáil royalty coming from a long line of family members who have stood for the party. The former Goal chief executive saw off opposition from Mary Hanafin, Tiernan Brady, and Conor Lenihan to win the party nomination.

Lynn Boylan (Sinn Féin)

The Sinn Féin candidate is the only sitting MEP in the Dublin constituency seeking to retain her seat.

Gillian Brien (Solidarity-People Before Profit)

The People Before Profit candidate was born and raised in the north inner city and has built a career in the human rights sector which has seen her work with travellers, prisoners, LGBTi, as well as drug and homelessness services.

Ciarán Cuffe (Green Party)

The Dublin City councillor and architect previously served as a minister for state when his party was in government with Fianna Fáil. Providing quality public housing and improving the capital’s transport system are among his key priorities.

Clare Daly (Independents 4 Change)

Sitting TD Clare Daly is known for her campaigning including in the areas of bin tax, animal cruelty, and illegal adoptions carried out in the State by religious and other institutions. In Leinster House, she gave consistent vocal support to the Garda whistleblowers.

Mark Durkan (Fine Gael)

The former leader of the SDLP is one of two candidates running for Fine Gael. As well as representing Dublin, Mr Durkan has said he would represent the views of the people of Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)

The former tánaiste has held a number of ministerial portfolios since first entering the Dáil in 1992 and was the first ever dedicated children’s minister. Prior to her career as a TD, Ms Fitzgerald worked as a social worker and was highly involved in campaigning for rights and equality serving as chair of the Women’s Council of Ireland.

Gary Gannon (Social Democrats)

Social Democrats candidate Gary Gannon ran for the Dáil in 2016 but narrowly lost out on a seat in the Dublin Central constituency. He has worked as a career guidance advocate for early school leavers in the north inner city and briefly trained to be a plumber.

Ben Gilroy (Independent)

Anti-eviction activist Ben Gilroy is a key member of Direct Democracy Ireland. Earlier this year, he was sent to prison over his failure to complete an 80-hour community service order.

Rita Harrold (Solidarity-People Before Profit)

Having campaigned to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the 29-year-old childminder from Crumlin now wants to take her activism to Europe. She was in the anti water charges movement and more recently stood with workers on the nurses and paramedics picket lines.

Alice-Mary Higgins (Independent)

Alice Mary Higgins has served as a senator for the National University of Ireland since April 2016. The Independent candidate is the daughter of President Michael D Higgins.

Hermann Kelly (Independent)

A founder of the Irish Freedom Party (IFP) Hermann Kelly worked as adviser to Nigel Farage. Originally from the Bogside in Derry, he previously worked as a journalist.

Tony Bosco Lowth (Independent)

Running as an Independent, Tony Bosco Lowth describes himself as a gardener and social entrepreneur.

Aisling McNiffe (Independent)

Aisling McNiffe is a member of the Families Speak Out group of parents and advocates who campaign for the improvement of health services for children throughout the country. She is a carer to her son who has a rare medical disorder.

Mark Mullan (Independent)

Mark Mullan, who is a humanitarian aid worker, is running as an Independent candidate for Europe.

Eamonn Murphy (Independent)

Eamonn Murphy is standing as a pro-life candidate.

Gemma O’Doherty (Independent)

The Independent candidate sought a nomination to run in last year’s presidential election but failed to secure enough support from local authorities to enter the race. She is a former staff writer for the Irish Independent.

Éilis Ryan (Workers Party)

The Dublin City councillor represents the north inner city area. She describes herself as a socialist and feminist, and was active in the Stoneybatter Against the Water Tax campaign, opposing the installation of meters and encouraging a boycott of Irish Water.

Alex White (Labour Party)

The barrister and former RTÉ producer was appointed minister for communications, energy, and natural resources during the last government when Labour was minority partner with Fine Gael. He also acted as Labour’s director of elections in the 2015 marriage equality referendum.

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