Five European election candidates are bracing themselves for a major battle for what looks like just three remaining seats in Midlands North West with the election count expected to drag on into the middle of this week.
Veteran Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness is set to cruise home when the Midlands North West first count takes place at 1pm today, with unofficial tallies suggesting she will have a 150,000-plus first preference votes — one of the highest votes in the country.
Tallies are also predicting up to 40% of her second preference votes will transfer to ex-Rose of Tralee and Fine Gael running mate Maria Walsh, helping to give her a realistic chance of getting over the line early at a likely second count late on Monday night.
However, with the same tallies claiming 12% of Ms McGuinness’s surplus could also go to sitting Independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, it is unclear if she will have enough of a lead to reach Brussels.
And with Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy admitting his own information is that he will poll lower than predicted, a five-way battle for the three remaining seats is on the cards, with Greens’ success story Saoirse McHugh and Independent Peter Casey also in the mix.
The Midlands North West European election constituency gained nationwide attention on Friday night when the RTÉ/ TG4-Red C exit poll said Green candidate Ms McHugh had surged forward to be a genuine contender in the race.
The unofficial poll placed:
- Mairead McGuinness, Fine Gael, on 23%
- Matt Carthy, Sinn Féin, 15%
- Saoirse McHugh, Greens, 12%
- Luke Ming Flanagan, Independent, 10%
- Maria Walsh, Fine Gael, 10%
- Peter Casey, Independent, 7%
- Brendan Smith, Fianna Fáil, 6%
- Anne Rabbitte, Fianna Fáil, 3%
- Dominic Hannigan, Labour, 3%
The exit poll is expected to be accurate for Fianna Fáil, which will embarrassingly limp home in a constituency where it has not had an MEP for a decade.
However, while sources said Ms McGuinness is certain to reach the quota on the first count, with an expected 150,000-plus first-preference vote, the exit poll results have since been called into question.
Mr Carthy said he is likely to be on 2% to 3% less first-preference votes than the exit poll has suggested when the first count is revealed at lunchtime today.
“I entered the race expecting to be in the running for one of last two seats. It’s just based on anecdotal evidence I’ve seen so far, but I think I’ll be on 2% less than the exit poll. I’ll be in a dog fight for the final two,” he said.
Ms Walsh was more upbeat as she arrived at the TF Hotel count centre in Castlebar, Co Mayo, telling reporters she believes Ms McGuinness’s transfers will help her campaign significantly.
Noting Mayo’s narrow All-Ireland loss to Roscommon at the weekend, she said: “It was by a point. So I’d never want to see the same thing happen to myself.”
Mr Flanagan was thought to be polling better than Mr Casey in parts of Co Donegal, a situation, coupled with up to 12% of transfers from Ms McGuinness, could see him retain his seat.
It was unclear last night if the same outcome will occur for Ms McHugh, while rumours persist of a shy Peter Casey vote that could see him remain in contention for the final place.
At the count centre, Ms McGuinness said while nothing can be taken for granted, “getting in on the first count, it’s a good relief I have to say and I am relieved.
"It’s a bit surreal as well until you hear it. I’ve been listening to the commentary coming down in the car, so I have to digest it all.”
In a reference to Mr Casey and others, she said she would welcome a vote for people who are not “divisive”.
“I believe passionately that bringing people together is never as important as it is today, but equally dividing people has never been as easy.
"Look across the water at what is happening. Look at this campaign where some tried and failed.
“And thank god Ireland is more open and aware, we’re bigger than that.”
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary has said his party needs to reflect on its poor Midlands North West performance “and how we proceed”.
Ms McGuinness said Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey’s legal action over a fall from a swing affected the party’s campaign, and that she is “glad she dropped the case”.