IVAN YATES: My form card for the Euro elections — the likely winners and sure losers

FF’s results in previous Euro elections are poor. From 1979 to 2004 the average FF Euro vote over the 30-year period was 34.73%. Over the same period, the FF vote in general elections from 1981 to 2007 shows a significant differential. Their average over nine general elections was 43.05%

THE runners and riders for the Euro elections are at the starting gate. On June 5, we have to elect 13 Irish MEPs. Due to EU enlargement there is a reduction of one seat. Combined with the local elections, this contest will be the first outing for Brian Cowen as Taoiseach. Voters will pass judgment on the Government. Enda Kenny’s leadership of Fine Gael can either be cemented or undermined. Eamon Gilmore faces his first poll as Labour leader. Sinn Féin is seeking to recover the ground lost in the 2007 election. Libertas, the new kids on the block, are an unknown prospect.

Opinion polls have detected a significant shift in public opinion. FF obtained 41.6% of the vote in the last general election, whereas polls have them down to 23%-28% now. FG got 27.3% in 2007, and is up to 30%-35%. Labour had a disappointing 10.1% last time, but now commands 16%-24%. Sinn Féin, with 6.9%, and the Greens, at 4.7% previously, have a current range of 5%-9%.

FF’s results in previous Euro elections are poor. From 1979 to 2004 the average FF Euro vote over the 30-year period was 34.73%. Over the same period, the FF vote in general elections from 1981 to 2007 shows a significant differential. Their average over nine general elections was 43.05%. Perhaps this is explained by the lower average Euro turnout of 55%, while for general elections, it exceeds 69%.

FF voters are more loyal in general elections. They tend to stray from the fold for Euro votes.

FF was previously aligned with a marginalised small group within the European Parliament. Its MEPs were often former main players opting out of national politics. The party’s big hitters stay in national politics. All of which justifies FF voter fickleness on these occasions.

In present circumstances this could spell disaster for FF in the Euro elections. It has four serving MEPs: Brian Crowley (South), Eoin Ryan (Dublin), Liam Aylward (East) and Seán Ó Neachtain (North West). The latter has made the belated and unexpected decision not to contest on health grounds. If FF ends up without a seat in any constituency, it would spell serious trouble for Cowen.

Despite good opinion polls, FG faces the prospect of losing a seat. In 2004, it pulled off a miracle result in the East constituency. With 40.5% of the first preference vote, the party secured 66% of the seats. The competitive campaign tension between Avril Doyle and Mairéad McGuinness resulted in a seat bonus for the party. Here’s my initial (revisable) analysis of each constituency.

DUBLIN

Four into three won’t go. Either Gay Mitchell, Eoin Ryan, Proinsias de Rossa or Mary Lou McDonald has to lose their seat. On the last occasion, Eoin Ryan, with 61,681 votes, overturned the early campaign frontrunner, Royston Brady, who faltered and only got 36,329 votes. Between them, at 23.2% of the vote, they had more than a quota. Ryan’s running mate this time is Lord Mayor Eibhlín Byrne.

Gay Mitchell is relatively safe. He topped the poll in 2004 with 90,749 votes. It would be a shock if de Rossa was defeated. He got 54,344 previously. With Labour’s strong opinion poll showing in Dublin, I expect him to win.

SF’s Mary Lou McDonald did remarkably well with 60,395 votes last time. The battle seems to be between her and Ryan for the last seat. If Ryan were to lose FF’s representation in the capital, it would have a major national political impact. Other candidates include Joe Higgins (Socialist Party), Caroline Simons (Libertas) and Senator Deirdre de Búrca of the Greens. It will be difficult for de Búrca to retain Patricia McKenna’s 40,000 votes in 2004 as her political base is in Bray. Preference votes from eliminated candidates will determine the outcome.

Prediction: Labour 1; FG 1; FF 1. Last seat a tight call between SF and FF.

NORTH WEST

Fianna Fáil should have had a safe seat. Jim McDaid and Seán Ó Neachtain got more than 104,000 votes, or 26%, in 2004. Ó Neachtain’s late withdrawal can be overcome if a prominent Galway-based candidate stands — not Packie Bonner. While Senator Pascal Mooney is in the field for FF, political geography is against him as he is from Leitrim.

Fine Gael has a safe seat with more than 100,000 votes. The established sitting MEP, Jim Higgins, should edge out his running mate, Senator Joe O’Reilly, from the border counties. The intrigue lies with independent MEP Marian Harkin’s ability to retain her seat. She achieved 66,664 votes last time, despite the sitting MEP, Dana, polling 56,992 votes. Having stood down from the Dáil, Harkin should have consolidated her profile and base. However, the dark horse is Libertas leader Declan Ganley. His campaign will not lack for resources, professionalism, media profile, organisation and controversy. As he is based in Tuam, he could benefit from the lacuna created by FF in Co Galway. SF performed creditably through Pierce Doherty’s 65,321 in 2004. Pádraig McLoughlin is now standing. His preferences could decide the last seat. Journalist Susan O’Keeffe contests for Labour. The uncertainty relating to the FF team means any forecast has to be tentative — maybe Pádraig Ó Céidigh of Aer Arann could fit the bill.

Prediction: FG 1; FF 1; Ind 1. Harkin to survive.

SOUTH

Brian Crowley topped the poll with 125,539 votes and is unassailable. Ned O’Keeffe isn’t stronger than Gerry Collins was previously. FG has a quota. Simon Coveney won, reverted to the Dáil and was substituted by Colm Burke from Cork city. Fine Gael also runs Seán Kelly from Kerry. This former GAA president is hotly tipped to win the FG seat.

The last seat sees independent MEP Kathy Sinnott under pressure from Green Senator Dan Boyle and Labour’s Senator Alan Kelly. This latter Tipperary candidate is a dark horse. His campaign is extremely well resourced and opportunistic. The plethora of candidates from Co Cork creates an opportunity for Kelly to win.

Prediction: FF 1; FG 1; Labour 1.

EAST

Avril Doyle’s decision not to seek re-election means FG has an uphill task to hold their two seats. Fine Gael’s hopes lie with the youthful south Kilkenny senator John Paul Phelan. FG has split the constituency tactically to manage the vote.

Liam Aylward secured 68,206 in 2004 while Seamus Kirk polled 45,444 in North Leinster. FF has not selected a running mate for Aylward. Mairéad McGuinness and Liam Aylward will be re-elected.

Despite Mary White’s 25,576 votes in 2004, the Greens aren’t fielding a candidate. Labour’s candidate is a former Green councillor from Dublin, Nessa Childers, with her famous ancestry. Libertas runs a former IFA defeated presidential candidate Raymond O’Malley. Sinn Féin runs both Thomas Sharkey and Kathleen Funchion — presumably to raise their profile for the general election. The last seat seems to lie between Phelan and Childers. My initial verdicts are swayed by the strength of Labour’s opinion poll showing, which may not transfer to individual candidates.

Prediction: FF 1; FG 1; Labour 1


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