Friday 28 October 2016

John Downing: Big challenge for the candidates is an even bigger one for their parties

Published 03/02/2014 | 02:30

Socialist Party/United Left Alliance MEP Paul Murphy. Photo: Tom Burke
Socialist Party/United Left Alliance MEP Paul Murphy. Photo: Tom Burke

FANCY your chances in an election where you probably have to get between 40,000 and 50,000 votes in the first count – and up to 100,000 votes all told to get elected?

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That's the task the eight hopefuls have set themselves in the contest for the three Dublin seats in the European Parliament elections, which happen in just 15 weeks' time on May 23.

The past week has brought clarity to the list of candidates for three-seat Dublin, unlike the other two sprawling four-seaters covering the rest of the country, and which we will leave for another day.

Dublin's 'eight for three' are the two sitting MEPs, Paul Murphy of the Socialists and Emer Costello of Labour. They are joined by Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes of Fine Gael, Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick of Fianna Fail, Nessa Childers, now an Independent, Lynn Boylan of Sinn Fein, Eamon Ryan of the Green Party and Councillor Brid Smith 'People Before Profit'.

And there probably will be others, as last time in June 2009 there were 10 candidates in all.

Dealing with the outgoing MEPs first, Mr Murphy of the Socialists took on his party leader Joe Higgins's seat after the February 2011 General Election, which saw Higgins return to the Dail. Murphy, a law graduate, is young, able and personable, but his tough challenge in trying to retain his seat will be to increase his profile around the capital in the coming weeks.

Labour MEP Costello, who took over Proinsias De Rossa's seat in February 2012, will also face a less intense version of Murphy's challenge.

She is helped by having served as a campaigning Dublin city councillor for a decade and was lord mayor of Dublin in 2009/2010.

Her challenge will be to broaden her canvass beyond the inner city at a time when Labour is particularly struggling in Dublin opinion polls.

Hayes of Fine Gael has a lot of advantages going into this contest as an able, personable and experienced politician. But he knows that voters may be tempted to send a wake-up message to the Government.

He will be taking nothing for granted and is expected to mount a big campaign to take the seat held by Gay Mitchell since 2004.

Fitzpatrick has a huge task ahead also. In essence her job is to lead a Fianna Fail revival in Dublin and make the party demonstrable more welcoming to women.

She is helped in efforts to project a 'new Fianna Fail image' by having slogged through decades of spats with Bertie Ahern's Dublin Central backers.

But some in Fianna Fail and beyond will look askance at her decision to also contest for a Dublin city council seat in local elections to be held on the same day.

To some, it smacks of wanting a parachute.

Childers's foray as an independent is her third political incarnation in recent years. She was previously a Green Party councillor and recently a Labour MEP for neighbouring Ireland East.

As the daughter of former President Erskine Childers, she has name recognition and should be in the fight for a seat.

Sinn Fein's decision to run candidates previously largely unknown is interesting. Lynn Boylan is an unknown quantity, though she previously stood for the party in Dail and council elections in Kerry. The party is showing well in opinion polls and much will depend on her campaign.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is another with a simple task. He only has to raise his party from the death it suffered in the 2011 General Election.

His high profile as a former energy minister and frequent appearances on radio and television help his profile. But again much depends on his campaign.

Brid Smith of People Before Profit has the potential to poll well. Rumours around Leinster House this week were that some polls were showing her as stronger than Murphy, who fishes from the same pool.

That quick scoot through the list so far picks up a few salient points.

All candidates have a big challenge for themselves and their parties. For Fine Gael and Labour it's about fending off anti-government vibes; for Fianna Fail and the Greens it's about resurrection and survival; for Sinn Fein and the others it's about a long hoped for breakthrough.

All candidates have vulnerabilities in what is a volatile time politically; many of them are transfer-friendly; and much will depend on their ability to stay long enough in the hunt to collect these potential transfers.

There is an unusual amount of talent and ability on that list and many of them would be able representatives in an assembly, which is very important in the European Union.

That said, many observers will be looking at this and the council elections also being run on May 23, as a dress rehearsal for the next general election expected in 2016.

It's early for predictions and I usually get these things wrong. But here goes with head on block: Brian Hayes (FG); Mary Fitzpatrick (FF) and AN Other of the left, very possibly Eamon Ryan of the Greens.

Irish Independent

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