News John Drennan

Saturday 30 August 2014

Mairead's poll strength her weak spot in party

The MEP's public popularity is a matter of concern for Fine Gael's oligarchs

John Drennan

Published 16/02/2014 | 02:30

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IN THE DRIVING SEAT: Mairead McGuinness, Fine Gael candidate in the European elections for Ireland East, gets her campaign on the road in Ardee, Co Louth. Photo: Tom Conachy

IT IS in the nature of phoney wars that before the shooting starts, all results are possible. This is certainly the case when it comes to the still not fully declared battle for Ireland's 11 MEP seats.

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Such is the uncertainty surrounding the EU elections that despite their combined 40 per cent standing in the polls, the real prospect exists that the Coalition could return with as few as three seats and the Labour poor relations might return with none at all.

Amidst all this uncertainty, there is at least one point of light for the FG wing courtesy of the certainty that Mairead McGuinness will top the poll in the hard fought Midlands North West EU constituency.

Surprisingly the ongoing potency of Mairead, who continues to be one of the strongest electoral assets of a FG party that is increasingly light on such delights, has not filled the party oligarchs with joy. Instead, concerns are being raised about a reprise of the unfortunate scenario in 2009 where Fine Gael's ageless 'lovely girl' polled almost twice as many votes as her running mate John Paul Phelan, who secured a less than shabby 60,000, votes himself.

Of course, FG, despite having 40 per cent of the vote still only won one seat, but, Mairead can't be faulted for the love of the electorate.

That at least was the line that came from supporters of McGuinness and FG was rather too distracted with pressing internal issues concerning the head of Enda to examine it closely.

Now, once again when it comes to the FG tandem, the party's designated European 'lovely girl' is believed to be so far ahead of the field that the Jim Higgins seat of the 'FG bicycle built for two' has become fatally detached.

Such is the extent of the lead that the pleas are already coming thick and fast for Mairead to allow puffing Jim to catch up.

The concern is that Mairead will continue on in her own sweet way, top the poll and in doing so set down a critical marker for the next Presidential elections.

Intriguingly, Mairead had plans for the previous election, but, in what is a recurrent pattern of her Fine Gael career, despite her undoubted popularity with the public, that particular ambition was not fulfilled.

Unfulfilled ambition has been quite a theme of her Fine Gael career for had the votes fallen differently in election 2007, Mairead could now be where Simon Coveney is in terms of the Ministry for Agriculture and other ambitions that dare not name their name.

Instead, for all the election triumphs of the past and those that are certain to come in the future, she finds herself in a somewhat peripheral place.

The problem for Mairead lies in the certainty within Fine Gael that when it comes to the European elections that 'it will be all about Mairead' rather than the party.

McGuinness may, in public, be Enda's designated 'lovely girl', but her great weakness is that amidst a herd that prizes the 'boss-man' instinct above all others, whispers of being a sole trader have put a very real glass ceiling upon her ambitions.

This perception, which gathered pace with the failed Kenny putsch, where the 'lovely girl' was seen to be too visibly supportive of both sides, may scupper any ambitions the party's perennial poll topper has to contest the next Presidential election.

The other problem with any ambitions Mairead may possess is that when it comes to the Presidency, one other not unimportant individual may have notions of their own.

When it comes to the 'Dear Leader', Enda's planned end game retiring to the Park, after victory in 2016, with the thanks of a grateful nation ringing in his ears and the potential of playing all the golf you can physically fit in, is not an unattractive one.

Mairead McGuinness may be one of the few points of light in Fine Gael's uncertain EU campaign.

But if she has long-term ambitions for a different location to Europe, Fine Gael's last 'lovely girl' should be careful not to shine too brightly, lest she attract the wary disapproval of the grandson of a lighthouse keeper.

Sunday Independent

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