Rise and rise of Sinn Fein as party looks certain for Euro seats
These Millward Brown European constituency opinion polls, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, focused on two of the "new" constituencies under the re-drawn European map of Ireland – Midlands-North West and Ireland South.
Both are huge, diverse constituencies, and yet both are quite similar. Twelve candidates versus eleven are jockeying for position on their respective starting lines, with four precious seats up for grabs in each region.
But the similarities do not end there. At this early juncture, a comparable proportion in both regions are still undecided (24pc vs 27pc respectively).
More significantly, in each constituency, the rise and rise of Sinn Fein continues. All candidates were put to the electorate on the doorstep, with first and second preferences being recorded. On the basis of these results (albeit measured just as the starting gun has been fired), it seems that there is a Sinn Fein seat for the taking in each region.
For the other parties, things are not necessarily as clear cut.
Looking first at Midlands-North West, Matt Carthy (SF) tops the first preference poll among those who have already decided, and with 17pc, looks certain to reach the quota quite comfortably with the help of transfers. Thomas Byrne (FF) is ahead of his running mate, Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, by some distance and looks well positioned to take a seat for Fianna Fail (he garners nearly twice the proportion of first preferences as his more illustrious stablemate – 17pc vs 9pc).
So that's two party seats probably sorted. The third and fourth seats look likely to find a home with an Independent and a Fine Gaeler, although with who is not immediately apparent. Ming Flanagan and Marian Harkin are both on 12pc of the vote. Combining all Independents, this eclectic bloc has over a quota among them. So transfers will play their part.
Looking at the data from this week, our analysis suggests that Harkin is more transfer friendly, and on this basis, looks better positioned to stay the course. Likewise, with Fine Gael, both Jim Higgins and Mairead McGuinness have over a quota between them (both on 11pc). McGuinness, however, will take more solace in her ability to last the pace; she too seems more transfer friendly. Of course, a lot will be decided by the order of eliminations.
Turning to Ireland South, this constituency is a ridiculously one-horse race. Brian Crowley, aiming for his fifth European success, claims 36pc of the first preference vote – nearly twice the required quota. His stablemate, Kieran Hartley, attracts just 2pc. On paper, Fianna Fail could potentially have two quotas, but the lop-sided nature will be a cause for concern among party strategists. We saw this work in their favour in the past in Dublin Central, where Bertie brought Cyprian Brady over the line in similar circumstances. However, on this snapshot, it is an exceedingly risky course to take.
Liadh Ni Riada, on 15pc, looks well positioned to pick up a seat. Whilst Sinn Fein are traditionally not the most successful party at hoovering up transfers, this year may well be different for them. So that's those two seats accounted for.
Fine Gael's three candidates are sitting quite pretty. Between them, they have 30pc of the first preference vote – a quota and a half. Sean Kelly and Deirdre Clune are both on 11pc, with Simon Harris back marginally at 7pc.
Whilst it is arguably a brilliant campaign management strategy, it just means that both Kelly and Clune will be eyeing each other up nervously – there will be a doubt in their minds that there is room, or an appetite for two FG successful candidates at this stage of the Government's life cycle. So potentially, the battle for the fourth seat will come down to a shoot-out between Fianna Fail's and Fine Gael's second candidate.
Of course at this early stage there are health warnings – we have nearly a month of campaigning to go, but as a starting point, it certainly gives the would-be MEPs in both of these sprawling areas food for thought. Paul Moran is an associate director with Millward Brown