Wednesday 21 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Leo plays the butcher while Mairead takes a bath... election day must surely be close'

Clean up: MEP Mairead McGuinness decides to take a break from canvassing, much to the amusement of Assumpta Fagan, from Killallo, Co Meath. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Clean up: MEP Mairead McGuinness decides to take a break from canvassing, much to the amusement of Assumpta Fagan, from Killallo, Co Meath. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It's Friday night in Meath and Taoiseach Leo 'non-vegan' Varadkar is playing butcher while the European Parliament's first vice-president Mairead McGuinness is posing in a bathtub.

Elections are a funny business. They take some politicians out of their comfort zone and set others bounding onto an unsuspecting public.

Varadkar and McGuinness are at opposite ends of the spectrum. He dislikes the small talk, while she would literally want to talk for Ireland if Michael D Higgins would ever allow anybody a chance at being President.

And yet at the end of a politically challenging week, they provided the perfect balance to each other on the streets of Kells, Co Meath.

McGuinness is his star performer, soaring to 29pc in an opinion poll released yesterday morning. Who better to be seen with at the end of a week when Fine Gael made a major play for the hearts, minds and votes of rural Ireland? She's a former editor of the 'Farming Independent', presenter of RTÉ's 'Ear to the Ground' and has effectively explained Brexit to the British for the past year.

But the sitting MEP doesn't need her Taoiseach quite as much. Despite her protestations that no vote has been cast, it would appear she's half-way to Brussels. Interestingly, her popularity has given Fine Gael an outside chance of taking a second seat in Midlands North-West, in the form of ex-Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh.

The pair have already clashed over campaign boundaries in the massive constituency that stretches from Donegal to Kildare.

But would McGuinness be willing to put the party first and ask some of her supporters to give her running mate a number one?

"I can't do that myself. You could, but even the Taoiseach was saying he finds that difficult too," she said, before Mr Varadkar injected that he hadn't.

"You did, actually," she hit back.

Mr Varadkar clarified: "It's difficult to make it effective - but I didn't say I find it difficult to ask people to."

The exchange was more banter than barney. However, it spoke to deeper conversations that all the candidates will have in the coming days.

With less than two weeks to polling in the European elections, strategy is now key.

Up to this point it has been largely about gaining name recognition. Quite quickly the focus will be on hard votes.

Fianna Fáil has already had issues in Ireland South, where Billy Kelleher and Malcolm Byrne are fighting over ground. And in Dublin there is a string of left-wing candidates who are cancelling each other out.

The battle for the third automatic seat in the capital is the most intriguing. The fourth-placed finisher will be put into 'cold storage' until Brexit actually happens.

Despite being a rising star of Sinn Féin, Lynn Boylan could fall victim to a left-wing overload.

She topped the poll five years ago - but now appears likely to need transfers, which has never been her party's strong point.

Hot on her heels are Clare Daly (Independents4Change), Ciaran Cuffe (Green Party) and Alex White (Labour).

Alice Mary Higgins (Independent) and Gary Gannon (Social Democrats) are not having an impact yet but could potentially work themselves into that mix as well.

It adds up to a very intriguing count in the capital. Labour has already called on parties of a similar persuasion into voting down the ballot paper along left-wing lines.

No doubt this was as much about hoping its candidate might get some change from Green Party and Social Democrat supporters as actively encouraging its own troops to be generous.

Others will have to decide whether to adopt such a friendly tone or go for the kill. It's a big call.

Those on the campaign trail say people are only now starting to properly engage on Europe. We have been told from many quarters that these are the most important European elections since the union's foundation.

In Romania this week, leaders declared the EU will "stay united through thick and thin".

But as evidenced by McGuinness and the left-wing parties, until the elections are over, politicians will be united neither by party nor ideology.

Irish Independent

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