Saturday 24 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Main parties rip up the rulebook as mix of greed and jitters sets in'

  

Fine Gael European candidate and former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh. Picture: North West Newspix
Fine Gael European candidate and former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh. Picture: North West Newspix
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Things are about to get real for our election candidates. It has by all accounts been a very predictable campaign for the European Parliament up to now.

There has been no 'Peter Casey moment' even though the man himself is running in the Midlands-North West constituency.

But that could change in the coming days as the hopefuls get sight of the finish line and those who are ahead of them in the home straight.

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Nowhere is this truer than in the incoherent constituency taking parts of Leinster, Connacht and Ulster.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have completely changed their electoral strategy in recent days. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has suddenly got greedy eyes for two seats, while Micheál Martin is growing concerned that, for the second MEP election in a row, his party may have gotten it wrong.

Although she would forcibly argue that not a single vote has been cast, Mairéad McGuinness seems certain to top the poll with plenty to spare.

General view of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: REUTERS
General view of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: REUTERS

The Parliament's first vice-president hasn't been too keen to share, though, so party HQ took it on itself to widen the ground available to Maria Walsh.

Ms Walsh, a former Rose of Tralee, is now allowed to campaign in Longford and Westmeath, which were previously off-limits. She has also been given copious opportunities to represent the party in radio and television debates, and the Taoiseach is heading west to canvass with her today.

Over in Fianna Fáil, it's been decided to scrap the constituency divide altogether. Back in 2011, the party gained more than 100,000 first preferences (17.8pc) but still couldn't win a seat.

The mistake was splitting the territory between two strong candidates: Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher in the west and Thomas Byrne in the east.

Strangely, the party opted for exactly the same tactic this time around with Anne Rabbitte and Brendan Smith - until jitters set in over recent days.

In an email to the two candidates yesterday, Fianna Fáil's director of elections Lisa Chambers ripped up the plan.

"Our strategy must evolve to give a final boost to both candidates," she wrote.

"We must ensure that we maximise our vote and I believe that the best way to do that is to remove the divide and open up the constituency to both candidates for the remainder of the campaign."

In other words, all bets are off as Fianna Fáil desperately scraps for a seat.

The playbooks are being ripped up as we edge towards polling and that means things might finally get interesting.

Irish Independent

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