By Kernan Andrews
Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher’s reluctance to declare whether or not he will stand in May’s EU Elections has created an opening that could see Éamon Ó Cuív become the main Fianna Fáil candidate.
Should MEP Gallagher decide against seeking re-election in the new four-seat Midlands-North-West constituency, FF HQ could try to coax its agriculture spokesperson and Galway West TD to allow his name go forward.
Dep Ó Cuív has previously said the MEP role does not interest him. However after three years as an opposition TD, his opinion on the attractiveness of the position might have altered.
The speculation arose following MEP Gallagher’s declaration at the recent FF local election selection convention in Maam Cross for the Connemara ward. MEP Gallagher informed delegates he would decide “over the next month or two” whether or not he would be standing
Generally candidates for the EU parliament are politicians who are hindered from winning Dáil seats by various circumstances and who are ‘compensated’ by the parties with a seat in Europe; politicians who need to be shunted away for tactical reasons; or as a ‘gravy train reward’ for outgoing politicians.
Dep Ó Cuív fits none of these bills as he has one of the safest Fianna Fáil and Dáil seats in the State - a factor strengthened by the addition of South Mayo to Galway West last year. However the party itself, not Dep Ó Cuív, is the one with the tactical need.
The necessity for a ‘big name’ candidate is pressing, given Ireland’s EU constituencies were completely re-drawn last year and Midlands-North-West is a messy amalgamation of Connacht, the three Ulster counties in the Republic, and Kildare, Laois, Longford, Louth, Offaly, Meath, and Westmeath.
Although the FF vote is still stuck in the 20-23 per cent range, it is enough to yield the party one seat in the constituency. However, with the former Connacht-Ulster only based constituency dominated by half of Leinster, it is now electorally untested waters. As such, FF HQ will be eager that candidates have a profile which extends across almost half the State. Therefore, a prominent figure like Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher or Dep Ó Cuív is required.
Dep Ó Cuív has also enjoyed a successful period as FF agricultural spokesperson since 2011, not to mention his experience in dealing with rural issues for more than 20 years. This adds to his suitability for the role given the prominence of agriculture on the European agenda.
Furthermore, the FG front-runner in Midlands-North-West will be Mairead McGuinness, who is well versed in farming matters and FF will want a candidate to compete with her for the farming vote.
Dep Ó Cuív could prove a strong candidate for the MNW constituency should he be called on to run. Not only that, but if he runs and wins an EU seat, it could cause the first by-election in Galway West since the election of Maire Geoghegan-Quinn in 1979.