One thing is for sure about the European election count on Sunday is that all eyes across the EU will be on The Royal Theatre, Castlebar when the ballot boxes are opened thanks to one man’s name on the ticket, Declan Ganley. The Galway man and Libertas leader has emerged as the most controversial candidate in an election in Ireland for years. Ganley and his Libertas group’s anti-Lisbon Treaty campaign last year lead the charge for the no-vote on the treaty in the country and his party has now gone pan-European in these elections. If Ganley fails to take a seat in this election, where does his or his party’s mandate go to in the expected re-running of the referendum later this year? We will have to wait and see.
But it is important to also point out that the no vote to the Lisbon treaty was not down to just Libertas and their campaign, Sinn Féin were also strong opponents of the treaty and their campaign director from that campaign Padraic MacLochlainn is also on the ballot paper this time around. The Donegal county councillor has been hard at it on the ground since last winter traversing this sprawling constituency on numerous occasions as he tries to get a seat in Brussels and Strasbourg. Current sitting Senator Pearse O’Doherty came very close to taking the third seat in the old North-west constituency last time around and MacLochlainn would have been hoping to try and go one better this time around.
Two from three back again
Of the three MEP’s elected last time around only two are running again, Fianna Fáil had nominated Sean Ó Neachtain to contest his seat again this time around but he had to withdraw late due to personal reasons, leaving only Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins and Independent Marian Harkin looking to take back their seats in the parliament. With Ó Neachtáin bowing out of the race, Fianna Fáil dragooned back into European service sitting Donegal South West TD, Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher who stepped aside from Brussels in 2004 to take up the mantle for the soldiers of destiny as their lead candidate in the constituency.
Polling seems to suggest that Higgins will retain his seat, while Gallagher should take one for Fianna Fáil, leaving only one seat up for grabs, with Harkin currently in pole position to retain her spot and fend off the challenge of Ganley and MacLochlainn. Last weeks Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll had Gallagher on 20 per cent of the vote, with Harkin on 19 and Mayo’s own Jim Higgins on 17 per cent. The poll actually had Higgins’ running mate Senator Joe O’Reilly from Cavan picking up two percentage points to move up to 10 per cent of the poll into fourth place with both Declan Ganley and Mac Lochlainn each on nine per cent of the vote.
When Gallagher was brought into the race it gave Fianna Fáil a very northern part of the constituency with Gallagher coming from Donegal and his running mate Pascal Mooney from Leitrim, leaving the whole southern part of the constituency many miles from a candidates how. Fine Gael after a long time deciding gave Joe O’Reilly the nod to run alongside Higgins who was never in any doubt of not running again for parliament and the split between Mayo and Cavan seems to have served the party well according to the polls with O’Reilly pushing ahead of both Ganley and MacLochlainn in last week’s poll, if not enough to get the two men over the line come Sunday’s count.
Harkin has consistently polled well and will be looking again for a strong first preference vote like she got in 2004 when she polled 66,664 first preference votes the biggest share of any candidate in the field then, which was almost 20,000 more than she got in 1999 where she lost out on the last seat to Dana Rosemary Scallon on the sixth count.
The rest of the pack
While those are the main contenders in the constituency there are a total of 13 contenders on the ballot paper, with Susan O’Keefe the other major party candidate running for the Labour party, the journalist whose reporting on the Irish beef industry for the Granada Television show World in Action brought her to public attention. She has been busy on the campaign trail, but not expected to challenge the main contender. Another person who has been busy on the campaign trail is Donegal native Fiachra O’Luain. The 27 year old graduate of the University of Limerick is a strong campaigner for Irish neutrality and the creation of sustainable jobs in the country.
The other names on the ballot paper are that of John Francis Higgins (independent ) who has previously ran for the general election in Sligo and polled under 90 first preference votes, the second journalist on the ballot paper is Noel McCullagh (independent ) who is based in Holland. The two other candidates running are Thomas King from Oranmore, Co Galway and Michael McNamara from Clare.
The polls are tipping a return from last time around with Higgins and Harkin retaining their seats, and Gallagher slipping in to Ó Neachtáin’s seat in the parliament, but it’s not that long ago that Dana was considered a wild outside bet to take a seat in the North-west. Like she did in 1999. So don’t write of Ganley just yet or even O’Reilly making a break for a Fine Gael second seat or MacLochlainn pushing it right to the wire.