Last Refuge


Regina Doherty

Regina Doherty

LEO VARADKAR and his command staff officers in the bunker have one issue to deal with before others when it comes to the Dublin European seat and that’s whether to run one or two candidates. This likely means that Fine Gael delegates at convention will have to choose between former minister Regina Doherty or junior minister Josepha Madigan. Alternatively, the Dublin electorate will decide whether Regina or Josepha will take the single FG European Parliament seat, which one of them will surely take. Another scenario is that of the other pretenders (male pretenders, that is) – senator Barry Ward is well ahead of former TD Noel Rock and former junior minister Colm Brophy. And there is idle gossip about Kate O’Connell also being interested in the nomination.

Ward’s strongest argument, say the barrister’s fans in Dún Laoghaire and the Law Library, is not what he is or what he would achieve but what his EU election would avoid – namely, a Dáil arithmetic problem for Leo and the party. They claim that if Regina Doherty went to Europe, the already difficult job of FG taking a seat in the new, three-seat constituency of Fingal West would be virtually impossible, with no realistic candidate in sight. This would not matter in terms of the current Dáil but it would be a negative at the next general election, which could be held at any time next year.

As far as Madigan is concerned, her exit to Europe would matter in the current Dáil as party strategists believe nobody else would hold her seat in a by-election in Dublin Rathdown. And as the general election looms, the Government’s majority will inevitably come under pressure, meaning that every seat will count. Furthermore, only Madigan would retain FG’s second seat in the general election, even though the constituency goes from three seats to four due to the boundary revision.

Ward is a political heavy hitter, but not all party handlers are enthusiastic about him being Jennifer Carroll MacNeill’s running mate at the general election in Dún Laoghaire. This is because polls show that middle-class women will vote for middle-class women when offered the choice. Thus, Dún Laoghaire’s councillor Lorraine Hall is the one that is being pushed for the Dáil. Ward may believe – and he may be correct – that he will more easily win the party’s EU nomination than the general election candidacy.

As things stand the two women, Regina Doherty and Josepha Madigan, are the clear front runners for the EU nomination, with Ward a possibility.

Josepha Madigan

Josepha Madigan

Madigan launched into her campaign last Monday week by telling RTÉ programme Katie Hannon Upfront that she would be running for the European Parliament, before being reminded that she would have to win the nomination first.

She went on to do herself some good in front a party audience by being one of the chief Shinner bashers in the Dáil motion of no confidence in justice minister Helen McEntee.

However, Josepha got the blame in FG for an Irish independent article last Thursday that said a “senior Fine Gael figure said they were surprised candidates who could not be elected in the general election would expect to run in the European election”. Doherty lost her seat at general election as did Ward, Rock and O’Connell.

EU elections are always more concerned about personalities than the remote politics of the European Parliament. If FG decides to go with one candidate in Dublin then Doherty, a former cabinet member and a popular party personality, will go up against junior minister Madigan. The latter is known to be less responsive to parliamentary colleagues than Doherty was when she was a cabinet member but Madigan is a tough battler. Some party activists say there are many more FG voters in Josepha’s south Dublin than Regina’s north Dublin, while others argue that FG voters in Dublin don’t care about the Liffey divide when it comes to EU elections.

It is likely that decisions about EU candidate strategy and the conventions themselves will be determined earlier than intended. This is because the leadership fears that rival candidates will beat the daylights out of each other if they are given too much time before decisions are made.

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