RUNNING TWO candidates in the Midlands-North-West (MNW) European constituency in 2014 split the Fianna Fail vote (between Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher and Thomas Byrne), causing no little angst and recrimination at the time. FF’s EU candidate, Barry Andrews, cited this precedent as the reason why he was against a running mate in his Dublin constituency, pointing out that FF had enough votes for a seat in MNW, but that two candidates meant they won no seat at all. So why has FF’s constituency committee decided to add Galway East TD, Anne Rabbitte, to the ticket along with Brendan Smith TD in MNW?
The sequence of nominations, conventions and additions to various tickets helps to explain matters. On February 22, the Fine Gael convention for the constituency selected sitting MEP, Máiréad McGuinness and former Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh, on a dual candidate ticket. The same night, at a FF local election convention in Galway, Rabbitte made the completely unexpected announcement that she was putting her name forward for the party ticket at the Euro convention due the following month. Strangely, she claimed that she had not even told party HQ of her decision, raising many sceptical eyebrows among members.
Come the convention and Rabbitte polled very poorly with 174 votes, just a fifth of the votes of the single candidate selected, Brendan Smith TD, who secured 859 votes and 9% of the total first preference vote. Niall Blaney took 596 votes and former Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president, John Comer, was on 267 votes. A week later, the constituencies committee — despite Rabbitte having been beaten into fourth place at convention — added her to the ticket.
There was a delay of several days before HQ’s expected decisions about MNW and the South constituency tickets were made (TD, Billy Kelleher, was also added in the South) and much of this was down to arguments about the wisdom of adding Rabbitte in MNW. Eventually, it was agreed that with MEP, Marian Harkin, then looking unlikely to run again the volatile Euro constituency could see FG do well with two women on its ticket. FF’s 2014 blunder saw two strong candidates cancelling each other out, but it was not thought that Rabbitte was in the same league as either The Cope or Byrne, something which, ironically, was underlined by her poor showing at convention.
While there is no gender imperative at play in Euro elections, unlike general elections, Rabbitte would add a female friendly face to the party and would also provide transfers for Smith. Not that the latter is grateful for this assist, as he huffily pointed out last weekend that he had not been made aware of Rabbitte’s addition to the ticket.
Rabbitte’s run out in MNW, of course, will (or should), enhance her profile in the run-up to the general election. However, the possible addition to FF’s general election ticket in Galway East of ex-Labour chairman and TD, Colm Keaveney, poses a threat to Rabbitte’s retention of her Dáil seat, especially if she bombs in the Euro contest. A potential landmine could be planted in the form of Peter Casey, should he decide to enter the contest. If not, then McGuinness, Smith, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy MEP and Independent Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan MEP (his demise is exaggerated by FF and FG), will likely be returned in the four-seater.
Carthy is also SF’s Dáil candidate in Cavan-Monaghan, something that invites accusations of treating either Leinster House or the EU Parliament, or both, with cavalier disregard.
It is not entirely out of the question that the general election will be called at the same time as the locals and the Euros, in which case Carthy will plump for the Dáil, leaving SF with no strong personality running for Europe.