Adrian Kavanagh, 25th September 2013
New boundaries for Ireland’s European Election constituencies were published today, following a review that was necessitated by the loss of a European Parliament seat by Ireland after Croatia’s accession to the European Union. The new boundary report is published here.
In short, there will be three constituencies.
The three-seat Dublin constituency remains unchanged. That said, the three candidates who won seats in this constituency will not be contesting the 2014 elections, so this could make for a very interesting contest in Dublin.
There will be a four-seat Midlands-North-West constituency (which I’ll occasionally refer to here as “North”), comprising of Connacht, the three Ulster counties and the northern/Midland Leinster counties of Laois, Offaly, Kildare, Longford, Westmeath, Louth and Meath. Here, the population of Connacht-Ulster would be equivalent to two European seats, as would the population of the two northern/Midland Leinster counties. Could this mean at least one of the current North West MEPs being certain to lose out? To make matters even more difficult for the North West incumbents, this will prove to be an ideal constituency for the new Sinn Fein candidate, Monaghan-based Matt Carthy, to compete in. There should be an interesting Fine Gael internal battle between Mairead McGuinness and Jim Higgins or John O’Mahony.
The third of these constituencies is also a four-seater, the South constituency comprising of the province of Munster (with Clare being reunited with the rest of the province) and the south Leinster counties of Carlow, Kilkenny, Wicklow and Wexford. The two South MEPs won seats at the 2009 contest, Sean Kelly and Brian Crowley, will be happy with this, one would imagine, especially given the return of Clare, unless a south Leinster based running mate makes things more difficult for them. The breakdown of populations between the different areas suggest that three of the seats will be divided between the Munster based candidates, with one seat being won by a south Leinster-based candidate.
It is hard, given the lack of accurate tally figures for those contests, to work out accurately what party support levels at the 2009 European Elections would have been in the areas now covered by the North and South constituencies. (Dublin amounts to a more straight-forward case.) But support figures by party for the 2011 General Election can be fairly accurately accounted for. In Dublin, Fine Gael won 29.8% of the vote at the 2011 General Election, with Labour on 29.1%, Fianna Fail on 12.6%, Sinn Fein on 8.6%, the Green Party at 3.6% and Others at 23.4% (including the United Left Alliance grouping, which won 7.0% of the Dublin vote). In the area now within the Midlands-North-West constituency, Fine Gael won 38.3% of the vote at the 2011 General Election, with Fianna Fail on 19.3%, Labour on 13.9%, Sinn Fein on 13.5%, the Green Party at 1.2% and Others at 13.9%. In the area now within the South constituency, Fine Gael won 37.9% of the vote at the 2011 General Election, with Fianna Fail on 18.8%, Labour on 18.3%, Sinn Fein on 8.3%, the Green Party at 1.3% and Others at 15.4%.
On present poll standings, Fine Gael will be confident of taking a seat in all of these constituencies and may well challenge for a second seat in North and/or South. The same largely applies to Fianna Fail, although winning a Dublin seat will pose a more significant challenge for them. Sinn Fein would be in contention for a seat in all three constituencies and they would be especially hopeful of Matt Carthy taking a seat in North. Labour will be struggling to win any seat, though they would be competitive in the Dublin constituency. If vote transfers work out for them, they could well have a strong chance of winning a seat there based on the current poll levels, although their prospects won’t be helped if there is a strong protest-vote element to the European Elections voting (of course, the same rule would apply to Fine Gael’s hopes of taking two seats in Midlands-North-West and/or South). The Green Party’s Eamon Ryan could poll well in Dublin also, though the party will not be competitive in North or South. Candidates from the Independents and Others groupings would also have a good chance in these areas, if they can gain sufficient profile in the run up to the elections.
Two things to remember, however. First of all, European Elections are as much about personality contests as Presidential Elections are (note how many MEPs/former MEPs have contested Presidential Elections) and party support trends do not always fully equate to likelihood of success in these contests. A strong, high-profile and well-liked candidate can significantly increase a party’s prospects of winning a seat in these contests. Candidate profile becomes even more crucial given the increased size of some of these constituencies (North and South), meaning that well-known candidates must be seen to be at a crucial advantage in these contests.
Secondly, these are classic second-order (and mid-term) elections and the normal rules of these – lower turnout, a stronger than normal anti-government party vote – are likely to apply in 2014 also, which may make these contests more difficult for Fine Gael and Labour but offer increased, and in some cases unanticipated, opportunities for Opposition politicians to win seats. Looking at current figures, Fine Gael and Labour could be in contention for the last seats in some, or all, of these constituencies and these seat could fall their way if the “ball bounces right” for them (or if they get strong vote transfers!) in these contests. The problem is that the ball often stops bouncing for government parties in these second-order, or mid-term, electoral contests…