From top: Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes (centre), who is leaving politics, canvassing in the 2014 European Elections; Dan Boyle
There probably won’t be a general election this year. There would need to be some clarity on Brexit, along with a belief in Fianna Fáil that it can advance in some way. Neither are likely, but if they were to come to pass, an election could take place in September/October.
A decision to hold a general election will be informed by the definite holding of local and European elections in June. Mid term elections are usually not good news for a party in government. Voters are more likely to use these elections to give parties in government a good kicking.
The European elections are those in which independents and smaller parties can make hay. There are three independent MEPs currently representing Ireland, four if you include Brian Crowley (currently in exile from Fianna Fáil).
There is also a strong tradition of electing independents – TJ Maher, Pat Cox, Dana and Kathy Sinnott, all of whom sought to present themselves, in varying degrees, as something apart from traditional politics.
Similar voter volatility has benefited smaller parties from The Worker’s Party winning a seat in 1989; through Joe Higgins winning a seat for the Socialist Party; to the Greens electing two MEPs in successive elections (1994/99).
Sinn Féin made its big impact in 2014 winning three seats, although Mary Lou McDonald had earlier served as a single term MEP.
This time it is difficult to predict what might happen, there are so many variables at play. In the Dublin euro-constituency there is an additional fourth seat to be contested.
Two of the outgoing MEPs will not be standing again. These two, Brian Hayes and Nessa Childers had won the second and third seats on a margin of one third of one per cent, with Eamon Ryan narrowly missing out.
Lynn Boylan for Sinn Féin will likely be re-elected, albeit on a smaller vote. The other three seats could go anywhere.
Senator Neale Richmond is likely to seek selection for the seat held by Brian Hayes. He has received a great deal of media attention as a Brexit spokesperson, although he is unlikely to improve the vote Brian Hayes got last time, a vote that was barely enough then.
Conor Lenihan is seeking a nomination to be the Fianna Fáil candidate. He certainly has a profile, even if in Dublin the FF vote remains its weakest in the country.
The situation seems more clear cut in the Midlands/North West euro-constituency. Matt Carthy should be re-elected for Sinn Féin, although he may suffer from an impression that he may not serve a full term, as he much prefers the prospect of becoming a TD for Cavan/Monaghan.
A dual threat exists for Flanagan – Fianna Fáil with the right candidate will be in the frame for a seat in the region where the party picks up its strongest vote.
Should he choose to run Peter Casey, with sufficient momentum from the presidential election, would amass enough votes to be elected, unfortunately.
In the Ireland South euro-constituency, now with an added fifth seat, Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly should be re-elected. Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada has had her name recognition enhanced after a far from successful presidential campaign.
Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheál Martin has given his imprimatur to Malcolm Byrne from Wexford. Malcolm and I worked together in the National Youth Council of Ireland. He has a capacity to be a very effective MEP.
What may hinder his prospects are the plans of outgoing MEP Brian Crowley, perhaps the greatest vote gatherer in Irish politics, on whether he will seek to defend the seat he holds. He is unlikely to be given a FF nomination having had the whip removed in 2014.
Even if he were to run as an independent candidate he would face uncomfortable questions on why he wants to extend his mandate, given that due to illness he has not attended a single session of the European Parliament since 2014.
Deirdre Clune‘s ability to retain a second Fine Gael will depend on how the party manages its vote. Labour doesn’t seem to have identified a strong candidate here. This opens the door for the Greens, with Grace O’Sullivan who looks set to add upon what had been a substantial vote in 2014.
These votes will not be replicated in a general election, but they will be analysed to see where the next slippage in our traditional voting patterns occur.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle