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21 May 2009 Edition

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EU contests in high gear

THE BOYS & GIRLS OF WEXFORD: Local election candidates step out with Mary Lou McDonald and EU East candidate Kathleen Funchion

THE BOYS & GIRLS OF WEXFORD: Local election candidates step out with Mary Lou McDonald and EU East candidate Kathleen Funchion









Sinn Féin can hold Dublin and a growing vote in East makes last seat possible


THE EU election posters have been up for weeks and the billboard campaigns for a select few candidates have been running for months as chequebook-driven strategies dominated the tactics of some struggling contenders.
Now, over the last week, it is clear that the electoral contests have stepped up pace and all the party campaigns are in high gear. Most crucially, a TNS MRBI poll printed in last Saturday’s Irish Times showed that Sinn Féin were in the running for seats in each of the 26-County EU constituencies.
The TNS MRBI poll was all the more important as it was the first where - rather than be asked a general question about voting intentions - interviewees were shown a sample ballot paper (albeit without pictures of candidates, which voters would have on the day).
The results showed Mary Lou McDonald with 14% of first-preferences in the Dublin constituency. In the East, the two Sinn Féin candidates combined with 11% of the vote, a 4% showing for Kilkenny’s Kathleen Funchion and 7% for Louth Councillor Tomás Sharkey. In South, Toireasa Ferris had a poll showing of 12% with Pádraig Mac Lochlainn registering 10% in the North West Constituency.

The growth and depth of the Sinn Féin vote in Dublin has been visible over the last three EU elections where the party vote more than doubled between 1994 and 1999 even though turn-out fell slightly in the 2004 election.
In 2004, Mary Lou McDonald’s performance more than trebled the 18,633 votes won in 1999. The 60,935 votes and 14.32% of first preferences pushed Sinn Féin into the last of four seats in the capital.
Changes in EU Parliament representation has meant that Dublin has lost a seat and will now only elect three MEPs. The combination of a strengthening Sinn Féin council presence, the falling Fianna Fáil vote share and a divided Green Party vote in the city is putting Mary Lou into a good position to hold the Sinn Féin seat.

Fianna Fáil, who are running a two-candidate strategy in Dublin, only registered a combined 16% in the TNS MRBI poll. 1984 was the last election where Fianna Fáil elected two MEPs to Dublin. In 2004, Eoin Ryan was elected without the second Fianna Fáil candidate, former Mayor Royston Brady, being eliminated. Brady, who had been a poll front-runner at one stage, saw his campaign implode in the last weeks of the campaign. A similar scenario this time would leave Ryan stranded for transfers and losing his seat.

The Labour Party’s showing at 21% makes them likely to take a second seat and for now the party has dampened down all support of the Lisbon Treaty and any discussion of the merits or legalities of forcing Irish voters to the polls again on this issue.
Perhaps the most significant showing in the poll was the performance of Patricia McKenna, the former Green Party MEP. McKenna, now running as an Independent, announced her candidacy on one of the days of polling and scored an 8% support compared to the Green Party’s Deirdre De Burca who came in with 6% despite running a high-profile billboard advertising campaign over the previous two months.
In the coming days, a unified Sinn Féin campaign and intensified canvassing can deliver this seat for the party.

Sinn Féin vote 1994 to 2004

Year    Total Vote    % share     Turnout
1994    8,190    2.95%    37.16%
1999    18,633    6.64%    36.14%
2004    60,935    14.32%    52.95%

The Sinn Féin vote in the East constituency - the counties of Carlow, Kilkenny, Kildare, Laois, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Wexford and Wicklow - has grown from poll to poll, doubling between 1994 and 1999 and again between 1999 and 2004.
Now the party vote is set to grow again, the key being a much stronger Sinn Féin council presence and the possibility of breakthrough new council seats in Kilkenny and Wicklow which will create the groundwork for further growth in the Sinn Féin EU vote here.
Sinn Féin’s strategy of running geographically-based candidates - Tomás Sharkey from Louth and Kathleen Funchion from Kilkenny - is already paying off as shown by the TNS MRBI poll. It gave Sharkey a 7% vote share, with 4% for Funchion, a total Sinn Féin vote of 11% and significantly higher than the 8.68% the party won here in 2004.
Fine Gael will find it hard to hold the two seats won here in 2004 as Avril Doyle steps down, leaving the door open for a battle for the last seat. 


Sinn Féin vote 1994 to 2004

Year    Total Vote    % share     Turnout
1994    6,423    2.49%    42.32%
1999    20,015    5.85%    50.56% 

2004    39,356    8.68%    58.50% 

FACE THE PRESS: East EU candidates Tomás Sharkey and Kathleen Funchion face the media 



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