European elections offer little prospect of a Galway winner

Euro candidate?...former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh.
Euro candidate?...former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The European elections may be six months away but they’re front and centre for the political parties who have been thinking – nay obsessing – about them for some months now.

That’s despite the reality that the Euros are second-tier elections – and I’d say if you went around the streets of any town or village in Galway, people would struggle with the names of four MEPs for the sprawling Midlands North West constituency.

As to what MEPs do, for most people that’s a mystery that’s beyond the powers of even Hercule Poirot.

Unlike the Dáil, it’s not a legislature in the sense we think of it – at least the Dáil decides on the laws that govern Irish society.

For years the European Parliament was a glorified talking shop. It has more powers now but remains very much subservient to the European Commission (the EU’s Ministers or Commissioners) and the EU Council (the ultimate decision-making body, made up of prime ministers).

MEPs also have a very generous salary and expenses package, something that was highlighted during Liada Ní Riada’s presidential campaing.

So why all the interest? Well there is Brexit, but it’s not really the biggie for parties as far as this election is concerned. Sure, all the parties want to copperfasten their EU credentials, even EU-critical parties like Sinn Féin and EU critics like Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

Parties see most value in the elections for domestic reasons. A good European election can boost morale in a party that has taken a battering in a general election. It can also boost the profile of the party or candidate.

The best example that comes to mind is Fine Gael winning five seats in 2004 – on the back of a huge campaign – only two years after the party experienced the worst election in its long history.

Enda Kenny had become the leader and there were doubts about him. Indeed there were doubts about the future of the party. The party ran really high profile candidates, including Simon Coveney in Munster, Gay Mitchell in Dublin and Jim Higgins in the then Connacht-North West.

In Leinster, they parachuted in broadcaster Mairead McGuinness, much to the displeasure of sitting MEP Avril Doyle. In the event the internecine battle between the two candidates won both of them a seat.

For more,  read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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