Political news

Mark Durkan candidacy 'boosts' Fine Gael prospects for second Dublin MEP

Political analyst Noel Whelan said European elections were 'personality driven' and that Mark Durkan would appeal to voters outside Fine Gael traditional electoral base

MARK Durkan's European candidacy brings the Fine Gael's ticket "heft" and boosts its prospects of taking two of Dublin's four seats, according to a leading political analyst.

Noel Whelan said European elections in the Republic are primarily "personality driven" and the former SDLP leader would appeal to voters outside Fine Gael's traditional electoral base.

The Irish Times columnist and former Fianna Fáil adviser was speaking after Mr Durkan's surprise announcement that he will contest the poll on May 26 in the Dublin constituency.

The 58-year-old former deputy first minister will run alongside former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who resigned from Leo Varadkar's government in 2017 over her handling of the Garda whistleblowing case.

The Dublin constituency will return four MEPs after an additional representative was added when the UK's 27 seats were redistributed among EU states because of Brexit.

Mr Whelan said the decision by Fianna Fáil's Brian Hayes and independent Nessa Childers not to stand again means that three of the four seats will be won by non incumbents.

He said Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are likely to take a seat each but there is "no obvious contender to take the fourth".

"Fine Gael could have easily secured one seat with a single candidate but putting Mark Durkan on the ballot definitely puts them in the mix for a second seat," he said.

"Even if it wasn't framed in the context of the north-south dimension on the eve of Brexit, the addition of a prominent Northern Ireland politician on the Fine Gael ticket in the Dublin constituency gives that ticket line-up heft that it otherwise wouldn't have had."

Mr Whelan said the former Foyle MP, who lost his seat to Sinn Féin in 2017 by 169 votes, would be a "first class MEP" but his credentials as a candidate were untested.

However, the barrister and one-time Fianna Fáil Dáil candidate believes it would highly unlikely Fine Gael would have selected Mr Durkan without "road testing with ballot paper polling".

"I would be shocked if that decision was made without polling him – Fine Gael is a highly sophisticated political machine and that polling must be at least suggesting that his candidacy puts them in the frame for a second seat and in the worst possible scenario they comfortably get just one," he said.

In terms of negatives, he said many younger voters would "never have heard of the SDLP or Mark Durkan", though older voters would be aware of his input into the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of the Stormont institutions.

Mr Whelan said European elections in the south are "very much personality driven", with voters making up their minds based mostly on media appearances, but he expects the former SDLP leader to "hold his own there".

He said some of Mr Durkan electoral strength lay in his "appeal to the non-Fine Gael voter".

"Leo Varakar has appeal outside the usual Fine Gael constituency, Mark Durkan is similar in that regard," he said.

"The very fact fact that it has come as a surprise and is quite controversial, is itself proof that it's an assertive stance by Fine Gael."

He added that the election was likely to be dominated by Brexit and issues like transport and health would be peripheral.

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