Described as a "fly in the political ointment", the announcement that Peter Casey will run here has made predicting this constituency a lot more difficult.

Candidates

17 candidates in total:

Cyril Brennan (People Before Profit); Matt Carthy (Sinn Féin); Peter Casey (Independent); Luke 'Ming' Flanagan (Independent); Patrick Greene (Direct Democracy Ireland); Dominic Hannigan (Labour); Fidelma Healy Eames (Independent); Dilip Mahapatra (Independent); Mairead McGuinness (Fine Gael); Saoirse McHugh (Green Party); James Miller (Independent); Diarmaid Mulcahy (Independent); Olive O'Connor (Independent); Michael O'Dowd (Renua Ireland); Anne Rabbitte (Fianna Fáil); Brendan Smith (Fianna Fáil); Maria Walsh (Fine Gael).

Seats

This is a four-seater constituency.

Outgoing MEPs

Matt Carthy (Sinn Féin); Luke 'Ming' Flanagan (Independent); Marian Harkin (Independent) and Mairead McGuinness (Fine Gael).

Lie of the land

From Malin Head down to Monasterevin, and from Conamara (Connemara) across to Cooley, Midlands-North-West covers a huge geographical area.

The constituency covers Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal in Ulster; all five counties of Connacht (Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway and Mayo); and five of the counties in Leinster - Kildare, Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath.

In order to achieve more balanced representation, Midlands-North-West has been changed since 2014. Laois and Offaly have been transferred from this constituency into Ireland South. It remains a four-seat constituency.

According to the most recent Census in 2016, there is a population of 1,523,517 in this constituency. This gives a population of 380,879 per MEP.

Turnout dropped here in the last election from 63% in the 2004 and 2009 elections; to 55% in 2014.

Analysis

Three of the four outgoing MEPs are bidding to retain their seats - Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy; Independent 'Luke' Ming Flanagan; and Fine Gael's Mairead McGuinness.

Independent Marian Harkin retires having served as an MEP since 2004.

As one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament, McGuinness is one of the most prominent politicians in Brussels/Strasbourg. She also has a strong media presence nationally and internationally, particularly around the Brexit crisis. Talk to any political observer in Midlands-North-West and they will all say she is on course to win her fourth European Election in a row (having previously won in 2004, 2009, and 2014).

Just as retired MEP Brian Crowley was always viewed as having a secure position, McGuinness is described as a "banker" by political friends and foes. Predicting the other three seats here is not quite as easy. 

McGuinness' Fine Gael running mate is Maria Walsh, Rose of Tralee winner in 2014. Born in the US, she grew up in Shrule on the Galway-Mayo border.

Given that she is based in Mayo and McGuinness is in Meath, the two Fine Gael candidates are geographically well spaced apart in the constituency.

Walsh has not run for public office before. One TD remarked: "Fine Gael has divided up the constituency in such a way that Maria Walsh has the western side, while Mairead McGuinness has the eastern counties. This may not help Maria Walsh's prospects as she may have picked up more votes in the urban commuter belt areas around Louth, Meath and Kildare."

Another political observer did point out that Walsh may not be a seasoned political operator but she is a great people person, has media experience and could prove to be a strong campaigner. A public row between McGuinness and Walsh over territorial incursions has already erupted. Watch that space for more fireworks before 24 May.


Fianna Fáil lost its seat here five years ago when Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher lost out to Ms Harkin in the eighth count.

The party had run Thomas Byrne from Meath East as a running mate to party veteran Gallagher. The Donegal man polled over 9% of the vote with Byrne polling 8.5% of the vote. Gallagher's 59,562 combined with Byrne's 55,384 first preference votes should have been enough to elect one of them. There appeared to be a Fianna Fáil quota here but the candidates did not transfer to each other. Falling between two stools, the party lost its seat.

Cavan-Monaghan TD Brendan Smith, a former minister for agriculture, and Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte have been selected to run for Fianna Fáil here this time around.

The party is very conscious that the two-candidate strategy failed badly five years ago. This time around Fianna Fáil headquarters has issued a directive for the two candidates to carve up Midlands-North-West in a bid to maximise support.

Rabbitte has been given her own Galway East constituency along with Galway West, Mayo, Roscommon-Galway, and Sligo. Smith has been given his own Cavan-Monaghan constituency along with Donegal, Leitrim and Louth.

The five remaining Dáil constituencies in the area have been left open for both candidates to harvest votes. These constituencies are Longford-Westmeath, Meath East, Meath West, Kildare North and Kildare South.

There have been some murmurs of disquiet within party ranks about the wisdom of leaving five "shared areas" among both candidates.

One party source said: "In 2014, we got it wrong having two candidates and no proper vote management strategy. There is a strategy this time but there are concerns about the shared areas and how that will work out."

According to the last census, the combined population of the "shared" areas is over 545,000.

Winning votes in those five constituencies will be vital for Fianna Fáil if either candidate is to win a seat. 

Some observers see the more experienced Smith having the edge here, but there is a contrary view. Fine Gael's Mairead McGuinness and Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy are based beside him in North Meath and Monaghan. This may eat into his initial local base of votes to build on. 

Rabbitte could start off with a large local vote in her native Galway and neighbouring Mayo.

That is just one theory. The received wisdom is that support for Fianna Fáil in the old "Connacht Ulster" constituency is generally a few percentage points higher than national opinion polls. So a Fianna Fáil seat gain here appears to be winnable.


By electing Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Marian Harkin in 2014, this constituency returned two independent candidates last time around. There has been a solid independent vote that does not go along traditional party lines in this constituency. It has returned Ms Harkin on three occasions and Dana Rosemary Scallon in 1999. 

Libertas candidate Declan Ganley polled almost 68,000 votes in three-seat Ireland-North-West in 2009 to come fourth.

Out of the 59 European Election candidates, Independent MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan is one of the few who has universal name recognition. That is all important in European elections. He has a huge social media presence (nearly 40,000 Twitter followers and over 67,000 followers on Facebook) and uses this effectively to get his message out.

As he is a former TD and outgoing MEP, this gives him the momentum enjoyed by incumbents.

There is a view that as he lived in Brussels for some time in the last few years that he may have lost touch with his base. But he topped the poll in 2014 with 124,063 votes. That was 19% of the first preference vote.

One observer pointed out that even if Flanagan loses a large chunk of his vote, he would still be in with a strong shout of getting re-elected.

Another observer said: "Back in 2014 he seized on the issue of the turf cutters. Bogs are something that do not really concern a lot of people but he built momentum around that. His running mate was a garda whistleblower and he managed to capture the public mood that whistleblowers were not getting fair play."

The next few weeks will tell if he has the capacity to capture that mood again.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy is contesting his second European Election following his breakthrough in 2014. He got 114,727 first preference votes five years ago, taking the third seat with an 18% vote share.

This time around, the Monaghan native will continue to benefit from Sinn Féin's strong base in the border counties.

Incumbency is also an added advantage for him as an outgoing MEP. In a vast constituency that covers 13 counties, it is impossible for any candidate to cover the entire area in the six- to eight-week lead in to the election. Like the other MEPs, Carthy has been attending meetings up and down this large area for the past five years and that should stand to him.

Having sitting TD Brendan Smith contest will make a dent in his vote, as Smith shares the same Cavan-Monaghan Dáil constituency. Another variable for him is the fact that he has already been selected to contest the next general election for Sinn Féin. 

Given that there is likely to be a general election within the next 12 months, Carthy is likely to be an MEP for a short time, (if he is re-elected and subsequently elected to the Dáil). 

Meath councillor Darren O'Rourke, who has stood in Meath East in a number of general elections, has been named as Carthy's substitute candidate. Will Carthy's commitment to stand in the general election affect the electorate's opinion of him? A little perhaps. But he has been prominent on issues which are hugely salient in Midlands-North-West – agriculture and Brexit. That should boost his chances.


The announcement that Peter Casey will run has made predicting this constituency a lot more difficult. The "anti-politician" won a massive 342,000 votes to come second in the Presidential Election last November. He caught the public imagination last year, garnering a 23% share of the first preference vote.

Winning more than 120,000 votes in the Midlands-North-West area in the Presidential Election, he has given himself a solid base for a run for Europe. The Derry-born entrepreneur is selling himself as "a strong independent voice for rural Ireland in Europe and at home".

But the variables on 24 May will be different to the Presidential Election. Firstly, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil did not contest the Presidential Election. The "soft Fianna Fáil" vote he secured last November is likely to fall away.

"His success depends on whether or not he can control the moment. He is capable of doing something outlandish to grip the imagination," one TD remarked.

He has been described as a "fly in the political ointment". There is a view that Casey says things that more conventional politicians are reluctant to say. That perception could work in his favour, particularly in the European Elections which are seen as secondary elections.

But one TD points out: "Casey needs to steady his ship. He is a calamity waiting to happen. He is liable to say anything and drop a bombshell at any moment." 

There is a view that Casey, and outgoing MEPs Flanagan and Carthy will be fishing for votes in the same pool. So look out for a potentially compelling three-way battle here.


Former TD and senator Dominic Hannigan is the Labour Party candidate. He was a senator from 2007 until 2011, before topping the poll in Meath East in that year's general election. Hannigan was the outgoing chair of the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs when he lost his seat in the 2016 general election. His party contends that experience and Labour's affiliation with the Social and Democrats grouping in the European Parliament would make him an influential MEP.

He is not the only former senator running here as former Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames is also contesting. Based in Galway-West, Healy Eames was a senator from 2007 until 2016. She contests her first European Election as an independent candidate.

Former mayor of Drogheda Michael O'Dowd is contesting for Renua Ireland. He is a former Fine Gael councillor and brother of Louth Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd. He unsuccessfully contested the 2016 general election. The 24 May poll will mark Renua Ireland's first European Election campaign.

Saoirse McHugh from Achill Island in Mayo is the Green Party candidate. Green politics is certainly in vogue with all parties adopting policies traditionally advocated by the party led by Eamon Ryan.

Health care worker Cyril Brennan from Ballyshannon is standing for People Before Profit in the European Elections and simultaneously bidding for seat on Donegal County Council in the locals.

A medical doctor, based in Dromiskin, Co Louth, Dr Dilip Mahaptra initially sought the Fianna Fáil nomination to run for Europe. He is now running as an independent and he is not using any election posters for environmental reasons.

Patrick Greene from Drogheda is contesting for Direct Democracy Ireland. He unsuccessfully contested the 2016 general election and the 2014 local elections.

Westmeath farmer James Miller is running as an independent. He unsuccessfully contested the 2016 general election. He is standing on a platform of seeking to "support and protect the Irish family and family values".

Another independent candidate is Mayo woman Olive O'Connor. The Ballinrobe woman is part of the Families Speak Out group – a movement of parents and health advocates.

Independent candidate Diarmaid Mulcahy, from Galway City, is the chairman of the Council for the West, an organisation that creates awareness of the major social and economic issues affecting development in the five counties in Connacht, Donegal and Clare.


Prediction

Mairead McGuinness is a banker. That gives Fine Gael a seat. 

After that, this constituency gets more difficult to predict, particularly due to the lack of opinion polls including Peter Casey.

There's a theory Fianna Fáil cannot mess things up here two elections in a row. That should give Brendan Smith or Anne Rabbitte a seat - but it's not certain.

So at this early stage, it's McGuinness and three of the following four - Brendan Smith, Luke Ming Flanagan, Matt Carthy and Peter Casey. 

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