Skip to main content »

Trinity College Dublin

Ireland European Parliament election Friday 24 May 2019

 

Elections for the European Parliament took place across the EU in late May 2019. Ireland voted on Friday 24 May. The Republic of Ireland elected 13 MEPs in 2004, 12 in 2009 and 11 in 2014. For the 2019 election, in the expectation that Brexit would have taken place by the time the elections were held, the EU decided that 17 of the 27 countries, including Ireland, would see an increase in their representation. As a result, Ireland's number of MEPs was due to return to 13. These, it was decided, would be elected from three constituencies. The South constituency consisting of 12 counties (the same as the South constituency in 2014, but with the addition of two midlands counties, Laois and Offaly), with a 2016 population of 1,728,331, would return 5 MEPs; the Midlands–North-West constituency consisting of 13 counties (the same as the Midlands–North-West constituency in 2014, but with the loss of Laois and Offaly), with a 2016 population of 1,686,175, would elect 4 MEPs; and Dublin, with a 2016 population of 1,347,359, would elect 4 MEPs. As at all previous EP elections in Ireland, the MEPs were elected by PR-STV (see example of ballot paper).

Once it became apparent that the UK might well still be a EU member in May 2019, in which case Ireland would revert to just 11 MEPs until such time as the UK does leave, contingency plans had to be formulated to deal with this uncertainty. Like 16 other countries, Ireland would elect its allotted number of MEPs, in this case 13, but some of these (in this case 2) would go into 'cold storage' until the UK and its MEPs leave the Union. Figuring out which 2 MEPs would not have been elected if the country had 2 fewer MEPs is simple enough if a country elects its MEPs through a nationwide list system, but becomes more contentious if a country is divided into sub-national constituencies. Even then, once it is decided which constituencies are to bear the burden of the reduction, it is straightforward to identify the MEP(s) who would not have been elected had the constituency returned 1 or 2 fewer MEPs. Under PR-STV, though, it is simply not possible to do this.

The very ad hoc approach adopted by the legislature in the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Act 2019 was to deem the last candidate elected in each of the Dublin and South constituencies to be the unlucky two who would have to cool their heels until the UK has left the EU (see departmental statement here). It has been argued (click here) that there is no rationale for this, given that the sequence of election of candidates under PR-STV is of no consequence, and certainly does not signify anything about the popularity or support level of each candidate, and that there is no basis for deeming the last candidate elected to have any less support than any other elected candidate. It has also been argued that, as a result, the law under which the elections are taking place may well be unconstitutional and open to legal challenge after the election (click here). Since the electoral system for EP elections in Ireland (unlike that for general elections) is not constitutionalised, the problem could have been dealt with by the adoption for this election of a list system (either open lists or closed lists) in one nationwide constituency.

Of the 11 incumbent MEPs, four are not contesting the elections. These are Nessa Childers (Independent, Dublin, first elected 2009); Brian Crowley (Fianna Fáil, South, first elected 1994); Marian Harkin (Independent, Midlands–North-West, first elected 2004); Brian Hayes (Fine Gael, Dublin, first elected 2014).

The other seven incumbent MEPs are contesting again. In Dublin Lynn Boylan (SF, first elected 2014). In Midlands–North-West Matt Carthy (SF, first elected 2014), Luke Ming Flanagan (Ind, first elected 2014), Mairéad McGuinness (FG, first elected 2004). In South Deirdre Clune (FG, first elected 2014), Seán Kelly (FG, first elected 2009), Liadh ní Riada (SF, first elected 2014).

They are joined on the ballot paper by seven incumbent TDs: Andrew Doyle (South) and Frances Fitzgerald (Dublin) for Fine Gael, Billy Kelleher (South), Anne Rabbitte (MNW) and Brendan Smith (MNW) for Fianna Fáil, Clare Daly (Dublin) and Mick Wallace (South) for Independents 4 Change, and by two senators: Grace O'Sullivan (South) for the Green Party and Alice Mary Higgins (Dublin) independent. In addition, Barry Andrews (FF, Dublin) is a former TD and minister of state, Mark Durkan (FG, Dublin) is a former Westminster MP and Northern Ireland MLA and SDLP leader, Dominic Hannigan (Labour, MNW) is a former TD, Fidelma Healy Eames (Ind, MNW) is a former senator, and Alex White (Labour, Dublin) is a former TD and government minister.

Access to the ballot is not difficult. Candidates need either (a) to be nominated by a registered political party, or (b) to be nominated by 60 electors from the relevant constituency, or (c) to lodge a deposit of €1,800. Those who lodge a deposit forfeit this unless their votes at any stage of the count reach a quarter of the Droop quota in their constituency. In 2019 there were 59 candidates across the three constituencies, 35 male and 24 female. This is the highest number of candidates ever; only twice before have there been more than 50 candidates, in 1989 (53) and 1994 (52). Details below:

 
Total
 
Dublin
Midlands–NW
South
 
Male
Female
Fine Gael
7
 
2
2
3
 
3
4
Fianna Fáil
5
 
1
2
2
 
4
1
Sinn Féin
3
 
1
1
1
 
1
2
Labour
3
 
1
1
1
 
2
1
Green
3
 
1
1
1
 
1
2
Solidarity–People before Profit
4
 
2
1
1
 
1
3
Independents 4 Change
2
 
1
1
 
1
1
Direct Democracy Ireland
2
 
1
1
 
2

Irexit / Ireland Freedom Party

2
1
1
1
1
Renua Ireland
1
 
1
 
1
Social Democrats
1
 
1
 
1
Workers Party
1
 
1
 
1
Identity Ireland
1
 
1
 
1
Independents / non-party
24
 
7
7
10
 
16
8
 
 
 
Total
59
 
19
17
23
 
35
24
 
         
Dublin
         
10
9
Midlands NW
         
11
6
South
         
14
9

Note: the two candidates of the Irexit / Ireland Freedom Party were technically recorded as non-party candidates.

 

Issues

As at European Parliament elections across the EU, it could not be said that candidates or parties are attempting to galvanise the electorate by taking stances on issues relating specifically to the EU. The matter of Brexit dominates the EU-related agenda as far as Ireland is concerned given its potential to inflict serious damage on the Irish economy, but it is not an issue that divides the Irish parties. With the government having been in office for three years there are strong elements of a mid-term referendum on the government's performance. At grass roots level the party organisations are putting as much effort into the local elections being held on the same day. There is also a referendum on loosening the restrictive conditions under which couples can currently seek a divorce, but the incremental nature of this change, in contrast to major liberalisation in recent years on same-sex marriage and abortion, means that the proposal is fairly uncontentious, with no organised campaign opposing the proposal.

Posters

 

Turnout

This oscillated during the period 1979–99, unlike the pattern of steady decline in many other early-joining EU member states and of consistent very low turnout seen in several of the more recent members, and since then has remained fairly steady at between 50 and 60 per cent. The reason for this level of turnout, relatively high by the standards of EP elections, is not any especial interest in the European Parliament in Ireland but, rather, the adoption of an electoral cycle that since 1999 has seen local and EP elections take place on the same day. Indeed, only the 1994 election was a completely stand-alone contest. The figures (valid votes as a percentage of total electorate) are:

 

Election Turnout Comment
1979 61.2 Simultaneous nationwide local elections
1984 46.4 Simultaneous (fairly low-salience) referendum
1989 66.5
Simultaneous general election
1994 43.2 Stand-alone contest
1999 49.1 Simultaneous nationwide local elections and fairly low-salience referendum
2004 57.1 Simultaneous nationwide local elections and fairly low-salience referendum
2009 58.2 Simultaneous nationwide local elections
2014 51.0 Simultaneous nationwide local elections
2019 47.6 Simultaneous nationwide local elections and fairly low-salience referendum

 

Support patterns

In 1980 Karlheinz Reif and Hermann Schmitt branded EP elections 'second-order' elections. General elections, it was argued, were 'first-order' contests that voters took seriously because they realised that government formation was at stake. At second-order elections less was at stake, so voters took these elections less seriously and followed their hearts rather than their heads when choosing, the consequence being lower turnout and a greater vote for smaller parties than at general elections.

Irish experience has been an archetypal example. Only at the first two EP elections did both major parties reach 30 per cent of the votes, and neither party has attained that level since 1999, which is well below their general election levels of support over most of that period. At the 2014 election their combined vote was just 45 per cent.

They have been especially weak in the capital, Dublin; Fine Gael won 30.1 per cent of the votes there in 1999, but that is the only time since 1984 that either party has reached the 30 per cent level in Dublin, and in 2014 the two parties combined did not even reach that level (15 per cent for Fine Gael and 12 per cent for Fianna Fáil). Indeed, Fianna Fáil, the largest party in the country between 1932 and 2011, has not won 25 per cent of the votes in Dublin since 1989. The broadly-defined left (Labour, Sinn Féin, Green Party, Socialist Party, Workers Party, independent socialist) has won at least 2 seats in Dublin, out of the three at stake in 2009 and 2014 and the four at stake at all elections before that, at every election except 1984, when no left-wing candidate was elected in any of the Republic of Ireland constituencies.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil tend to be stronger in rural Ireland, as is the case at general elections, while left-wing parties and candidates fare better in Dublin. Changes to constituency boundaries outside Dublin, including the reduction of the number of these constituencies from three (roughly corresponding to Connacht–Ulster, Leinster outside Dublin, and Munster) between 1979 and 2009 to just two (Midlands–North-West and South) in 2014 and 2019 make it difficult to track party support over time as reliably as can be done for Dublin.

 

Predictions

(Unchanged since before the election)

At EP elections in Ireland candidate factors loom large, though party factors are still very important. The main basis for each person's predictions are opinion polls (though to date there have been only two polls specifically focusing on the EP elections) and other people's predictions (which tends to set up a self-reinforcing loop).

Most observers expect that in Dublin FG (Frances Fitzgerald), FF (Barry Andrews) and SF (Lynn Boylan) will each win a seat, with the final seat lying between the Green Party (Ciaran Cuffe) and Independents 4 Change (Clare Daly); though a second seat for FG (Mark Durkan) or a seat for Labour (Alex White) are possibilities.

In Midlands–North-West the expectation is that FG (Mairéad McGuinness) and SF (Matt Carthy) will each take a seat, along with the incumbent independent (Luke Ming Flanagan), with FG (Maria Walsh), FF (probably Brendan Smith) and another independent (Peter Casey) in the running for the remaining seat.

In South, FG is expected to win 2 seats (Seán Kelly and either Deirdre Clune or Andrew Doyle), FF 1 (Billy Kelleher) and SF 1 (Liadh ní Riada), with FF (Malcolm Byrne), the Green Party (Grace O'Sullivan) and Independents 4 Change (Mick Wallace) in the running for the other seat.

Conventional wisdom is usually largely but not entirely correct, so there is a reasonable likelihood that some candidate(s) perceived as 'safe' will fail to be elected while other(s) regarded as having little chance will succeed. As polling day approached, there was speculation about a possible 'Green surge', reinforced by the increased salience of climate change as a political issue. In addition, the two major parties both engaged in 'vote management' strategies (in the light of opinion poll findings, even though parties often claim to take no interest in these) to try to ensure that the distribution of support among their candidates was such as to maximise their chances of winning seats.

The gender balance among Ireland's elected MEPs is usually much closer than it is among its TDs. In 2014 six of the 11 MEPs were female (55 per cent) and five were male; in 2009 25 per cent and in 2004 38 per cent were female, both of these representing higher percentages than ever seen in Dáil Éireann to date. In 2019 the expectation is that in Dublin two or three of the four MEPs will be female; in MNW that either one or two of the four will be female; and that in South either one, two or three of the five will be female, implying that overall the male–female balance will be fairly close to 50–50.

 

Results

Although voting took place on Friday 24th, no results were released until the evening of Sunday 26th, though exit polls released after voting ended at 10 pm on Friday 24th gave a good indication of the first preference distribution, albeit somewhat overstating the Green vote and understating that of Fianna Fáil. RTE Radio 1 usually has the best coverage and analysis. The large number of electoral contests (EP elections, local elections, a referendum and plebiscites on whether to adopt the idea of directly-elected mayors in Cork, Limerick and Waterford) together with the lengthy ballot papers caused by the record number of candidates meant that the counting process was slow, and Ireland's MEPs were the last to be elected across the whole of the EU. The Dublin count was finalised at 17:00 on Tuesday 28 May; the MNW count at 20:00 on Wednesday 29 May; the South count at 16:20 on Wednesday 5 June [a de facto decisive count was declared at around 23:00 on Wednesday 29 May, but the following morning a complete recount was announced, though in the event this was called off after one day once it became apparent that changes in each candidate's vote totals were very minor].

The length of the ballot papers caused by the large number of candidates led to discussion of whether the requirements for ballot access (see above) should be tightened. Most of the candidates (36 out of 59) polled fewer than 5 per cent of first preference votes in their constituency, and 28 of them polled fewer than 2 per cent. Outside of the largest eight parties in the table below, 24 candidates (all the minor party candidates and most of the independents) did not win as many as 2 per cent of the votes in their constituency. Suggestions that 'no-hope' candidates should be prevented from 'cluttering up' the ballot paper, though, face normative concerns about depriving anyone of the opportunity of putting their case before the people, and practical challenges as to whether 'no-hope' candidates can always be reliably identified in advance of an election. If any change is made, the most likely one is a significant increase in the number of signatures required for nomination from the current figure of 60.

 

Voting figures:

2019 EP election
Candidates
Votes
% vote
Change in % since 2014
Seats
Change since 2014
% seats
Fine Gael
7
496,459
29.6
+7.3
5
+1
38.5
Fianna Fáil
5
277,705
16.5
-5.8
2
+1
15.4
Sinn Féin
3
196,001
11.7
-7.8
1
-2
7.7
Green Party
3
190,755
11.4
+6.5
2
+2
15.4
Independents 4 Change
2
124,085
7.4
+7.4
2
+2
15.4
Labour
3
52,743
3.1
-2.2
Solidarity–People before Profit
4
38,771
2.3
-1.0
Social Democrats
1
20,331
1.2
+1.2
Irexit / Ireland Freedom Party
2
13,023
0.8
+0.8
Renua Ireland
1
6,897
0.4
+0.4
Workers Party
1
3,701
0.2
+0.2
Identity Ireland
1
3,685
0.2
+0.2
Direct Democracy Ireland
2
2,773
0.2
-1.2
Other parties not contesting in 2019
0
0
0
-1.1
Independents collectively
24
251,064
15.0
-4.8
1
-2
7.7
 
Total
59
1,678,003
100.00
0
13
+2
100.00

Electorate: 3,526,023. Turnout (valid vote / electorate): 47.6 per cent. Invalid votes: 73,870.

 

 

Election indices 2019  
Disproportionality (least squares index)
10.37
Effective number of elective parties (Nv)
6.55
Effective number of legislative parties (Ns)
4.33

Note: figures based on complete disaggregation of Others, with each of the 24 independent candidates treated as a separate unit.

 

Vote fragmentation was especially high in Dublin (Nv = 7.78), with MNW at 5.48 and South at 5.59. The overall level of vote fragmentation is virtually identical to that seen in 2014, which remains (just) the highest level of fragmentation at any of Ireland's EP elections. By contrast, at the first two EP elections (1979 and 1984), Nv was less than 4; at those elections Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael won over two-thirds of the votes, a level they have not attained since.

The distinction between voter behaviour at first-order elections and at second-order elections grows progressively weaker: while the two main parties won slightly fewer votes between them at EP2019 than they did at the previous general election (46.1 per cent compared with 49.9 per cent at the 2016 general election), the level of fragmentation of the vote is virtually identical at the two contests (6.55 in 2019 and 6.57 in 2016).

If seats were allocated purely on the basis of total national first preference votes, and if all votes had been cast as they were on 24 May, then the allocation of the 13 seats under the Sainte-Laguë method (generally seen as the 'fairest' since it does not systematically favour either larger or smaller parties) would have been FG 4, FF 2, SF 2, Greens 2, Independents 4 Change 1, independents 2 (Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Peter Casey), with a disproportionality figure (LSq) of 6.28. Under the more widely used D'Hondt method, which tends to give the benefit of the doubt to larger parties, the figures would have been FG 5, FF 3, SF 2, Greens 2, Independents 4 Change 1 (LSq 10.23).

 

MEPs elected

Dublin: Barry Andrews (FF), Ciaran Cuffe (Green), Clare Daly (Independents 4 Change), Frances Fitzgerald (FG). All are new MEPs. Andrews occupies the 'cold storage' seat (see above).

Midlands–North-West: Matt Carthy (SF), Luke Ming Flanagan (Ind), Mairéad McGuinness (FG), Maria Walsh (FG). McGuinness was first elected in 2004, Carthy and Flanagan in 2014, and Walsh is a new MEP.

South: Deirdre Clune (FG), Billy Kelleher (FF), Seán Kelly (FG), Grace O'Sullivan (Green), Mick Wallace (Independents 4 Change). Kelly was first elected in 2009 and Clune in 2014, while Kelleher, O'Sullivan and Wallace are new MEPs. Clune occupies the 'cold storage' seat (see above).

Of the 13 MEPs, seven (54 per cent) are male and six (46 per cent) female.

 

Political interpretation

Fine Gael gained votes and increased its representation in the EP from 4 seats to 5, reaching the highest end of expectations. It also gained both votes (it received 25 per cent) and seats (it won 255 out of the total of 949) in the local elections; these gains were on a modest scale and from a low base, but the party was reasonably satisfied with its results given that governments tend to lose votes in mid-term elections.

Fianna Fáil lost votes at the EP election, winning fewer than one in six of those cast, but it doubled its representation from 1 to 2 seats. At the local level it maintained its position as the largest party, with modest gains in both votes (it received 27 per cent) and seats (it won 279), with significant advances in Dublin, and it too regards the result as satisfactory.

Sinn Féin, in contrast, lost votes and dropped from 3 MEPs to just 1. At the local elections it sustained significant losses in both votes (it received 9 per cent) and seats (it won 81), especially in Dublin, and a period of self-examination beckons.

Green Party: the exit poll suggested that the Greens were on course for 3 EP seats and phrases such as 'Green tsunami' were in currency. The actual results reflected more modest gains, but the party did win 2 EP seats (the same as it had in 1994 and 1999) and at the local elections advanced to 6 per cent of the votes and quadrupled its seat total to 49.

Labour, which won 3 EP seats as recently as 2009, lost further votes at these contests and came nowhere near winning a seat in any constituency. At the local elections its vote dropped further to below 6 per cent, believed to be its lowest level ever, but it gained six seats, taking it up to 57.

Solidarity–People Before Profit, which had won an EP seat in Dublin in 2009, performed poorly in the EP election, and it also lost votes (it received 2 per cent) and most of its seats (it won 11) at the local elections.

Social Democrats: outpolled Labour at the EP contest in Dublin but did not run any other EP candidates. At the local elections they won 2 per cent of the votes and won 19 seats, which gives them a base from which to compete for seats at the next general election – though, given that the party was founded in the summer of 2015, reaching 2 per cent of the votes after four years' hard work might seem a meagre return.

Other parties fared very poorly. None made any impact at the EP elections; in the local elections, one won 3 seats and five others each won 1 seat.

Independents usually fare well in Irish elections at all levels and these proved no exception, with independents winning 3 EP seats (two of them under the label 'Independents 4 Change') and 190 of the 949 local government seats.

Overall, the party system remains fragmented, and government formation after the next general election could be as difficult and protracted as it was after the 2016 election (for details of this, see How Ireland Voted 2016).

There's a very useful summary of the local election results on the Oireachtas Library and Research Service site (here).

 

 

Previous EP elections in Ireland

Pages on 2014 election and 2009 election.

 

 

 

 

Cover of PRI4 Cover of Days of Blue Loyalty Cover of How Ireland Voted 2016 Cover of Irish Elections 1922-44 Cover of Politics of Electoral Systems

 

 

Political Science home

MG home

Last updated 8 July, 2019 4:33 PM