Irish Independent


SINN Fein has moved into strong contention for its first seat in the European parliament, according to the latest opinion poll.

New figures released last night for the North West constituency show a surge in the Sinn Fein vote for Pearse Doherty although it may not prove sufficient to overtake Marian Harkin, the Sligo based independent TD.

Ms Harkin still looks on course to replace sitting MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon as the Independent representative for the constituency.

Two successive polls have now placed the independent TD in a solid position to take a European seat on her second attempt. She lost out in 1999 to Dana.

Within Fianna Fail, the findings of the Questions&Answers/Irish Examiner poll, conducted by Lansdowne Market Research, show that Junior Minister Jim McDaid has now edged ahead of party colleague, Sean O Neachtain, as favourite to win a seat.

Fine Gael's Senator Jim Higgins remains in a strong position to take a seat in the fiercely fought three-seat constituency with transfers from running mate Madeline Taylor Quinn.

However, he is under more pressure than in previous polls and could still find himself fighting for the final seat.

The main findings of the poll, taken last Friday and Saturday with a sample of 500 voters in the North West are: Dr Jim McDaid (18pc), Marian Harkin (16pc), Sean O Neachtain (15pc), Pearse Doherty (15pc), Jim Higgins (14pc), Dana Rosemary Scallon (8pc), Madeleine Taylor Quinn (7pc), Labour's Hugh Baxter (4pc) and Independent Marie Hainsworth (2pc).

Separately, the surveys suggests that the referendum on citizenship is far from a foregone conclusion.

Asked whether a baby born to non-national parents in Ireland should get automatic citizenship 47pc said No, 43pc said Yes, with 10pc stating Don't Know.

While the pollsters did ask the direct question of whether people will vote for or against the referendum proposal to remove an automatic right to citizenship, it still suggests the margin in favour of the referendum change remains close with a majority of just 4pc backing the Government's proposal.

The poll indicates that the race in the European election is extremely close with Fianna Fail certain to win at least one seat.

Although it is still possible for the party to take a second seat, the figures suggest that the battle for remaining two seats will be fought to the last vote between Harkin, Higgins and Doherty.

The sitting MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon faces a huge challenge if she is to have any hope of turning her campaign around in the remaining weeks.

Sinn Fein is now in with a chance of winning two, or even three, seats in the European parliament. The party is being tipped to take a seat in the North and has an outside chance in Dublin. Its strong showing in the North West contest is mirrored by an equally strong performance in the local elections with the poll showing the party vote at 14pc.

Results for party preferences in the local elections showed Fianna Fail (45pc), Fine Gael (24pc), Sinn Fein (14pc), PDs (5pc), Labour (4pc), Green Party (3pc) and Others (5pc).

Because the main contenders are pitched together so closely in the European contest the next two weeks will see a massive effort by all the candidates to drive home even the smallest advantage.

Fianna Fail strategists believed that it was possible for the party to take two seats but the infighting and rancour between the McDaid and O Neachtain camps is likely to end that challenge.

For Sinn Fein the poll results will be a major boost since it gives Doherty a slightly better chance of winning a seat than his colleague, Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin.

Brian Dowling
Political Correspondent

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