European Elections: Irish embrace minor parties

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SINN FEIN, the Greens,and the independents polled strongly in Ireland amid a feeling of widespread disenchantment with the mainstream parties.

However, the strength of the various parties is likely to be broadly unchanged: the governing Fianna Fail is predicted to retain six of its seven seats; the centre-right Fine Gael, four; the Greens, two; Labour, one; and there will probably be one independent.

There were three striking personal performances. Thepin-up boy of Fianna Fail, wheelchair-bound Brian Crowley, won a record 154,195 first-preference votes in Munster, nearly double the required quota. In the north-western Connacht-Ulster, former Eurovision singer and conservative Catholic, Dana, Rosemary Scallon, won 51,000 first preferences, benefiting from well- publicised rows with rivals, and a big vote in border counties.

After fringe candidates were eliminated she was challenging strongly for the third seat against Marian Harkin, an independent western development candidate.

After her party retained their two seats, the Dublin Green MEP, Patricia McKenna, challenged the Irish premier, Bertie Ahern, on his policy of taking Ireland into Nato's Partnership for Peace.

"Bertie Ahern said this election would be a test case for PfP. We have taken two seats. Maybe [he] should look at this again." Mr Ahern has drawn wide criticism for his decision not to hold a referendum on the issue of PfP, despite giving a general election commitment to that effect in 1997.

Mr Crowley's showing lifted FF's vote to 14.6 per cent in the southern Munster seat, and disguised an otherwise poor Fianna Fail vote, at 38.6 per cent of the national poll.

Sinn Fein consolidated its 1997 general election wins with gains in disadvantaged areas largely abandoned by other parties. Its vice-president, Pat Doherty, said its local and Euro results suggest it could take up to four Dail seats in the next general election.