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Anti-European party meets its Waterloo in Ireland

Libertas leader fails to gain a seat in Europe.

DUBLIN — For Declan Ganley, the European elections provided what seemed like an excellent opportunity to establish his fledgling Libertas Party as the first pan-European grouping to take on the bureaucracy in Brussels.

In Ireland in particular, with the electorate in a lather of anti-government fury, it seemed that all opposition groups stood to gain. But Ganley, the controversial businessman who led the successful "no" campaign in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland last year, was defeated as a Euro candidate in his three-seat home constituency of North West, on Ireland’s Atlantic coast.

Libertas colleagues who contested two of the other three European constituencies in the Republic of Ireland, East and Dublin, were also rejected by voters. Throughout Europe, candidates associated with Libertas, which a month ago hoped for 100 seats in the European Parliament, failed to win popular support, and only a handful of its 531 runners in 14 EU states were successful.

The humiliation of the Libertas leader, who had promised to step down if defeated, could have far-reaching consequences for future European unity, which was threatened by the Irish rejection of the pro-reform Lisbon Treaty last June.

A majority of Irish voters is now convinced that EU membership saved the country from a fate like Iceland’s when the economic crisis came, and is less inclined to snub Ireland’s European partners again. Opinion polls indicate that a second referendum on the treaty, due in the autumn, will now succeed.

There were other factors at work against the 40-year-old Libertas leader, whose defeat in Ireland was met with scarcely disguised glee by establishment politicians. The conservative Catholic vote, which was expected to help Ganley in his rural constituency, has been set back by recent Catholic Church scandals. And many Irish voters didn’t like his association with far-right anti-immigration groups on the European continent. Another leader of the anti-treaty campaign last year, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, also lost her European seat in the Dublin constituency.

The European election in Ireland, which coincided with state-wide local elections and two by-elections for the Irish parliament, the Dail, was otherwise a disaster for the hugely unpopular Irish government.