Could John Connolly be Ó Cuív’s successor?

As is traditional nowadays, the various political parties converge on a chosen hotel at an appropriate venue prior to the recommencement of Dáil hostilities.

Who will ever forget Inchydoney? But while that famous 2004 gathering gets much attention one of the first such events was held by Fianna Fáil in Galway in 1999.

Once more Galway has the honour of hosting the FF think-in this September and already the excitement around the Clayton is palpable with much expectation of high level policy discussions – and a very crowded bar!

International events – with the turmoil in the global financial markets still creating difficulties for the Irish economy and the name of a certain city built on seven hills looming large over Brian Cowen’s head – will not be far from the surface in Galway. However local matters will surely feature too - in the corridors (and bars! ) at any event.

Following the disaster of 2004 – and it is worth recalling that the voters in Galway city and county took particular relish in delivering the ‘traditional mid-term kicking’ to the main government party – FF are keenly aware that an upsurge in party performance in next year’s local elections is vital.

They are also comforting themselves that – in the words of an election song associated with a party not a million miles away from these shores – things can only get better. While FF will argue with a very straight face that local government is of huge importance to them, the feeling will of course persist that the party will always have a keen eye on future General Elections when considering the local contests.

This is likely to be especially true in the case of Galway city. Frank Fahey’s lieutenants are keen to spread the word that he will very much be in the field come the next national contest. Nevertheless with his Ministerial days seemingly behind him and with both his 60th birthday and 30th anniversary as a TD behind him by the time the 2012 contest comes around, don’t be surprised if he sings a different tune come that time.

This will leave FF without a sitting TD in the city and should that renowned vote-getter Noel Grealish join Éamon Ó Cuív in the party ranks, their city seat will be seen as the marginal one of the three.

In last year’s General Election candidate Michael J Crowe, FF would appear to have a ready-made city candidate. Cllr Crowe has a strong base in the old North and East Ward, now Galway City East, an area where Frank Fahey has polled well in recent elections.

There was speculation that he would move to Galway City Central as it would be an opportunity to boost his profile in the west of the city, albeit in a highly competitive ward. This was driving the party hierarchy’s reputed wish that he do just that. However it is Cllr Crowe’s brother Ollie who will be seeking a nomination to run in the Galway City Central Ward.

It is interesting that the party are also reportedly of the opinion that Cllr John Connolly should stay put in the new Central Ward and not move to the new West (or old South if you prefer ) Ward.

Cllr Connolly would have a strong base in the Barna area as well as around Taylor’s Hill which is being transferred into the new West Ward. He would also be seen as a plausible city candidate and Insider thinks it would appeal to the party hierarchy to have their two heavy hitters covering separate territory.

Another intriguing angle to Cllr Connolly, however, concerns the long-term race to succeed the party’s other sitting TD, Éamon Ó Cuív. While they might not like to admit it, he won’t go on forever and the subject of his retirement will surely have to be considered at some point over the next two electoral cycles at the latest.

On the rare occasions the matter is raised by party insiders, the general consensus tends to be that there is no obvious successor. While Séamus Walsh tried his best to win a nomination for last year’s General Election it is unclear whether he would still have an interest by the time Minister Ó Cuív retires. A member of the family is often mentioned but more in hope than expectation.

Could Cllr Connolly be the ultimate long-term replacement for that seat? With his Barna background Cllr Connolly has long been familiar with the county council area. It is also a badly kept secret that he was asked by the party to consider contesting the last two Údarás na Gaeltachta elections.

When the recent boundary changes to local election wards were announced it was even suggested in some quarters he should consider seeking a county council seat for Connemara, but, while he was not averse to the notion, he wished to leave the way open for new candidates to emerge in the Moycullen area to accompany the sitting councillors.

Long-term, Cllr Connolly might find himself in the box seat as the replacement for the party’s main standard-bearer in Galway West, while Cllr Crowe may have to do battle with Cllr Mary Leahy and possibly one of the much-touted young candidates spoken of as a party candidate in Galway City West next year.

Either way the Soldiers of Destiny meeting in Galway this month will feel that never has Tip O’Neill’s old adage that all politics is local been more accurate!

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