With around two years to go before the next local elections, political parties will already be focusing on their representative candidates and their prospects of success in what is likely to be a highly formative election.
There is much at stake across the party-political spectrum. Can Fine Gael and Labour protect the seat gains they made in the 2009 locals? Can Fianna Fáil use the elections as a springboard for a recovery at national level? Will Sinn Féin make the breakthrough that opinion polls continue to suggest is possible?
This week, Insider casts an analytical eye over the three electoral wards in Galway city and forecasts changes to the local political landscape when voters go to the ballot box in 2014.
Galway City East
There are sure to be changes in the east ward next time out by virtue of the fact that two of successful candidates from 2009 - Labour’s Derek Nolan and Fine Gael’s Brian Walsh - have since been elected to the Dáil.
The seat currently being kept warm by Cllr Nuala Nolan, who was co-opted to the city council to replace Derek, will be of particular interest to Sinn Féin; which has previously held a seat here and will be seeking to make gains in the ward given its demographic and the party’s steady climb in the polls.
The incumbent Cllr Nolan garnered just 171 votes here in 2009 and would appear to be vulnerable in the event that Sinn Féin makes gains at the expense of Labour in two years’ time.
Fianna Fáil’s presence in the ward was reduced from two seats to just one in the last election and its sitting councillor, Michael Crowe, could face a battle to retain his seat as the party seeks to rejuvenate its image by introducing a new generation of candidates.
He has endured a torrid second term on the council and has seemed at times disaffected with politics since his poor run in the 2011 General Election.
The challenge is unlikely to come from former councillor Mary Leahy, however, who – although understood to be interested in contesting the election – would be similarly too closely associated with the party’s past to constitute a sufficiently fresh candidate.
As for the Fine Gael ticket, 2009 candidate Barra Nevin polled respectably last time out. However, being rejected by party members in the contest to fill the vacant seat on the council proved a tough pill to swallow for the pharmacist and he has been left with a bitter taste in his mouth.
The man who got the green light on that occasion was Cllr Frank Fahy, whose work rate since co-option has consolidated his support in the Castlegar/Menlo area of the ward.
A second candidate will be necessary to strengthen the party ticket and Fine Gael strategists will be watching developments closely with a view to identifying a potential running mate for Cllr Fahy in Renmore or Mervue.
Galway City West
Independent councillor Catherine Connolly enjoys a peculiar cross section of support, counting among her admirers anyone from militant protesters to members of active retirement groups.
Sinn Féin will target the protest-vote element of her support base in the run up to 2014 but not even a bucking bronco could unseat the former Labour Party councillor.
She and Independent Donal Lyons will account for two of the five seats in this ward but there could be changes in the composition of the remaining three seats, which are currently held by Fine Gael, Labour, and Fianna Fáil.
Sinn Féin will again be targeting Labour in this ward, as Councillor Neil McNelis limped across the line in 2009, and may seek to bring former councillor Daniel Callanan back into the fold to bolster their resurgence here.
The vista of the bespectacled Cllr McNelis in ceremonial garbs at the first meeting in the chamber following the election in 2009 prompted one unkind observer to liken him to Harry Potter and the council to Hogwarts.
He certainly has worked some magic in terms of his workload on the ground since then, however, and has earned a reputation as a grafter who will prove difficult to unseat.
Fianna Fáil can expect to hold its seat in this ward but it is less than certain that the incumbent Cllr Peter Keane will be the one to hold it. The solicitor has been articulate in the chamber but has failed to establish a reputation for hard work at grassroots level.
The party may well back another candidate as it seeks to overhaul its damaged image and Salthill-Knocknacarra GAA chair David Burke has been touted as a possible runner in this regard. Former councillor John Connolly is also rumoured to have an appetite for a return to local politics and might fancy his chances in this ward rather than taking on Ollie Crowe in the city centre again.
Fine Gael Cllr Hildegarde Naughton has enjoyed a high profile during her term as Mayor but, similar to Cllr Keane, has not earned a reputation for hard work in the immediate locality and is seldom seen on the ground in the ward.
Given her profile as Mayor, the party should hold its seat, however, and is likely to be on the lookout for another candidate in a bid to return a second seat in the ward – which they almost achieved through John Mulholland last time out.
Galway City Central
The demographic of the central ward and the fact that two of its four seats are currently held by Labour will make this another prime target for Sinn Féin in the run up to the next local elections.
Labour will be under severe pressure to retain its share and the party’s position will be all the more precarious in the event that poll-topper Cllr Billy Cameron decides not to run in 2014.
He is said to be somewhat disillusioned by the fact that Labour has been the largest group on the council for the past two terms, yet his ambition of having a turn in the mayoral chains has eluded him.
It will be salt in the wounds for the veteran councillor that he is likely to have to watch his arch rival, Fine Gael Cllr Pádraig Conneely assume the office for a second time in two terms – again in the run up to the local elections.
The mayoralty, and his high profile in the locality and beyond, should be enough to see the outspoken Fine Gael councillor elected comfortably again and – in Cameron’s absence – he would almost certainly top the poll.
Fianna Fáil’s Ollie Crowe polled well first time out in 2009 and the popular publican should retain the party’s only seat here in 2014, provided his support base of Bohermore and Woodquay remain in the ward in the event of any boundary changes.
It is difficult to see Labour retaining two seats in the Central ward, particularly if the party is forced to rely on an emerging candidate. Sinn Féin can expect to make gains here but will need the next two years to identify and establish credible candidates who can remould the party’s image into that of a mainstream political force.
Insider will be on a summer break for July and August but will be back in September to ruffle feathers, provoke debate, and cast critical eyes over Galway city and county politics.