City to aid the resurrection of Fianna Fáil?

An inside look at local politics – from the pens of the politicians themselves

In ‘The Russians Are Coming’, one of the greatest episodes of Only Fools And Horses, Del Boy constructs a nuclear fallout shelter atop Nelson Mandela Towers. Then, after ruminating on a scenario for what might happen post a nuclear war, he announces: “The end of the world is the break we’re looking for Rodney.”

Insider was reminded of this when looking at the recent poll figures for Fianna Fáil. The further the recession drags on and the lower both public and consumer confidence drops, the more the party’s support level climbs. Remember it was Fianna Fáil (not Lehmann Brothers ) that destroyed the State’s economy, creating the recession that cripples us now.

Indeed, the further end of Ireland is the electoral break FF is looking for.

This extraordinary phenomenon paints the very real possibility that FF could increase its representation in the Galway City Council come the 2014 Local Elections. In this it will be assisted by the fact the council is increasing from 15 seats to 18.

However, the devil is in the detail, and some obstacles lie between the possibility and the realisation. With that in mind it is worth returning to the issue of the impending local election boundary changes for the city and see how it could put FF in a position to gain an extra seat.

2x9 versus 3x6

Insider has been looking at the various submissions from Galway city to the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee which is in the process of redrawing the local authority wards ahead of the 2014 elections. Final submissions were received in January and the committee will report back to Environment Minister Phil Hogan in May.

The calibre of submissions for Galway City Council were on the whole, poor. There were only 11 overall and six were duplicates submitted by those calling for Galway’s three constituencies to be redrawn as six seaters - the current configuration is Galway City West (five seats ); Galway City Central (four ); Galway City East (six ) - the remainder argue for a division of two wards with nine seats. Overall, the majority preference is for 3x6.

Mathematically it is impossible for those making the submissions and the boundary commission to look beyond the above two options.

Under the new guidelines laid down by ‘Big Phil’, all city councils must have at least 18 members. So, if a seven or eight seater is opted for in one ward, then another constituency would have an unwieldy 10/11 seats. If that were split into a further two constituencies, to create three overall, one would be left with five seats, breaching the requirement that no ward should have fewer than six/seven ).

Alternatively Galway could be carved into two wards with an 8/10 split, but this seems unlikely as there is a preference for the wards to be even sized. The safest bet is that it will be either 3x6 or 2x9.

Ultimately the determining factor in 2014 will be the popularity of parties and candidates and their ability to maximise their vote. However the structure of the wards will determine success versus failure for those who are borderline.

And should anyone think such speculation is premature, then Insider would say that you can be sure the parties are already planning along these lines as well.

How will Fianna Fáil do?

The most recent opinion polls show Fianna Fáil the second largest party in the State. Why is a major question in and of itself and one Insider plans to return to. For now, Insider will concentrate on the figures as they stand.

Ironically, Fianna Fáil is always good to take when illustrating this sort of analysis as its catch-all support base (an important factor in its resurgence ) means its support tends to be evenly spread, making it easier to take a broader look at what will happen.

The party’s current poll ratings are in the 20-22 per cent range across the State, close to the 25 per cent it received at the 2009 local elections. A word of warning though – in 2009 FF polled only 21 per cent in Galway city and are here traditionally always lower than the national average. In 2014 this could still apply. So for these purposes, let us assume FF will be in or around 20 per cent.

As a result, splitting Galway into two nine-seater wards just might be the ideal decision from Fianna Fáil’s perspective.

The quota in such a ward would be 10 per cent and would put the party in a strong position to take two seats in each ward. As yet we do not know how such a ward would be configurated but it most likely that the River Corrib will be the dividing line.

Two quotas is 20 per cent and FF can expect to be there or slightly above. In a nine seater with the river as the dividing line parts of Central would be transferred across and this will copperfasten two quotas tally, bearing in mind Central is FF’s strongest ward currently.

The big question is could it boost FF’s vote in the new East to give it a shot at three out of nine? Three quotas is 30 per cent so FF would need to be looking at +27 per cent to have a chance. On current figures this is probably just beyond the party.

In the new nine seat West, FF would initially be licking its lips with a good chunk of Central (and a decent dose of the 27 per cent it received in the ward in 2009 ) being added and creating a great base to work from.

However the parts of the existing West that merge with Central will surely dilute that. Despite Peter Keane’s unexpected victory in Galway City West in 2009, FF’s vote in the old south ward is well below average. Also, the recent polls show FF is still weaker among the higher market demographics, which would indicate it will remain weak in the new West.

In efffect, the addition of most of Galway City Central will consolidate the vote rather than enhance it in the new West, meaning two seats remains the most likely outcome.

In a 3x6 seater scenario, FF would be likely to win two seats in Central, its 27 per cent in first preferences (provided it holds ) alone being almost two quotas. However the party only managed to get Ollie Crowe elected here in 2009, with sitting councillor John Connolly losing out.

It can be more confident for 2014 as the ward expands to six seats, allowing that extra surplus to guide a running mate for Cllr Crowe home and overcoming the challenge of seeking election alongside some of the Galway City Council’s biggest personalities - Labour’s Billy Cameron and Colette Connolly and Fine Gael’s Pádraig Conneely.

In West, while much weaker, the party would still have more than a quota at 15.5 per cent, so Cllr Peter Keane can look forward to another term in City Hall. In East, FF would have 1.5 quotas; resulting in Cllr Michael J Crowe retaining his seat but leaving the chances of a second seat remote. Remember this ward is already a six-seater and the party did not come anywhere near two last time.

All this would mean that in a 3x6, FF would be in a good position to win four seats (two Central, one West, one East ).

Caveats?

So no matter what happens, either scenario is good for Fianna Fáil as it will possibly take four seats in either type of ward. There are, though, caveats.

In a 2x9, four seats is as good as guaranteed but in a 3x6 the party will have to work for the second seat in Central. And this leads Insider to another important point - how the decision of the commission could be key in terms of the personnel returned.

In a 3x6 scenario, the East ward remains a six seater (it is not increased like the other two ) and will only return one seat for FF. If it is 2x9, Fianna Fáil will take two either side of the Corrib. However this is likely to require whoever was mainly elected in the eastern section of Galway City Central in 2009 to transfer into the new nine-seat Galway City East ward should the 2x9 option be favoured for 2014.

The obvious person here is Ollie Crowe, but does he really want to end up in a situation where he and his brother will be fighting in the same ward and run the risk of voters concluding that one Crowe may be enough?

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