Brian Walsh’s expulsion from the Fine Gael parliamentary party, and possible expulsion from the party proper, could pave the way for former Mayor Hildegarde Naughton to become the FG candidate in the city at the next General Election.
Dep Walsh, Fine Gael’s leading TD in Galway West, lost the party whip this week after voting against the Government’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. It is understood party HQ has requested Dep Walsh to vacate his party office in Leinster House and he is also likely to be removed from the Oireachtas Transport Committee.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny implied in previous statements that those who defied the whip may not be readmitted to the party at a later stage, and Dep Walsh acknowledged he may yet have to contest the 2016 General Election as an Independent.
If this turns out to be the case, Fine Gael will have to seek a new standard bearer for the city vote and Galway City West councillor Hildegarde Naughton may be seen as the most likely of the party’s current three elected members.
Cllr Naughton made a dramatic entrance on to the local political stage in the 2009 local elections, unseating long time councillor John Mulholland, polling an impressive 1,061 votes and beating off three former mayors in Mulholland, Val Hanley, and Niall Ó Brolcháin.
Her performance at the 2011 General Election was more modest. She came 10th in a field of 17 and polled a total of 3,306.
However FG was also judged to have run an overcrowded ticket of four candidates in a five seat ward, thereby splitting the vote unnecessarily; and with Dep Walsh likely to be gone and the Maree-based Sen Fidelma Healy Eames - who ran in 2002, 2007, and 2011 - also at risk of losing the party whip over her misgivings over the abortion Bill, the way is clear for Cllr Naughton.
Cllr Naughton’s profile benefits from her year as mayor and her being a singer in the Patrician Musical Society and light opera circles. More importantly, being based in the city and with links to Oranmore, she would be seen as covering the bases of both Walsh and Healy Eames. In this she would also facilitate a more manageable three-candidate ticket for FG in Galway West come 2016.
Moycullen based Seán Kyne would look after the Connemara area; Cllr Naughton would take the city and Oranmore; while former Galway GAA football manager John O’Mahony can be expected to carry his base of South Mayo, which comes into the Galway West constituency at the next election.
FG is expected to take a hit at the next election as voter dissatisfaction with the Government increases. However a Kyne/Naughton/O’Mahoney ticket has the potential to hold the party’s two seats in Galway West
The only barrier to Cllr Naughton getting on the ticket as the city candidate is the current Mayor Pádraig Conneely, who expressed interest in running for the Dáil after the 2009 locals. He did not contest the 2011 election but it remains to be seen if he will throw his hat into the ring in the run up to 2016.