A senator and a Galway County Council seat in Connemara; three council seats in the city; and a councillor for Oranmore Athenry, and all for Sinn Féin, while Labour is on the ropes, bruised, battered, and both eyes blackened.
Following last month’s Local Election results, one thing is very clear - come Election 2016, Sinn Féin is on course to take a Dáil seat in Galway West for the first time since the 1920s. Equally fascinating though, is the emergence, from the same local elections, of a political phenomenon that has gone largely unreported - The Noel Grealish Party.
Tiocfaidh ar lá?
Sinn Féin knew it could get one seat in the city, on a good day two, but even its most optimistic adherents never thought it would do any more than challenge for seats in the local area wards in the rest of Galway West.
The presence the party now has across the constituency gives party Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh a solid base with which to take the seat from Labour’s Derek Nolan, whose once bright star has shrunk to a fading flicker. And yet, SF by no means has an easy run into that seat, as there are complicating factors.
Galway West in 2016 remains a five-seater, but its boundaries have been increased with the addition of a large area of south Mayo, making it a little less of a predictable constituency than normal. That said, Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív will retain his seat. Indeed, if FF was ever reduced to just one seat in the Dáil, it would be him that would win it - and this, plus south Mayo, creates problems for Clever Trevor.
Connemara will elect Éamon Ó Cuív first and foremost before it will look to anyone else. Only then will voters in the region think about whom to pass on their preferences. Sen Ó Clochartaigh can expect to get a fair few of them, but so too will Dep Ó Cuív’s FF running mates; there will be a smattering for Fine Gael’s Seán Kyne; and, most worrying for Sen Ó Clochartaigh, transfers for Independent Left city councillor Catherine Connolly (should she run again) with whom he will be competing directly for the Left vote,
Cllr Connolly came within a whisker of taking a Dáil seat in 2011 and she can expect to poll well in Connemara given she is a Gaelgóir, has worked over the years with former Independent Left councillor Seosamh Ó Cuaig, and has familial connections to the region.
Currently Galway West has two Connemara TDs (Ó Cuív and Kyne), two city TDs (Nolan and FG’s Brian Walsh), and an Oranmore/eastern region TD (Grealish). The addition of South Mayo will boost the Connemara vote which is good news for Dep Ó Cuív and Fine Gael, but perhaps, ironically, not good news for Dep Kyne. If Mayo TD John O’Mahoney, the former All-Ireland winning manager with Galway GAA Football decides to run in Galway West, he stands a good chance of taking a seat, perhaps at Dep Kyne’s expense.
Sen Ó Clochartaigh has polled well in previous elections and is well known and liked throughout Galway West. Not being traditional SF, he can expect to pull votes from across the board, but there is no getting away from the fact that he cannot take either of the two Connemara seats and the region on its own will not be enough, he needs the city and Oranmore just as much.
As a result, SF need to look at dislodging one of the city TDs to take a seat and Labour’s Dep Nolan is the prime target.
Dep Nolan’s ‘best boy in class’ demeanour, stoutly defending Government policy at every twist and turn, has led to accusations from within Galway Labour that he is “in a bubble” and has lost touch with how austerity is affecting people. For many, this is confirmed by his support for Alex White in the Labour leadership race, as Dep White represents the interests of the Stickie/establishment/social-democrat wing of the party against the grassroots socialism of Minister Joan Burton.
Long before May’s Local Elections and Dep Nolan’s subsequent involvement in ‘no confidence’ calls on leader Eamon Gilmore, his seat was in jeopardy. His grasp on it is even weaker now. However Cllr Connolly will target this seat as much as Sen Ó Clochartaigh. There will also be small left parties in the fray, risking a split to the vote.
The left certainly has one seat in Galway West and right now Sinn Féin look the strongest to take it, but Cllr Connolly will not be far behind. Sen Ó Clochartaigh will need to fight hard for that seat and he will need Cllr Tom Healy in Connemara, Cllr Gabe Cronnolly in Oranmore, and the three city councillors to be out night and day, burning furious amounts of midnight oil to ensure nothing stands in his way.
The Noel Grealish Party
One man who can breath a little easier about his future Dáil prospects is Independent TD Noel Grealish. In 2011 he scraped one of the last two seats, not having reached the quota, but with the rise of the Independents he is likely to do better in 2016.
He has also, quietly and behind the scenes, been building something close to a political party in Galway West - certainly a network of like-minded, well placed, sympathetic elected individuals - and Dep Grealish had an excellent local elections in May.
His former PD colleagues - Tom Welby in Connemara; Terry O’Flaherty, Declan McDonnell, and Donal Lyons (all elected with handsome first preference votes in the city); and right-hand man Jim Cuddy in Oranmore were all re-elected. Add to this city councillor, Independent Mike Cubbard, who Dep Grealish campaigned, and you have six Dep Grealish allies across the two local authorities, and as with every election since 2002, expect them to fight hard for the Carnmore man.
The election will be held by 2016 at the latest, but could come as early as next year. Although it is a long time away, and much can happen in the meantime, Insider will make a tentative prediction of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, and Noel Grealish taking a seat each; with the mother of all battles for the final seat, with Government parties at risk of being the losers to either FF, Independents, or others.