Could Ó Cuív use the free bus pass for the next election?

Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

If Dáil Éireann goes to full term, and the General Election comes, not this year, but in April/May 2016, three sitting Oireachtas members in Connacht would be able to travel around their respective constituencies for free using their bus passes.

It is a scenario which prompts Insider to ask, in a vibrant constituency like Galway West do any of the political parties need youth or an older hand?

The former Labour leader and former communications minister Pat Rabbitte was ridiculed by many on social media for his suggestion that you needed lots of grey hairs - or in Ruairi Quinn’s case no hair - to be in cabinet.

The initial success of the newly appointed fresh faced ministers in cleaning up the mess made by their older predecessors would seem to have answered Dep Rabbitte, although Leo ‘The Lion’ Varadkar may be the exception to prove that rule. The Department of Health, remains, as ever, a poisoned chalice.

Many do not expect this Government to last a full term but it may have the numbers to at least limp through 2015. Of course we never know what is around the corner in Irish politics, but if the economy continues to grow, unemployment keeps dropping, and budgets start to be about giveaways, life may get easier at the end of 2015 for Government deputies.

However should the Dáil go full term in Mayo and Galway, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and Fianna Fáil’s Galway East TD Micheal Kitt and Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív, will be entitled to free bus passes. Deputies Michael Ring and John O’Mahony will have to wait a further three years before they have the option to drastically reduce the cost of transport for their campaigns.

For Election 2015 (or 2016 ) Fianna Fáil in Galway West will be running the only candidate over retirement age - 15 years above his next nearest rivals and almost two decades older than anyone who might threaten his dominance in Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fail HQ in Dublin is currently debating who will be on the ticket with Dep Ó Cuív and how many the party should run to try to win back that second seat. HQ wants two in total but Dep Ó Cuív is said to want four or five. Party strategists obsess about the grey vote and the trends surrounding older voters but what nobody knows for sure is when a TD is too old to win those votes.

Dep Ó Cuív was first elected to Seanad Éireann in 1989 when possible Sinn Féin Dáil candidate Máiréad Farrell had not even been born. At that time Fine Gael’s Sean Kyne and Brian Walsh were teenagers; Labour TD Derek Nolan’s main income was from the tooth fairy; and Independent Noel Grealish was just about old enough to gain entry to nightclubs.

Age, we are told, is only a number, but in Galway West politics it is one that has substantially changed in the last decade. The average age of a Connacht-Ulster TD fell substantially from 51.2 to 46.2 between 2007 and 2011 based on research by the NUI Maynooth academic Adrian Kavanagh.

Galway West was a major contributor to that change when Labour’s age profile plummeted four decades from the then 70-year-old Michael D Higgins to a then 29-year-old Derek Nolan. Fine Gael’s Pádraic McCormick, then 69, handed over the reins to the young pretenders Brian Walsh (then 39 ) and Sean Kyne (then 36 ), which meant that on average, the Fine Gael fall was over three decades.

At that same time Fianna Fáil’s Dep Ó Cuív and Frank Fahey were 61 and 60 respectively, while Cllr Michael J Crowe was in his late thirties. Dep Ó Cuív prevailed in Election 2011 (an event that was, to put it mildly, a bloodbath for FF ), proving age was not a factor for Fianna Fáil or its supporters in Galway West.

However, as he gets older, does it all finally catch up with him and when does the old hand become too old? Dep Ó Cuív is 15 years older than his nearest peer in Galway West, which is Carnmore based TD Noel Grealish. The only other Oireachtas member for Galway West close in age to him is Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, but even he was only 43 when elected to the upper house.

Taken altogether this makes the average age of Galway West’s Oireachtas members 42.3, which is below the Connacht-Ulster average. Had Cllr Crowe been elected in 2011 and not Dep Ó Cuív, the average age would have been 38.6, which, according to CSO census figures from 2011, is close to the average age for the population of Galway county and city which was 36.1 at that time.

Nobody in Fianna Fáil dares say that Éamon Ó Cuív should retire - he is after all the safest seat in the State - and given that FF continues to languish in the 20s in the polls, it needs all the safe seats it can get - but, if the Cornamona based deputy did call it a day in advance of the next General Election, then the omens for Salthill based city councillor Peter Keane start to look very good.

A Galway City born TD has not been elected for Fianna Fail since Bobby Molloy back in 1965. Way back in the sixties a youthful Bobby was just 29 years old, taking over the seat held by the legendary Connemara TD Gerald Bartley who retired aged 66.

Cllr Keane represents Salthill where Molloy lived and Dep Ó Cuív was the first Connemara based male TD elected since Gerald Bartley, when he broke through in 1991. Age is just a number and Fianna Fáil surely knows that.

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