Is Fianna Fáil planning for the post-Ó Cuív era?

Dep Éamon Ó Cuív and Cllr Ollie Crowe.

Dep Éamon Ó Cuív and Cllr Ollie Crowe.

Éamon Ó Cuív may have the safest seat in the State, and be FF’s ‘one sure thing’ in Galway West for Election 2016, but the party knows it cannot rely on him forever, and a range of future hopefuls are jostling for position to become his eventual successor.

Fianna Fáil has not held two seats in Galway West since Bobby Molloy’s defection to the PDs in 1985 and those “30 years of hurt”, to steal from that Skinner-Baddiel song, looks set to continue. Also remaining stubbornly stuck are the party poll ratings across the State.

As a five seat constituency, the quota for Galway West is 16.67 per cent and FF’s ratings since the end of last year have stagnated around the 17/19 per cent mark. This means Election 2016 will see only one FF TD returned for the constituency. That TD will be party agriculture spokesperson Éamon Ó Cuív.

Dep Ó Cuív is the ‘King of Connemara’, whose already considerable vote in the region will be boosted by the addition of South Mayo for the next election. However, he will 66 by then and 71 by the time of the 2021 election. At that point, retirement is immanent. So who are Fianna Fáil likely to run alongside Dep Ó Cuív at the next election, and who could succeed him for 2021?

Ollie is your only man?

Fianna Fáil members will gather for the party’s ardfheis this weekend, but while the big questions will focus on whether FF should coalesce with Fine Gael or Sinn Féin, and how to increase party support up from the core levels to which the economic collapse and the 2011 election reduced it, Galway West delegates, will be considering a post-Ó Cuív political landscape.

That question will come before them in very stark terms when the party’s Galway West selection convention takes place, probably on Monday May 11. Dep Ó Cuív will obviously be selected, but who will be his running mates?

First off is whether the party will run a two or three candidate ticket. It is understood Fine Gael will run four in Galway West - a potentially disastrous strategy - and FF will not want to make the same mistake of splitting the vote among three candidates when only one can be elected.

In that regard, a two candidate strategy makes sense - Dep Ó Cuív to cover Connemara and South Mayo, and a second candidate to cover Galway city and Oranmore. In this regard, city councillor Ollie Crowe is best placed and has become something of an unofficial leader of the party in the city, especially as his brother Michael J Crowe has taken more of a back seat following the 2011 election.

Cllr Crowe has the ability to perform quite competently in the election and could draw a good vote in the city (he achieved a total of 1,123 votes in Galway City Central, and was the first councillor elected for the ward in 2014 ). He can expect to draw support across the city - thanks in no small part to the highly efficient Crowe electoral machine - but at this stage, he will do no more than bolster the party vote in the constituency.

Importantly though, if he can perform at a good enough level, and perhaps help increase the party’s Galway West vote, that will stand him in good stead to be seen as the successor to Dep Ó Cuív, and someone who the party can build as a candidate for 2021. He will be very aware though of how his brother’s failure to make a significant dent in either the 2007 or 2011 elections - and what contrasting fortunes FF experienced in both - saw Michael’s Dáil future evaporate. He will also be mindful of lean and hungry individuals who will emerge between now and the 2019 local elections.

Taking out Trevor

Cllr Crowe’s ascension is in no way assured, as there will be considerable competition come the selection convention. County councillor Martina Kinane will be seek to be added to the ticket, but the most interesting name is that of former city councillor John Connolly.

Having hit the comeback trail with a vengeance not seen since Smokie’s last tour, he is, Insider understands, gung-ho for it. It is hard to see him make the cut at this stage, but Mr Connolly’s presence is nonetheless fascinating for what it reveals about the internal divisions in Galway FF. It is understood Dep Ó Cuív is supportive of Mr Connolly’s entry to the race, but former TD Frank Fahey and former MEP Seán Ó Neachtain are not keen on him running, which is, of course, only serving to make Mr Connolly more determined.

Another name that has come up is Christina Nic Dhonnacadh. Mention of her is inevitably accompanied by “Who?” She is Dep Ó Cuív’s PA and by all accounts will be a candidate come Election 2016. It is not that Fianna Fáil sees her as the eventual heir to Dep Ó Cuív, even less than she can take a seat. It does not even matter if she pulls any votes out of the city. She is a purely tactical candidate, there to do one thing - knock out Sinn Féin’s Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.

Normally any Connemara candidate has no chance as Dep Ó Cuív takes the lion’s share of the vote, leaving the scraps to be divided among the others. However FF know SF is a party on the rise, and that it has councillors ranged strategically across the constituency, giving it a platform which can boost Sen Ó Clochartaigh’s core vote, and give him a real, and fighting, chance, thanks to the councillors, of drawing votes from across the constituency.

Ms Nic Dhonnacadh is from An Cheathrú Rua, the same town as Sen Ó Clochartaigh, and it is understood she may also have been a former SF member. Her location, background, and ties to Dep Ó Cuív will be a triple-whammy that will eat into Sen Ó Clochartaigh’s core vote, and no amount of work from the SF city councillors can rescue him after that.

It looks as if the FF ticket for Galway West in Election 2016 will be Dep Éamon Ó Cuív, Cllr Ollie Crowe, and Christina Nic Dhonnacadh, with Cllr Crowe the heir apparent, but only if he can muster a first preference vote that says he has a future.

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