The Government formed in the wake of the 2011 General Election was the first in 30 years to be without a TD from Galway West amongst its ministerial or junior ministerial ranks. Indeed, since the demotion of Ciarán Cannon in the 2014 reshuffle, neither Galway constituency – which between them had elected six government deputies in 2011 – has been represented at the top table of Irish politics.
After five years in the wilderness and another election on the horizon, Galway West now expects. Surely the ministerial drought will end and a seal of office await one of the successful candidates after Election 2016? But who is likely to assume the mantle once held by such luminaries as Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Michael D Higgins, and Bobby Molloy?
This week, Insider looks at the likely candidates who might expect a phone call from the new Taoiseach after the votes are counted and the dust has settled on the next general election.
Éamon Ó Cuív
The Fianna Fáil stalwart and uncrowned King of Connemara has an impressive CV when it comes to applying for ministerial positions. An officeholder for 14 uninterrupted years between 1997 and 2011, there are few in the Dáil who could boast of more experience.
A shrewd career guidance counsellor, however, might advise Dep Ó Cuív to mention only in the footnotes of his CV the fact that this experience was garnered under the leadership of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, as part of a government that would ultimately lead the State to the precipice of economic ruin. This fact might ultimately impact on his prospects of holding ministerial office again, as Micheál Martin may opt to promote a new generation of Fianna Fáil deputies in preference to retention of an old guard that evokes memories of the past.
The Cornamona man's prospects are inextricably shackled to that of the Fianna Fáil party, and whether it will regain sufficient support at the ballot box to be involved in the formation of a government. At present, that appears unlikely and, in any event, Martin has publicly ruled out coalescing with almost every party. This is most likely a ploy in the context of playing hard to get, however, as there seems to be an air of inevitability that will be familiar to fans of romantic comedies, whereby you just know that the bickering misfits at the beginning of the film are going to end up together.
The Fine Gael TD has been the closest thing to a minister that Galway West has had in the past four years. Fused at the hip with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and close to other members of Cabinet, there was a sense he would have been a shoo-in for a junior ministry last year if he had not had an infamous falling out with the leadership.
Dep Walsh’s biggest challenge, however, will be retaining his seat as part of a fiercely competitive Fine Gael ticket at the next election. Four sitting Oireachtas members - Walsh, TDs Seán Kyne and John O'Mahony, and Senator Hildegarde Naughton - will do battle for a maximum of two party seats in Galway West, representing a mammoth task by all accounts. If Dep Walsh can hold his seat, however, he is likely to be on a shortlist for junior ministerial office in any new Government involving Fine Gael, and represents one of Galway West’s best chances at restoring its representation at that level.
Derek Nolan has discovered that men of small stature can cast a long shadow. He inherited the seat once held by Michael D Higgins, but Labour’s broken promises in Government have made it difficult to fulfil the expectations associated with this honour.
A capable parliamentarian, there is little doubt that he would have the skill required to ably perform in a ministerial position; and would probably be better suited to a departmental role than the rough and tumble of grassroots politics. However two factors militate against the prospect of that opportunity arising. Firstly, Labour’s implosion in opinion polls and the absence of Michael D’s support in the forthcoming campaign raise serious doubts about Dep Nolan’s chances of re-election.
Secondly, he made a peculiar decision to publicly back Alex White for the Labour Party leadership following the resignation of Eamon Gilmore last year, when it was clear Joan Burton was likely to emerge victorious. This did little to endear Dep Nolan to the new leader, and may well count against him if he finds himself a member of a Labour Parliamentary Party under her stewardship after the next election.
If there is to be a Minister for Bilocation in the next Government, John O’Mahony must surely be a frontrunner for the job. The Fine Gael TD lives in Roscommon, represents the constituency of Mayo, and is running for election in Galway West.
There is speculation surrounding the circumstances in which he decided to relocate to Galway West for the purposes of the next election, with some suggestion he secured a deal from Enda Kenny as part of the move. This, according to speculation, involves the promise of a Taoiseach’s nomination to the Seanad in the event that he is not elected; and the promise of a junior ministry if he is.
There are a number of reasons why this is unlikely to be true, however. Assuming Enda Kenny and Michael Ring are re-elected in Mayo, it would be politically untenable for three Mayomen in such close proximity as Kenny, Ring, and O’Mahony to hold office as part of a new government. Kenny would then be faced with the prospect of sacking the hugely popular Michael Ring, whose hometown lies just 11 miles from his own, in order to accommodate Dep O’Mahony. This would provoke consternation and dissent in Kenny’s own parish and is unlikely to be countenanced by the Taoiseach.
Having pinched the last seat for Fine Gael by a handful of votes in 2011, Seán Kyne has since earned a reputation for himself as an able performer and has consolidated his support base in Connemara, where he has shown a good command of rural and agricultural issues.
When Minister for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley was sacked last year and County Galway lost its only junior minister with the demotion of Ciaran Cannon, it augured well for Dep Kyne. He was one of only a handful of Irish-speaking TDs who had a Gaeltacht in their constituencies.
It must be worrying for Dep Kyne and his supporters, therefore, when he was overlooked for the job and it went instead to Dep Joe McHugh, who had only a remedial command of Gaelige and whose first interviews in Irish resembled post-match press conferences with Giovanni Trappatoni. Given the circumstances in which Dep Kyne was overlooked, it seems likely that a change of leadership would be required in order for him to be promoted. A ministerial career might well await him – but not under Enda Kenny.