How will the economy affect the way people vote in the county?

Cllr Fahy’s presence will complicate matters for FF in Loughrea.

Cllr Fahy’s presence will complicate matters for FF in Loughrea.

Right now June 5 might not be a date that means much to people – but we can be sure that once it (or alternatively Thursday June 4 ) is announced as the date for the local and European elections people will pencil it in their diary as a date to look forward to.

We saw in 2004 how turnout in these elections exceeded expectations as people wanted to give the Government a message - and that was during relatively good economic times!

With the Lisbon issue still unresolved you might think the European issue could become a big one, not just in the European elections, but also in the locals. There would be a real touch of irony to that given how often the European elections have previously been dominated by often unrelated local issues!

Insider also wonders if any of the parties will come out with an innovative manifesto for local government itself - as we saw for example from FF in the 1985 vote with considerable success electorally. In all probability, however, the one issue that will dominate these local elections will be the economy.

This time out people are likely to treat the elections and the dominant economic issue in a very serious manner. It won’t be simply a case of kicking the Government to teach them a lesson and wake them up. The electorate will likely find itself involved in a detailed debate about economic woes and potential solutions.

The Government will likely come out of this badly - a spate of redundancies, pay cuts, and industrial unrest coupled with nerves over the banking sector creates a tough environment for any government.

On the other hand they may also welcome the seriousness of the debate as it presents them - and the opposition - the opportunity to persuade people that they are working a way through this and are worth backing.

Right now, though, in the chamber of Galway County Council – as in all other council chambers nationally – the worry is how the economic issues will affect the councillors’ own areas and of course their electoral prospects.

Among the more obvious issues are farming cutbacks in the east of the county and any harsh implementation of cuts in teachers in Galway’s smaller rural communities.

Insider doesn’t have to go into specifics to see how the economic issue may affect Galway’s electorate as the broader economic issues will also be huge.

Just look at the number of young families living in towns across the county who are commuting into Galway city, who have large mortgages and other commitments and are concerned for their jobs.

What must be particularly galling for the Government is that, while we’ve seen pensioners and students on the streets last autumn, we have yet to hear in such a way from those burdened people inbetween.

What will be very sobering for them is that the opinion polls taken since the Budget have shown that it is among this group of people that FF support had slipped most dramatically. This group don’t have the time to take to the streets or call in to radio stations and so are likely to especially relish the opportunity to take a few minutes to cast their votes next June.

What might the outcome of all this be in terms of the result in the Galway County Council elections?

Important and all as local candidates and issues may be, we must regard the national polls as the key indicators.

Since Budget 09 FF have struggled in the 26 to 30 per cent region while FG have polled from 33 to 35 per cent. Labour have been slightly above average on 14 per cent but will feel the potential for a better showing exists – and in Eamonn Gilmore’s native Galway it will feel there is great potential to add to its single County Council seat in Tuam.

Turning to the matter of translating all of this to individual constituencies, FF on 28 per cent of the vote could expect to win one seat in a four seater, two seats in a six or seven seater, and in a five seater they would be short of two quotas but would likely pull off two seats with good vote management.

They would therefore be looking at holding two seats each in Tuam, Loughrea, and (just about ) Ballinasloe, retaining one in Oranmore and facing a loss in Connemara where they won three last time and picked up a fourth when Cllr Seamus Walsh joined the party.

Nonetheless Fianna Fáil could still fall to as low as two seats in Connemara, while Michael Fahy’s presence will complicate matters in Loughrea. In broad terms FF will feel that to come back with 10 seats as they did in 2004 will represent a reasonable result.

FG on the other hand will feel it can retain all of its 10 seats and pick up the fourth seat that everyone expects FF to lose in Connemara. This would leave it as the biggest party albeit requiring the support of Labour and Independents to have a governing majority.

Many will be intrigued to see how all of this impacts on the Greens. While they may fall foul of an anti-Government sentiment, the fact they are a niche party at a time when their core issue is centre stage globally (albeit somewhat overshadowed by global economic turmoil in recent months ) means they may escape the worst of it.

And as a party with no history on the council the results of the Galway County Council elections are unlikely to give a solid indicator in any case.

While there’s some way to go, it appears unlikely at this stage that FF will be involved in the governing alliance on the council come next June. For a party that won a majority on the council as recently as 1999 that’s a sobering thought.

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