Is Brian's departure Derek's opportunity?

How Labour might just sneak a seat in Galway West

In 2016 will Derek Nolan hold onto the seat he won in 2011? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

In 2016 will Derek Nolan hold onto the seat he won in 2011? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

For the last 12 to 18 months, Labour Galway West TD Derek Nolan has been regarded by pundits and political anoraks as the constituency's 'dead man walking', not so much 'the lad most likely to...' but rather the 'absolute certainty' to lose his seat.

Normally politicians love the word to go out that they are 'not safe' as it has a habit of motivating supporters and making up the mind of wavering voters. Dep Nolan, perhaps because his political rise was rather brisk, often gets irate by any suggestion he will lose, even polishing off the odd peeved email to local journalists for daring to point out this electoral possibility.

The poll figures augur very, very, badly for Labour. Recent polls show the party hovering between six and 10 per cent, with the Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post last week putting Labour at seven per cent. Nationally, according to Dr Adrian Kavanagh of Maynooth University, who runs adriankavanaghelections.org, which analyses opinion polls, this means Labour could come back with anything between one and 14 seats.

However it works out come Election 2016, support levels of between six and 10 per cent in Galway West is fatal. As a five seater, the quota is 16.67 per cent. On these figures Dep Nolan has no hope of retaining a seat, no matter how much he gives out.

One leading Labour member in Galway admitted to Insider that nationally the party privately accepts it will lose seats. "If we come back with 12 it will be a good day," he said, an acknowledgement that Labour is likely to drop to about a third of its current tally of 37 seats.

Yet amid this gloomy assessment, this Labour Jeremiah confidently declared Derek Nolan will retain his seat in 2016 (mind you, Insider well remembers this same person confidently declaring in 2004 that Michael J Crowe would not be elected as he had "peaked way to early!" Crowe went on to top the poll in Galway City East in that year's local election ) and that there is a belief among Galway Labourites that the seat can be saved.

Delusional, or have they reason to believe? Insider would have said the former until the withdrawl from the election by Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh this month for medical reasons. Suddenly Fine Gael's difficulty is Labour's opportunity.

FG - a struggle for two seats

Fine Gael has wisely chosen not to add a replacement candidate for Dep Walsh, and instead just run its remaining three candidates - TDs Seán Kyne and John O'Mahoney and Sen Hildegarde Naughton (for once the party resists its fatal attraction to its hari kiri electoral strategy of 'too many cooks should spoil the broth' ).

Dep Kyne, long considered the strongest of the party candidates looks set to be returned, being the only Connemara based candidate who will not be reduced to picking up Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív's scraps, and with Dep Walsh absent, and Cllr Tom Welby unlikely to run, he can have at least all of east Connemara and the western half of the city to himself. Suddenly Dep O'Mahoney's presence is not the worry it was.

On paper, Dep Walsh's departure should give Sen Naughton a fighting chance of a seat. If only it were that simple. Since her elevation to the Seanad (and let's forget how she dutifully campaigned for its abolition, and she barely a wet week inside the chamber ) her profile has dipped considerably, while Dep Kyne's has risen.

Added to this is that part of her base is in the bearpit of Oranmore - home to big names like Dep Noel Grealish, Sen Fidelma Healy-Eames, and councillors James Charity and Mary Hoade. The fighting here will be intense, and only one victor will emerge (likely to be Dep Grealish at this stage ), and Sen Naughton could find the going very tough.

Instead she will look to the city (she is now effectively Fine Gael's city candidate ), but here too she faces competition from Independent councillors Catherine Connolly and Mike Cubbard, Dep Nolan, FF's John Connolly, Social Democrat's Niall Ó Tuathail, and Dep Kyne. As the FG frontrunner, most FG votes (from both dedicated and soft FG supporters ) will go to Kyne before they go to Naughton or O'Mahoney, and (excusing Cllr Connolly and Mr Ó Tuathail ) the centre and centre-right ground is already quite crowded.

Privately FG admits retaining two seats will be a challenge. This is confirmed by recent polls which put the party between 24 and 30 per cent. The former is eight points short of two quotas, the latter is within touching distance. As a result Fine Gael can challenge for, but is not guaranteed, a second seat. Sen Naughton might be a better bet than Dep O'Mahoney, but it all depends on how close the candidates transfer to each other; how close to two quotas they come; and what transfers they pick up from other parties.

Fine Gael then will be in a scrap for the final two seats with Dep Nolan, Cllr Catherine Connolly, Sinn Féin's Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, and perhaps the Soc Dem's Mr Ó Tuathail. "What about me?" Insider can already hear FF's lean and hungry candidate John Connolly ask. Ah, yes, the Lord doth love a trier. If enthusiasm and self-belief alone could win a seat Mr Connolly would be elected already with his 'Wrap The Green Flag Around Me'/Spirit of '26 and The La Scala Theatre' zeal. However the stats do not lie. FF has remained on a stubborn 19/20 per cent in polls - 12 points off two quotas. There will be no second seat for FF in Galway West. The public still has not forgiven it.

Challenges for Labour

So amid this motley crew, how can Dep Nolan retain his Dáil seat? The FG-Labour Government will campaign that under its stewardship the economy is starting to grow again and that letting FF, SF, or any of the far-Left near power threatens that. Given the last six years the public has endured, that is a powerful appeal which will put votes Dep Nolan's way - even if those votes will be more about stability, rather than being for Labour.

The absence of Dep Walsh also frees up pro-Government and 'Anyone but FF and/or SF' votes. While Sen Naughton might have expected much of this to go to her, it could conceivably go to Dep Nolan, given he has much greater prominence in the Galway political scene than the rather low-key Senator.

Allied to this is that those looking to vote for the Government, but who do not wish to vote for Fine Gael, and/or who feel more comfortable with Dep Nolan's (and increasingly Labour's ) centrist tendencies, rather than the socialism of Cllr Connolly or the AAA's Tommy Holohan, will be likely to vote for the Labour man.

However, the presence of the Soc Dem's Niall Ó Tuathail - a formidable campaigner as his stewardship of the Yes-Equality vote in Galway this year and of Stephen Donnolly's successful 2011 election campaign in Wicklow testify - will push Dep Nolan hard. Those disillusioned with Labour (and there are many ) and those who want their social democracy with a bit more bite, may opt for Mr Ó Tuathail. Furthermore, left parties like SF and AAA will look to 'take out' Labour as much as they will campaign for their own candidates. This is still a challenge Dep Nolan must face.

Dep Nolan is no longer Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up a hill to no avail, he has a sliver of hope now he did not have a few weeks ago, but the boulder remains in front of him and that hill still has to be scaled.

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