Labour - Galway West's great conundrum

Against the odds, Derek Nolan will be in the mix for the final seat

Will Derek Nolan be celebrating in 2016 like he was in 2011? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Will Derek Nolan be celebrating in 2016 like he was in 2011? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Depending on your point of view, Labour's Derek Nolan is destined to crash and burn, or is Galway West's great survivor, who in spite of all, will defy the odds and trends, and retain his seat at Election 2016.

The Galway Advertiser Galway West survey shows Dep Nolan taking 7.5 per cent of first preferences - a drop of almost five per cent from his Election 2011 showing. That drop was to be expected, though, since Labour's vote nationally has declined from 19 per cent in 2011 to around eight/nine per cent now. Interestingly, that national drop in support is of almost 60 per cent. Dep Nolan's decline is around 40 per cent. If Labour could match this performance across the State, it would secure 11.5 per cent of the national vote in next month's election, a figure that would stave off the Armageddon many feel the party is staring into.

Our survey shows Dep Nolan among the top five polling candidates. In a five seater, coming in the top five has repeatedly been seen in past elections as a key to retaining the seat. However history is not on Dep Nolan's side. Galway West is notorious for bucking this national trend, with lower placed candidates overtaking higher placed ones, eg, Seán Kyne in 2011 leapfrogging Fidelma Healy-Eames and Catherine Connolly; Noel Grealish outpolling Margaret Cox in 2002; Bobby Molloy overtaking Frank Fahey and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in 1992; and Michael D Higgins coming from the middle of the pack to take the fourth seat in 1987.

A further problem is that Dep Nolan shares the top five spot with Fine Gael's Sen Hildegarde Naughton (also at 7.5 ). Importantly though, he is slightly ahead of Dep John O'Mahony (seven per cent ) and crucially ahead of his main rival, Independent Left councillor Catherine Connolly (6.5 ). Throughout our survey he stayed ahead of her, and was eventually elected to the last seat off Sen Naughton's transfers (her transfers favour Deputies Nolan and Grealish over Cllr Connolly ). Staying ahead of Connolly and Naughton, as has been widely noted by political watchers, is vital to retaining his seat, as political watchers have long noted. Dep Nolan may also be worried by Social Democrats' Niall Ó Tuathail's 3.5 per cent showing, as both are competing for the soft left/liberal vote.

Our survey further confirms a view among many, that while Labour and Dep Nolan's support have declined dramatically, enough of a groundswell remains to give him a chance of competing for the last seat. Indeed certain Galway Labour insiders say that, while the party is braced for numerous seat losses, Dep Nolan is not expected to be one of them.

As ever, though, a poll is a snapshot in time, and always contains numerous caveats, so while it shows Dep Nolan down, but by no means out, it also indicates his position still remains precarious. Our survey shows that, right now, there is very little between O'Mahony, Naughton, Grealish, Nolan, Connolly, and Seán Kyne. The order of elimination is important, and in our survey the elimination of the two Fine Gael candidates led to the election of Dep Nolan.

Cllr Connolly though, as she showed in the 2011 election, is very transfer friendly, and has more support in Connemara than Dep Nolan, giving her a potential extra cushion. So, come polling day, she can be expected to run Dep Nolan much closer. This may require Labour to play the 'Derek can be a Government TD after the election, Cllr Connolly will be alone on the opposition benches' card, but negative campaigning is always risky.

It is difficult to see Labour holding its seat without FG transfers. The addition of South Mayo is also bad news as it cancels out any advantage Labour may get from FG’s somewhat weaker presence in the city. Indeed our poll shows Dep Nolan picks up very little support in Connemara and South Mayo. On the other hand, there is some evidence – not overwhelming, but still there – that the backlash against Labour in middle class areas is less severe. Dep Nolan will need that to hold on in Galway city, but given that this segment of the electorate can be quite volatile, nothing can be taken for granted.

Dep Nolan can take comfort though from the fact this survey shows him to be stronger than has been realised.

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