WITH 10 days to polling day, Galway West has become something it has never been before - unpredictable. For years it returned two FF and one each for FG, Labour, and a PD/Independent. Even the electoral upheaval of 2011 almost bypassed the constituency, with FG the party to take two, as opposed to FF.
2016 though could see the constituency potentially return that same configuration, but it could also return two Independents - which has never happened before; or two women - Galway West has only ever elected one, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, between 1975 and 1992; or a Sinn Féin candidate to Dáil Éireann - which has not happened since the 1920s; and, potentially FG could lose a seat, allowing Labour to keep one. In short, almost anything is possible.
As polling day looms, the Galway Advertiser, examines the chances of the candidates, and tries to assess what the most likely outcome might be:
Éamon Ó Cuív (FF ): The safest seat in Galway West is also the safest seat in the State. The veteran TD can expect a high first preference vote. He will either top the poll, be first elected, or do both.
Sean Kyne (FG ): Today's Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows the party at 28 per cent, in and around where it has been since the start of the year. Such a figure puts FG within touching distance of two quotas, and really the party should be on course for two seats. That, however, is not a given. Kyne, on paper, should be coasting toward the second seat. Since 2011 he has established himself as the premiere FG name in the constituency; is a Connemara candidate whose chances of election are not minimised by the size of Dep Ó Cuív's vote; and the departure of Brian Walsh opens up all, or at least most, of the western half of Galway city to him. Despite the strategic advantage he has in the city, FG HQ is clearly prioritising Sen Hildegarde Naughten, putting her forward as FG's chief city candidate. This could potentially siphon off votes that would have come Kyne's way. This, plus the unknown factor that is John O'Mahony, could see Dep Kyne, limp into, rather than stride towards, a seat.
Hildegarde Naughten (FG ): You cannot walk down a street in Galway without Naughten's posters watching you. There is clearly a deliberate push by HQ to position her as the only choice for FG and pro-Government supporters in the city. As she has been reminding people on the campaign trail: "I'm the only FG candidate in the city. We need a strong voice in Government." Despite a low profile since her 'elevation' to Seanad Éireann, her active campaigning on the ground is fast making her the constituency's dark horse. She has form in this department - she ousted long time councillor John Mulholland in the 2009 locals. Furthermore, with 45 per cent of the total vote, the city can elect at least two candidates, and the current Government is one course to take two. To do this she must stay ahead of her party colleague and main rival, John O'Mahony, and her Government colleague, and also rival, Labour's Derek Nolan. Her advantage is that FG's support has remained solid, unlike Labour's, and she also commands support in Oranmore, giving her an extra string to her bow, and a potential advantage over O'Mahony. Expect Naughten to be in the mix, competing for one of the last two seats.
John O'Mahony (FG ): O'Mahony, or rather his electoral prospects, are Galway West's equivalent of Churchill's view of Russia: "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". Political watchers think his election is either assured, or that he will bomb spectacularly. The Galway Advertiser Galway West poll showed that in the South Mayo section of the constituency, where he would expect to dominate, he is in fact, having to share support equally with Dep Ó Cuív. This means his first preference tally will be reduced. He will also hope to gain votes in the crowded eastern end of Galway West, but Noel Grealish is king here, and the FG vote will be split between O'Mahony and Naughton, with residual support for ex-FG, now Independent Sen Fidelma Healy-Eames. It is understood O'Mahony is canvassing hard among GAA people in the area, but his party colours, not the increasingly distant memories of the All-Ireland victories of 1998 and 2001, will determine his fate. He may very well survive into the final counts, but he is more likely to influence the outcome via his transfers, rather than win a seat.
Noel Grealish (Ind ): Grealish was returned to the Dáil in 2007 and 2011 without reaching the quota. With the wind behind Independents (25 per cent in The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll ), the Carnmore man can be confident of re-election - he is the sitting TD, surrounded by councillors and a controversial senator with slim chances, and a candidate who has been parachuted into the constituency. If O'Mahony is eliminated, expect a chunk of his transfers to go to Grealish, who will also benefit from the eliminations of councillors Charity and Hoade. Even if O'Mahony was elected, Grealish still should be fine. In 2011, FG received 35 support in the area, with a very local candidate (in Healy-Eames ) to take it, and she lost out, while Grealish was elected.
Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (SF ): Ó Clochartaigh (pictured above with SF party leader Gerry Adams ) stands on the brink of becoming the first SF TD for Galway in almost a century. The figures in our recent poll show him coming close to a quota, and drawing support from his Connemara base and from the city. The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, shows SF at 19 per cent, putting the party over a quota with votes to spare. Polls traditionally tend to overestimate SF support, but the party has grounds for optimism. SF is strategically well positioned to take a seat, with Ó Clochartaigh in south Connemara; Cllr Tom Healy in Clifden; a councillor in each city ward; and Cllr Gabe Cronnolly in the Oranmore/Athenry ward, part of which lies in Galway West. Important too is that Ó Clochartaigh does not appear to be squeezed out by his Connemara rivals, Ó Cuív and Kyne. If the senator and the councillors can maximise the support across the constituency, and motivate their voters to get out on polling day, Ó Clochartaigh has a very good chance.
Derek Nolan (Lab ): Like O'Mahony, Nolan's chances are a conundrum that make predicting Galway West extremely difficult. For much of the last two/three years, Nolan appeared to be the constituency's 'dead man walking'. However, positive feedback from the doors on pre-election canvasses have made Galway Labour feel that, of the seat losses to be endured in Election 2016, Nolan will not be among them. His 7.5 per cent support in our Galway West opinion poll was seen as grounds for optimism, despite the margin of error, and reflected a feeling on the ground, that while he will struggle to retain his seat, he can still challenge for it. His has three obstacles: 1 ) The election - FG/Labour will not get the 56 per cent they received in the 2011 election. Poll figures show the coalition in the mid to high thirties. Even if it gets a late swing to take it to 43/44 per cent that still is a 12/13 per cent drop in support, the guts of a quota in a five-seater. This means one of the three Government seats in Galway West will be lost; 2 ) Catherine Connolly - the Left will be as determined to wipe out Labour as it will be to win a seat, and Connolly is its best bet. That she will win votes from old/traditional and disillusioned Labour voters, will drain from Nolan's already depleted support levels; 3 ) Niall Ó Tuathail - the Social Democrats candidate will get support from soft Left/liberal voters which Nolan also depends on. Again, he should still be in the mix for the final seat, but he is very vulnerable.
Catherine Connolly (Ind ): Bar Sen Ó Clochartaigh, Cllr Connolly is the best bet for the Left, indeed many see her as THE premiere Left candidate. She has a solid base in the city, enjoys decent support in Connemara, and is very transfer friendly. This, plus the solid support behind Independents and the Left in general puts her in a good position to take the seat she narrowly missed out on in 2011. Her challenges are; 1 ) Derek Nolan - Labour can scupper Connolly's campaign if the 'What use are Independents? She won't be in Government' and 'She's very negative' lines take hold. 2 ) Mike Cubbard - he will draw support from Westside, the Claddagh, and will compete for some of the working class vote that Connolly would normally have to herself; 3 ) Sinn Féin - voters may see Ó Clochartaigh as the candidate to retain Galway West's Left seat, and opt for him over Connolly.
Of the remaining 11 candidates, none can really expect to challenge for a seat, however there are those who think Cllr Mike Cubbard could prove a surprise package. It is difficult to see him winningt, but he enjoys fiercely loyal support, and his final tally will be interesting to see regarding the ambitious young councillor's progress, and how his transfers may affect the outcome. The Soc Dem's Niall Ó Tuathail masterminded Steven Donnelly's successful Dáil campaign in 2011 and the Yes vote for marriage equality in Galway last year - so he is a seasoned and able campaigner. It will be a tall order for him to take a seat, but given how unpredictable Galway West has become, he could well prove another dark horse. He will challenge Derek Nolan for the Left/liberal vote, and could take votes from those unwilling to go too far Left. He also appears to be attracting a student vote. However they do on polling day, we are unlikely to have seen the last of either Cubbard or Ó Tuathail.
Prediction: one FF (Ó Cuív ) one FG (Kyne ) one Independent (Grealish ), with the final two seats being a battle between Naughton, Nolan, Connolly, and Ó Clochartaigh.