Mná na Gaillimhe - three Galway seats now held by women

Traditional patterns broken as both Galway constituencies return female TDs

Galway West TDs Catherine Connolly (right) and Hildegarde Naughton (left). Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Galway West TDs Catherine Connolly (right) and Hildegarde Naughton (left). Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Election 2016 saw Galway West do two things it never did before - elect two Independents and, more significantly, elect two women, meaning Independent Catherine Connolly and FG's Hildegarde Naughton, join FF's Máire Geoghegan Quinn, as the only women to ever be returned for the constituency.

Catherine Connolly secured a solid 4,877 first preferences, placing her fifth after the first count, behind FF's Eamon Ó Cuív (9,539 ), Independent Noel Grealish (7,187 ), FG's Seán Kyne (6,136 ), and SF's Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (5,755 ), and ahead of FG candidates Hildegarde Naughton and John O'Mahony, as well as Labour and the Social Democrats.

However, like Michael D Higgins, before her, she displayed an astonishing ability to take transfers from across the political specturm, with most almost all candidates transferring to her in triple figures. Among the most notable transfers from centre-right candidates were 965 from FF's John Connolly and 397 from O'Mahony, while the highest transfers from Left/Liberal candidates were 1,739 from the Soc Dems, 662 from Labour, 512 from Independent councillor Mike Cubbard, and 368 from the Greens.

By the 12th count, Connolly's combined total was 10,239 - just 473 off the quota - but crucially she was ahead of Naughton by 1,110 votes, and Ó Clochartaigh by 2,162, pushing the long serving councillor into the fourth seat.

Percentage wise, Fianna Fáil did better than Fine Gael in Galway West, but FG's vote management was far superior, and kept the party on course throughout the count for the two seats it was predicted to win. The first count initially showed O'Mahony ahead of Naughton, but a gap of only 167 votes was an easily closable one.

This was borne out throughout the counts. Indeed in every subsequent count, Naughton received higher transfers than her colleague/rival, most notably 205 from Fidelma Healy-Eames, 785 from Labour, 532 from the Soc Dems, and 398 from Fianna Fáil's John Connolly. There were only two exceptions - the ninth count, with FF's Mary Hoade transferring 226 to O'Mahoney as opposed to 123 to Naughton; and the 11th count where Dep Ó Cuív's surplus saw 40 go to the Mayo man and 11 to the former Senator.

The combined effect of the transfers saw Naughton go ahead of O'Mahony in the sixth count, and stay ahead from there on. By the 13th count she had 7,024 to his 6,112 resulting in O'Mahony's elimination. By this stage she was now 887 behind Ó Clochartaigh, but the FG vote management was immaculate, with O'Mahony's transfers going almost evenly between Naughton (who received 2,105 ) and Kyne (2,419 ). Kyne took the third seat with 10,590, and Naughton bypassed Ó Clochartaigh (9,129 votes to 8,077, scuppering any talk of a recount ) for the only time in the Galway West count - but it was the most important time to do it - allowing her to take the final seat.

Catherine Connolly's ability to attract across the board support, and the discipline of the FG vote management, has resulted in the constituency having two female TDs, giving Galway West something close to gender balance in its Dáil representation.

The female is more deadly than the male

Anne Rabbitte

It was not just Galway West that was breaking traditional patterns, but Galway East was as well. The constituency, like its western counterpart, had only once returned a female TD - Fine Gael's Brigid O'Hogan Higgins in the 1961 and 1965 elections - but last weekend Fianna Fáil's Cllr Anne Rabbitte [pictured above, on the left] overturned that statistic.

Rabbitte had been tipped for some time as a serious contender for one of Galway East's three seats, although there were concerns she could struggle against her party colleague and northern based rival, the controversial Colm Keaveney. However FF grassroots, who have always resented Keaveney's presence in the party, rowed in behind the Portumna woman, and she took 6,928 first preferences on the first count - ahead of sitting TDs Keaveney (5,436 ) and Paul Connaughton (6,474 ), and Sen Lorraine Higgins (4,531 ). Only Independent Seán Canney (8,447 ) and FG's Ciaron Cannon (7,123 ) scored higher.

Galway East was expected to go down the lines of one Independent, one FG, and one FG. So to win, Rabbitte only needed to stay ahead of Keaveney. This she did throughout the seven counts, aided by Paul Connaughton's slump in support - the result of constituency boundary changes which saw the removal of his Ballinalsoe/Mountbellew heartlands into Roscommon-Galway - and crucially picking up a higher rate of transfers than the Tuam man - 571, 400, 825, and 3,464, the latter from Keaveney - in all but the second count, but even then it was only the slight difference of 75 to 67 in Keaveney's favour.

Keaveney was eliminated on the fifth count with a combined vote of 6,700 as opposed to Rabbitte's 9,791. His transfers pushed that up to 12,255, past both the quota (11,310 ) and FG's Ciaran Cannon, to allow her take the second seat.

A number of factors help explain Rabbitte's victory - an ability to attract transfers from across the political spectrum (825 from Labour, 400 from Sinn Féin ); good vote management; and the unpopularity of Keaveney within FF, and the desire of many members to see someone they regarded as 'proper FF' take the seat.

Also worth noting is that the long held dominance of the northern/eastern section of Galway East has been broken with southern based candidates Rabbitte (Portumna ) and Cannon (Loughrea ) being elected, with only Sean Canney (Tuam ) representing the rest.

Gender quotas work

While gender quotas were introduced to ensure greater gender balance and representation on party tickets, and the hope that this would increase the number of women in the Dáil, there was more then a suspicion FG and FF were running women only because both parties wanted to avoid the fines that would result if they did not. Hence many females were reduced to being sweepers. This is in contrast to Sinn Féin and Labour, which have long sought to have gender balanced tickets

The Irish electorate did not take as cynical a view of female candidates as did the two main parties, but instead demonstrated how, if offered female candidates, many will take the opportunity to vote for them.

As it stands, about 20 per cent of TDs in the 32nd Dáil will be female, a rise from 15 per cent in 2011. The State is still a long way off Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Spain, which all have +40 per cent women MPs; and below the EU average of 28 per cent; but a five per cent rise is at least a move in the right direction.

The idea that gender quotas will result in support for female candidates is borne out in the results from Galway, a county formerly notorious for not returning women. Indeed, according to Suzanne Collins, director of operations and campaigns for Women for Election, Galway cast 27 per cent of its first preference votes for women.

“The success of women in this election nationally is only an indication of the potential of the positive change that can still happen," Ms Collins said. "GE16 is an important first step in attempting to create a gender balance in Dáil Éireann. It is vital that women who were elected get the support and training they require to flourish because they will act as an encouragement to other women in Galway to step forward or stay in political life."

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