Galway is back at the Cabinet table for the first time since the early noughties, following the weekend's appointment of Galway West TD Seán Kyne as Minister for the Gaeltacht and Government Chief Whip.
Kyne's full title is now Minister of State for the Gaeltacht and the Islands, and while not a full senior minister, he is a 'super junior minister', which permits him to sit at the Cabinet table, albeit without a vote.
Indeed Galway West was not the only beneficiary of the sudden resignation of Communications Minister Denis Naughton last week. Independent Galway East TD Seán Canney will become Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development and Department of Communications, Climate Action, and Environment. His appointment is seen as confirmation of his support for Government, bringing its number of Dail votes to 55 - two short of the 57 needed for a majority.
As a result, the 'confidence and supply' arrangement with Fianna Fáil will continue to be vital for An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, even though many in FF are growing tired of a situation where the party props up the Government, without being in it, allowing Sinn Féin to be the de facto main Opposition. With this in mind, it is interesting to note the statement issued by Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish on Tuesday:
"After a meeting with An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, and a lengthy conversation with An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, regarding Brexit, I have decided to give the necessary support to the Government during this crucial stage of Brexit negotiations...I have also spoken with Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, and I believe there is a compelling public interest that must be served at this time, which outweighs the interests of any politician, individually or collectively."
That last line is key. It is basically code for 'Some in FF might want an election, but few others do, particularly as Brexit becomes more complicated' (especially with the poisonous influence of the DUP and its vile ideology making a bad situation even worse ). Yet a general election is coming, sometime in 2019 or 2020, and all parties are increasingly on an election footing, with many candidates are already selected.
Fine Gael to hold its two seats
While much can, and will, change between now and whenever that election will be, readers can rest assured the parties are examining the opinion polls closely, and conducting their own polls, taking note of the figures, and adapting their plans accordingly. So with Galway benefiting from the mini Cabinet re-shuffle, what affect might that have on electoral picture? For this article, Insider will concentrate on Galway West, returning to Galway East in the coming weeks.
Seán Kyne's holding a Ministry with direct responsibility for the Gaeltacht and the islands puts him in a position to be a kind of 'Minister for Connemara', and being Government Chief Whip gives him power to 'whip' backbenchers into line - given the tight Dáil arithmetic it is an important role. This elevation should make him the most powerful TD in Galway West, and further copperfasten his Dáil seat.
Connemara is almost certain then to return two TDs at the next General Election, with Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív, as ever, holding the safest seat in the State. This means the battle for five-seat Galway West effectively becomes a battle for three seats among the remaining candidates, which include the other incumbents: Fine Gael's Hildegarde Naughton and Independents Noel Grealish and Catherine Connolly.
Time was when Dep Naughton's seat was seen as the most vulnerable in Galway West. That opinion bit the dust a long time ago. Her principled stand and impressive articulation in favour of a Yes vote in the Repeal referendum was applauded by many, particularly those who would not be FG voters. Her support of the Teach Solas LGBT+ resource centre has also won her many friends. Also, despite originally supporting Simon Coveney for the FG leadership, she has been seen at the side of Taoiseach Varadkar many times, and her past preference does not seem to have hindered her.
With the current polls showing Fine Gael at between 30 and 34 per cent in recent polls (33 per cent in this week's Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll ) - almost at, or just over two quotas, both FG TDs look set to hold on, but as ever, will take nothing for granted.
Grealish v Connolly?
This leaves the final two seats, which, most think will be a battle among Grealish, Connolly, the Soc Dem's Niall Ó Tuathail, and the second Fianna Fáil candidate. In the 2016 General Election, Independents received more than 17 per cent of the vote. Since then, that support has dropped (eight per cent - April 2018 Irish Times-Ipsos MRB ), yet during the summer, support for Independents rose again to 13 per cent (May 2018 Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes ) and 18 per cent (July 2018 Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes ), while this week's Irish Times opinion poll showed support at 14 per cent.
With such figures, at least one of the current Independents should be back in the Dáil. Given there has long been a Left seat in Galway West - and with Labour still out for the count and Galway Sinn Féin still very divided - Dep Connolly should be on course to retain her seat. She also has a strong ability to attract transfers from across the Left spectrum. Does this mean Dep Grealish will go from taking the second seat in Galway West in 2016 to losing his seat? Insider is not inclined to agree.
Dep Ó Cuív's support is widespread to the point of his being almost a kind of 'over-mighty lord' within the constituency, meaning the FF running-mates are, as one FFer put it to Insider, "left feeding off Eamon's scraps". As long as this continues, it severely blunts FF's chances of a second seat. That is good news for Dep Grealish though. Given the way the Carnmore man has maintained and built his vote since first being elected in 2002; and given he is from the FF gene pool and will attract a certain amount of the FF vote via transfers, he is certainly in with a fighting chance come the next election.
SF, Labour, and others
As regards Labour, Mayor Niall McNelis is astute enough to know he will neither win, nor truly challenge for a Dáil seat. He knows the task is to re-build the Labour vote in Galway West and that this will take time. In 2016 the party received five per cent in Galway West, 1.6 per cent below the overall Labour vote for that election. Since then, the party has stubbornly languished between three and six per cent, with The Irish Times poll this week showing four per cent.
Mayor McNelis's advantage is that he is not a traditional Labour candidate and will attract votes from outside the party's core support. If he can raise the Galway West vote to six/seven per cent at the next election, he will be viewed as having done a good job. That really is the best Labour can hope for at the moment.
Sinn Féin's internal divisions exposed by last year's resignation from the party by Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has left it in disarray. Given current poll figures of 24 per cent, the party should be well on course to take a seat, especially given a quality candidate like Cllr Mairead Farrell, and having four councillors spread across Galway West. The party's difficulty will be of further benefit to Dep Connolly.
The great unknown is the Soc Dem's Niall Ó Tuathail. He performed well in 2016 and FF's attempts to poach him earlier this year show the potential he possesses. With Labour down and out, and many natural Labour voters in Galway West having switched to the SDs in 2016 (with little sign they wish to return to Labour ), he should be in with a real chance of a seat. It is possible, but Mr Ó Tuathail will be concerned by a FG poll for Dublin Central which showed Soc Dem councillor Gary Gannon - the great hope of the party alongside Mr Ó Tuathail, and who the Soc Dems see as a real contender for a Dáil seat - is not in the running at all.
The Soc Dem's need to show it is not a two TD party of Roisin Shortall and Catherine Murphy, and that it has a future. It needs to get at least one or two other TDs elected. If that FG poll is right, the need for Mr Ó Tuathail to win becomes an even greater pressure. The fight for those last two seats looks like it could be an exciting one.