How will Galway city vote in the 2019 Local Elections?

Incumbents under threat? New faces to be elected? Ex-PDs to top the polls? LE2019 in Galway is a challenge to call

Fifty candidates are competing for 18 seats across the city's three electoral wards, but in reality, only half that number can truly be considered contenders. While the city is not expected to make sweeping changes to the make-up of its local government representation, some new faces are likely to feature when the new council meets in June.

With Catherine Connolly having been elected to the Dáíl in 2016 and councillors Billy Cameron and Padraig Conneely retiring from politics, at least three seats are available to new candidates, and there has been some feverish expectation that certain incumbents could be in trouble from their party running mates.

This is also the most difficult election to call in many years. The battles for the final seats in Galway City West and Galway City Central are too close to call, while opinion differs sharply on the prospects of FG and Independents in Galway City East. However, certain predictions can be made with confidence.

The three ex-PD Independent, councillors - Donal Lyons (GCW ) and Terry O'Flahery and Declan McDonnell (GCE ) - will be returned and are likely to be the highest polling candidates in the city. Mayor Niall McNelis (GCW ) [pictured above], Independent councillor Mike Cubbard (GCC ), and Sinn Féin councillor Máiréad Farrell (GCE ) are all on course to keep their seats. John McDonagh, Labour's replacement for Billy Cameron in GCC, looks odds-on to retain that seat for the party.

After this, things become more complicated. Fine Gael is likely to suffer a 'soft backlash' over the housing and accommodation crisis, and is expected to drop from four to three seats; Fianna Fáil should take a seat in each ward, but opinion differs as to who the three elected councillors will be; could Sinn Féin lose a seat?; Can the Social Democrats win a seat?

'There are so many different analyses of what might happen, but every perspective is influenced by the political circle in which the individual mixes. We're all in our own bubbles'

And then there are the Greens. With climate change finally, belatedly, entering mainstream public discourse and establishment politics, surely this is the election that will see the party make noticeable gains? (One is reminded of that Only Fools and Horses episode, 'The Russians Are Coming', with Del Boy in the nuclear fallout shelter: "The end of the world is the break we're looking for, Rodney!" ).

Confirmation bias is also an issue as party loyalties and political inclinations unduly influence the analysis of candidates and their supporters. As one Fianna Fáil member told the Galway Advertiser: "There are so many different analyses of what might happen, but every perspective I've heard is influenced by the political circle in which the individual mixes. I firmly believe we're all in our own bubbles."

With that very relevant caveat firmly in mind, we assess how the public may vote tomorrow.

Galway City West

donal lyons

Councillor Lyons [pictured above] and Mayor McNelis will each take seats. There is a seat for FG, but Cllr Pearce Flannery's 'no poster' approach makes him look invisible in contrast to his running mate, Clodagh Higgins, who has posters on every available lamppost in Salthill and Rahoon. This visibility, along with her strong targeting of Salthill, and positioning herself as the candidate for the area (in the way Donal Lyons is the Knocknacarra councillor ), could serve her well. Cllr Flannery will also be aware that GCW throws up surprises, such as John Mulholland's shock defeat to running-mate Hildegarde Naughton in 2009. Also the soft backlash will blunt FG's chances of winning two here. One seat then for the blueshirts, and while Cllr Flannery remains favourite owing to his incumbency, he will be looking nervously over his shoulder.

Talk of SF's Cllr Ó Conchúir losing his seat is alarmist. He was a surprise winner here in 2014, and while he will not perform as strongly this time, his work rate and a solid base of support means he remains a contender, so should take one of the last two seats. The remaining two seats - to be fought over by Fianna Fáil's Cllr Peter Keane and John Connolly, and the Green's Pauline O'Reilly [pictured above] - are impossible to call. While Cllr Keane has the advantage of incumbency, and cannot be ruled out, his star has waned in recent years, and the momentum is very much with Connolly and O'Reilly. Their challenge is to press home that advantage.

Final prediction: Cllr Lyons re-elected, with one each for Labour, FG, FF, and SF. Remaining seat will be FF v Green.

Galway City Central

The only certain thing about this ward is that Independent councillor Mike Cubbard will be re-elected [pictured above]; that Labour's John McDonagh has run a strong campaign that will see him hold Cllr Billy Cameron's seat; and that Fianna Fáil will also hold its seat via Cllr Ollie Crowe. After that, it is anyone's guess.

FG won two here in 2014, but only very narrowly. The slimness of that victory; the expected soft-backlash; and the fact that traditionally this is FG's weak-spot in the city, means the party will probably only take one seat here. However, it is not certain whether that will be Cllr Frank Fahy or former Galway footballer Eddie Hoare - although the momentum very much appears to be with the latter.

SF's Mark Lohan will put Cllr Fahy under pressure in Menlo (a factor that could benefit Mr Hoare ). He was co-opted to replace Cllr Anna Marley in 2016, so is an 'unknown quantity' in terms of vote performance. That said, he has the benefit of being an incumbent; has a good base both in Menlo and within the trade union movement where he is a long time activist; and will get some of Cllr Cameron's votes that do not remain with Mr McDonagh.

However, he will be concerned that PBP's Joe Loughnane will transfer heavily to the Soc Dems on this occasion, whereas in 2014, voters of that party transferred largely to SF. He will also have to fight for one of two seats with Independent Cllr Colette Connolly and the Soc Dems' strongest candidate, Sharon Nolan.

Cllr Connolly has an invaluable base in both The Claddagh and Shantalla (although so does John McDonagh ), a sister who is a TD, and the incumbency factor, but she has never been a prolific vote-getter. Also, the field of progressive candidates is much greater now than in 2014, and that field is strong with Cllr Lohan, Mr McDonagh, Ms Nolan, Mr Loughnane, and the Greens' Martina O'Connor.

Ms Nolan [pictured above] has a lot of goodwill built up from the marriage-equality and repeal campaigns; ran a strong council election campaign, and has revealed an ability to win over voters when they meet her on the doorstep. She will also be far more transfer friendly than Cllr Connolly, and can expect votes from PBP, Greens, and some of the former Billy Cameron vote. Her Achilles' heel is that she is predominantly dependent on younger voters, and the traditionally low turnout in local elections is lowest overall among the under-40s.

Final prediction: Cllr Cubbard re-elected, with one each for Labour, FG, and FF. Remaining two seats will be SF v Soc Dems v Cllr Connolly.

Galway City East

The question is not if councillors O'Flaherty and McDonnell are elected, but by how much. In 2014, their combined vote was 36.1 per cent (2,490 votes ) and they are expected to poll somewhere in that region again. SF's Cllr Máiréad Farrell can expect to be re-elected. Even if she does not repeat her 11 per cent tally of 2014, she will still score highly enough, and enjoy transfers from such as Solidarity's Conor Burke.

The consensus is that FG is 'shaky' and will have to fight hard to retain its one seat here. The soft backlash means Cllr John Walsh will still be re-elected, but he will be dependent on transfers, and could be left waiting a good while before being hoisted aloft his supporters shoulders.

FF have the potential to take two seats, but Cllr Noel Larkin is also in contention. Opinion differs on Cllr Larkin's prospects, with some making him odds-on to keep his seat, and others seeing him as the weakest of the six sitting councillors, pointing out he will lose first preferences to Renua and Aontú, and not get the transfers from Solidarity he did in 2014.

Cllr Mike Crowe [pictured above] has had a very quiet campaign to the point in invisibility, in sharp contrast to his running mate Alan Cheevers, whose hunger for a council seat boarders on the voracious. This has given rise to a view that Mr Cheevers could overtake Cllr Crowe. That remains a distinct possibility, but Cllr Crowe, in the words of one source to the Galway Advertiser "has 400-450 votes before he even goes out his front door", and his campaigning, while more low key, is very targeted and effective. As the same source said: "I'd say he could name most of his voters."

A noticeable feature among a small number of candidates has been the 'race to the bottom' style campaigning, symbolised most by the use of anti-Traveller rhetoric. Soc Dem candidate Owen Hanley [pictured above] won many admirers for his brilliant deconstruction of such attitudes in an insightful Facebook 'mini-essay' post. While he will not be elected on this occasion, he has impressed observers, with one long time councillor telling the Galway Advertiser: "If he stays in politics, we'll be seeing more of that young man in the future."

Final prediction: O'Flaherty and McDonnell re-elected, with one each for FG, FF, and SF. Remaining seat will be FF v Cllr Larkin.

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