Connemara set for a FF/FG showdown

With just over seven weeks to go until polling day the line-ups for the Local Elections in Connemara have begun to take their final shape.

FF, after a detailed, some would say arduous, process has selected newcomer Louise O’Connor from Moycullen to accompany its four outgoing councillors on the party ticket. FG has settled on its line-up for some months and both parties will now turn their attention to the battle at hand, which is expected to include a fight between these two parties for at least one of the seats.

First Insider would remark that both parties have taken a far more strategic approach to their candidate selection on this occasion. On the last few occasions FF could have been accused of simply allowing anyone who was interested to run, regardless of numbers (in 2004 FF ran six! ) and geography.

On the FG side Eileen Mannion who narrowly missed out on a seat in 2004, was fuming at party HQ for packing the field with candidates and not leaving west and north Connemara open to her on that occasion – a point she again alluded to at the party’s convention in February.

Turning to the 2009 contest Insider sees a competitive contest between the various parties and Independents but also sees some intriguing internal battles within FF and FG. Some generally accepted truths may not turn out to be so true either! Let’s turn first to those internal contests.

On the FG side while much attention will focus on whether the two new candidates Eileen Mannion and Seosamh Ó Laoi can win a second seat between them, the real man to watch may be Cllr Seán Kyne. Not alone will Cllr Kyne expect to retain the seat he won narrowly in 2004, he will also expect a large vote that will cement his position as a key player in FG’s Galway West line-up, following his impressive efforts in the 2007 General and Seanad elections.

This hunger could work in FG’s favour – equally however the party will be concerned that he will be overly concerned at boosting his own vote at the expense of party discipline and that this may cost them a seat.

On the FF side the conventional wisdom is that councillors Seamus Walsh and Seán Ó Tuairisg are safe, that Cllr Josie Conneely is facing an uphill struggle, and that Cllr Connie Ní Fhátharta’s seat is marginal. A closer look at both the field and the 2004 result however casts doubt on all of this.

It is true that Cllr Walsh, running as an Independent, topped the poll in 2004 but his 1,500 votes constituted just nine per cent of the vote. Cllr Ó Tuairisg was the top FF vote-getter but on less than 1,400 votes was not terribly far ahead of Cllr Ní Fhátharta’s 1,250.

Looking at the field this time both councillors Walsh and Ó Tuairisg face strong local rivals. For instance Seosamh Ó Laoi’s appearance on the FG ticket will greatly ‘beef up’ FG in the An Spidéal and Cois Fharraige areas, something that will concern Cllr Ó Tuairisg.

Cllr Tom Welby, a PD last time but an Independent this time, will offer competition in Oughterard to Cllr Walsh while the Moycullen candidates such as Cllr Kyne and their new runningmate Ms O’Connor (whose performance is very difficult to predict ) will offer competition for both councillors Walsh and Ó Tuairisig.

Cllr Ní Fhátharta on the other hand will once again face Trevor Ó Clochartaigh in the battle for the vote around An Cheathrú Rua.

With Mr Ó Clochartaigh surprisingly changing allegiance from Labour to Sinn Féin, Cllr Ní Fhátharta will feel the danger is decreased especially in light of the threat Labour is posing FF in general currently. Mr Ó Clochartaigh’s native Carna area is also the base of Cllr Seosamh Ó Cuaig.

Turning more specifically to Labour it’s failure to settle on a candidate is truly remarkable. A FF bigwig commented some weeks back that if Labour settled on a decent candidate, especially one who could poll well in the Barna/Moycullen area, there was a relatively easy gain for them.

It is now probably too late unless Michael D Higgins can pull a rabbit from the hat and land a high-profile candidate. Now we can see what commentators mean when they say Labour still has a lot of organisational work to do before realising the potential of its impressive poll ratings.

We’ve spoken about the main three parties, but what of the others? Well a feature of national polls in recent months has been that the electorate, although initially dazed and confused, are now more focused on the bigger picture of government and this is manifesting itself in the shape of a shift from smaller or fringe parties towards the bigger parties.

Nevertheless the locals in Connemara do throw up a fair share of Independent success stories and both Seosamh Ó Cuaig and Tom Welby will hope to retain their seats. Insider expects Cllr Ó Cuaig to be returned but feels Cllr Welby, who was elected as a PD and faces competition in Oughterard as noted earlier, could be marginal.

Aside from Independents, Republican Sinn Féin’s Tomás Ó Curraoin can usually be relied upon to poll 1,000 or so votes but without picking up the other 1,000 required in either first preferences or transfers to reach the quota.

So turning to a prediction Insider has to say that the tiny swing required to take the last seat from Cllr Conneely to Ms Mannion will surely manifest itself in light of national trends. With two FF seats and Cllr Ó Cuaig to be returned this leaves a fight for the last two.

For the reasons noted above Insider thinks a challenger from the field may not emerge and that the third FFer and Cllr Welby may hold on - although they will be lucky to do so.

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