Sinn Féin can win two seats in Galway at next election

Party has potential for two Dáil seats, just not in the same Galway constituency

Dep Mairéad Farrell, with supporters, following her Galway West win at Election 2020 (Louis O'Hara is at the back, on the left hand side). Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Dep Mairéad Farrell, with supporters, following her Galway West win at Election 2020 (Louis O'Hara is at the back, on the left hand side). Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

The next General Election in the Republic of Ireland will take place in 2025. However, if the last two years have taught us anything, it is surely that nothing can truly be taken for granted and that “events, dear boy” can, and will, derail all manner of plans and expectations.

With that caveat very much to the front of her mind, Insider will nonetheless take a risk and examine what the latest opinion poll figures might mean for Galway West, and specifically for Sinn Féin, at a future election.

The most recent poll was The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll which placed Sinn Féin at 32 per cent; Fine Gael at 22; Fianna Fáil at 20; the Greens at seven, Labour at four, and Independents/small parties at 16.

The figures for our region of Connacht-Ulster were not too dissimilar: SF (35 ), FG (23 ), FF (21 ), Independents/others (15 ), Greens (four ), Labour (one ). Should these figures be repeated on an election day in Galway West it would result in two seats for SF, one each for FG and FF, and with only one Independent returned.

However, while polls give an overall sense of the current trends and thinking, and an insight into the bigger picture, they cannot take into account the micro factors on the ground that pertain to each individual constituency.

The current sitting TDs in Galway West are Éamon Ó Cúiv (FF ), Hildegarde Naughton (FG ), Mairead Farrell (SF ), and Catherine Connolly and Noel Grealish (Independents ), and at the risk of sounding like former RTÉ political analyst, Nick Coffey (remember him? ), it is hard to see any change come the next election.

From predictable to changeable

Voting 2

From the late 1990s, and throughout the noughties, Galway West predictably returned two FF, one FG, one Labour, and one PD/Independent. It was only in the 2011 election, after the collapse of the economy that it switched to two FG and one FF. In 2016, there was another change - Labour lost the seat it had held here since the 1980s.

A decade later, and with the housing and accommodation crises worsening under FG’s watch, the formerly predictable Galway West switched again - now it was one each for SF, FG, and FF, while for the first time in its history (or should I say HERstory ), three women were elected from here to the Dáil.

'Dep Farrell is a socialist, a Feminist, and a republican. Now that is Insider’s kind of politician'

Could the combined effect of the continuing housing/accomodation crises, the fallout from Covid-19, and Michael Martin’s weak leadership produce another change in Galway West?

The quota in a five-seater like Galway West is 16.76 per cent, meaning, on current poll figures, SF should be able to return two TDs next time out.

Sinn Fein president, Mary Lou McDonald.

Now, Insider will admit her bias. She rejoiced in a deeply pleasurable schadenfreude at the sight of those ultra satisfied individuals - those for whom the system has always worked, who look down on the working class, and view Northern nationalists as people from “up there” who have no business being “down here” - with their over the top meltdowns after the SF surge at Election 2020.

How will they cope when the next election is a fight between SF and FG, with FF, et al, just there to make up the numbers of the future coalition? Insider will tell them to listen to Bob Dylan: “Don't criticize what you can't understand...Your old road is rapidly agin'/Please get out of the new one/If you can't lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin’”.

On the current figures, even if SF dropped by another five per cent, Mairead Farrell would still be returned as TD for Galway West next. However, it is difficult to see her bringing in a running mate, or for SF to countenance having one at the next election.

Competition

It is understood that SF is thinking of running extra candidates in many constituencies where it only ran one in 2020. Galway West should not be one of those constituencies.

Dep Mairead Farrell.

Though diminished, there remains a strong bedrock of support for FF and FG to ensure each party will retain a seat in GW. Dep Ó Cuív will have that seat for as long as he wants it, while Minister Naughton is a true political animal, who has seen off competition before (John Mulholland at the 2009 locals, Sen Sean Kyne at Election 2020 ), and whose work and stance on certain issues ensures a broad appeal that draws in, not only traditional blueshirts, but more progressive elements as well.

'This is a time for consolidation in Galway West for SF, not a time for experimentation or hubris. The party needs to hold what it has'

This reduces SF’s room for maneuver. As such it is already competing for one seat out of three. In the 2020 election, SF took 24.5 per cent across the State. In Galway West it’s share was 14 per cent. Support in the constituency for the party will have grown since then, but it remains too soon to think about adding a second candidate.

Remember, no candidate bearing the SF name, be they pro/anti-Treaty, Stickie, or Provo, had won a seat here since 1922, and last year’s win was on the back of the State-wide SF surge. The GW result was not widely expected here, and Dep Farrell had lost her council seat in 2019 local elections.

Consolidation

Dep Farrell is a socialist, a Feminist, and a republican. Now that is Insider’s kind of politician, but she would say the exact same thing about Dep Catherine Connolly. Both women appeal to the same kind of voter, and while it was remarkable to see two left seats in Galway West in 2020 - another first for the constituency - that is something which must be held, not threatened.

Dep Farrell with members of her family at Election 2020. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

There will be intense competition for the Left vote with PBP Galway, Solidarity, the Soc Dems, and Labour also running candidates at the next election. They will mostly transfer to Dep Connolly (with Dep Farrell picking up the remainder ). A second SF candidate risks fragmenting that vote.

As such, this is a time for consolidation in Galway West for SF, not a time for experimentation or hubris. The party needs to hold what it has, and build on the potential of that 2020 vote, turning it into a solid base for Dep Farrell. Galway West will benefit from young, progessive women, in the Dáil, and if SF plays its card right in Galway West, Dep Farrell will be returned in 2025 - or sooner.

A Galway East gain?

SF however, could win two seats in Galway come the next election - just not in the same constituency. Galway East has potential via Louis O’Hara [pictured below]. While Dep Farrell had served as a city councillor from 2009 to 2019 and had a decade’s worth of experience and name recognition under her belt by Election 2020, Mr O’Hara came out of nowhere to secure 16.7 per cent of the first preference votes, and he lasted until the eighth and final count.

The sitting TDs are Independent Sean Canney, FG’s Ciarán Cannon, and FF’s Anne Rabbitte. Mr O’Hara is based in Athenry, so Dep Cannon will be his main regional competition, but Insider reckons FG candidates can go into this election more confident than FFers, so if Dep Rabbitte is in any way weak, Mr O’Hara could make the breakthrough.

It is still very early days, and there is a long way to go, but that 2020 performance, his rising profile, and work on the ground at the very least means Mr O’Hara has to be seen as a contender for a Dáil seat at the next election in 2025, or whenever it comes.

 

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