“What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first step to something better,” so said Wendell Phillips, the 19th century American abolitionist, advocate for Native Americans, orator, lawyer, and writer.
No doubt those councillors who lost their seats on Saturday will be hoping Phillips’ words prove true for them, as they contemplate a post-political future.
Niall Ó Brolcháin
Five councillors - Niall Ó Brolcháin, Daniel Callanan, John Mulholland, John Connolly, and Mary Leahy - lost their seats on Saturday. None of them lacked a profile and some had political pedigree, but a combination of anger at the Government and perceptions over their work-rate saw them lose out.
Of all the losses, the Green’s Niall Ó Brolcháin came as the biggest shock. It was widely felt he would hold his seat, that he had weathered the storms of the 2007 cryptosporidium crisis, and would withstand any voter anger directed at the Greens. It was not to be.
Cllr Ó Brolcháin knew from the tallies being taken in Leisureland that he was in trouble, following strong showings from Labour’s Niall McNeils and Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton. While he lasted until the sixth count, he never overtook them.
“I was pipped at the post and there was a national swing against the Greens,” he said, after he was eliminated in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Yet, it is a mark of the respect in which Niall Ó Brolcháin was held by all sides that a number of Labour members (including Niall McNelis and Derek Nolan ) and City Hall’s director of services for housing and corporate services Joe O’Neill went over to commiserate with him after his defeat.
Mr Ó Brolcháin does not see a future in electoral politics but is still interested in staying involved in current affairs.
“I would love to get involved in an NGO in the area of human rights or equality,” he said. “I said to my wife that I had trepidations after the 2007 General Election but I was still a councillor and I would keep going. It’s tough and the hours you spend at it are extraordinary and the expectations are extraordinary. I think I will try and get a bit of life back. I wish the new council well as it’s a tough business and tough decisions are going to have to be made over the next few years.”
Mr Ó Brolcháin’s defeat is symbolic of the Green’s 2009 Local Elections. He was not just their Galway City Councillor, but the party flag bearer in Galway, transport spokesman, and a close confidant of Environment Minister John Gormley. It is no exaggeration to say that outside Dublin, he was The Green Party.
His defeat raises questions about the future of the Greens in Galway. Is there anyone else to take over? Will anyone want to? It took the Greens many attempts to win a council seat in the city. It may be a long time before they do so again - if the party is still in existence at that stage.
Fianna Fáil’s John Connolly went full circle in last weekend’s election. In 2004 he came from nowhere as a first time candidate to top the poll in the West Ward (now Galway City East ). In 2009 it was obvious from early on that he would lose out.
“I lost 170 votes between Shantalla Road and Taylor’s Hill in the boundary changes,” he said on Saturday. “I could have moved wards but I stuck with Galway City West and the competition in the field was intense. We came close to two seats but the prevailing winds were not at our back.”
Mr Connolly plans to spend more time with his wife and daughter but will stay involved in the party as “I am committed to the ideals of Fianna Fáil”. He added: “Fianna Fáil is going through a rough patch at the moment but we will come through it. The decisions we are making now are the decisions that will prove to be the right ones for the nation’s future.”
His party colleague in Galway City East, Mary Leahy, although the daughter of the late and highly respected Cllr Michael Leahy, and generally seen as a good councillor in her own right, also lost out. A combination of the swing against Fianna Fáil, a big showing for Labour, and the fact that she was only two years on the council, may explain her defeat.
Daniel Callanan formerly represented Galway City East but switched to Galway City West in this election. However his very late arrival into the race meant he did not have time to establish himself in the ward. Furthermore he had to contend with big vote getters Donal Lyons and Catherine Connolly for the Independent vote. This, as well as his low profile ultimately cost him his seat.
John Mulholland was first elected the Galway City Council in 1985 and was mayor in 1986 and 1996 but over the last five years the public perception was of a man increasingly disinterested in politics. A constant refrain was: “What’s he done for the past five years?” Mr Mulholland may regard that as unfair but such perceptions ensured he was going to be vulnerable to the challenge of Hildegarde Naughton who ran a dynamic campaign which saw Fine Gael voters switch to her.
Sinn Féin will be bitterly disappointed that it failed to make any breakthrough. In 2004 it won a seat and came close to taking a second. This time the party was an also ran. Martin Concannon put in a decent campaign and received a respectable total vote of 452, but Anna Marley (110 ) and Tom Hanly (175 ) were never at the races. SF in Galway will have to look hard at itself to consider what kind of future it has in the city.