City of Tribes diversifies its representation

One third of Galway City’s council seats will be occupied by women for the first time when all 18 seats were filled on Monday after a three-day count which also elected Galway's first black politician.

Newly elected councillors, Josie Forde (FF), Helen Ogbu (Lab) and Eibhlín Seoighte (SD) at the Count Centre on Sunday. [Photo: Mike Shaughnessy]

Newly elected councillors, Josie Forde (FF), Helen Ogbu (Lab) and Eibhlín Seoighte (SD) at the Count Centre on Sunday. [Photo: Mike Shaughnessy]

Fianna Fáil’s Josie Forde, a first-time candidate and the party’s only female runner in Galway, is one of six new councillors who survived the field of 52 runners on a day when her party lost its position as the largest on the local authority, going down from five to four seats. Her 665 first preferences got her in on the 14th count.

Fianna Fail’s long-serving city east representative Michael J Crowe lost his spot, despite his running mate Alan Cheevers topping the poll with a hefty 1,031 votes, just shy of the quota of 1,144. Athenry headteacher John Connolly romped home in City West with 981 first preferences, whereas his running mate, solicitor Peter Keane, did not appear transfer-friendly, and was lucky to scrape in on the 14th count with 768 votes for FF.

The City East local electoral area (LEA ), said to be the most ethnically diverse in the state, garnered national headlines when it elected Nigerian-born Helen Ogbu for the Labour Party as Galway City Council’s first ever woman of colour to sit in City Hall. The community worker ran a tightly organised campaign for a first-time candidate which attracted praise from across Galway’s political spectrum.

It was a strong showing from the Labour Party, with a councillor elected in each area for the first time since 2009. Shantalla native John McDonagh – who infamously missed out on a seat in 2019 by one vote – shed tears of joy and relief when transfers got him over the line in City Central on the 11th count after attracting 643 first preferences. Sitting councillor Níall McNelis retained his seat in City West on the 14th count with a similar 673 first preferences, and it is expected the experienced political operator will be able to drive a hard bargain in coalition negotiations now that he’s backed up by two red shirts.

McNelis’s sometime political ally Mike Cubbard (Ind ) won a whopping 1,486 first preferences in the City Central LEA, showing that old-fashioned ground work over the years really does pay off electorally. He achieved this feat with a defiant refusal to use election posters, and will no doubt be looking for a mayor’s chain again as he ponders his next tilt at the Dáil.

Only the so-called ‘King of Knocknacarra’, Donal Lyons (Ind ), came anywhere close to Cubbard, with a humongous 1,415 votes in City West. It was a good day for all three former Progressive Democrats councillors with Lyons’ old comrades Declan McDonnell (Ind ) and Terry O’Flaherty both re-elected in the eastern LEA with 1,009 and 916 first preferences respectively from their territorial support bases in Mervue and Renmore.

Sinn Féin’s Aisling Burke won back the City East seat lost by Mairéad Farrell in 2019 before her elevation to the Dáil for Galway West. The consensus amongst observers was that Sinn Féin voters did not turn up to polling stations last Friday, whilst some support was lost to the electorally unpopular, populist far-right. There was a noted absence of the usually highly-organised Sinn Féin vote managers on the ground around Galway city, and perhaps Westminster elections up North holds their current attention. Union official Mark Lohan won less than 500 votes in City Central, while Cathal Ó Conchúir – by some accounts a reluctant candidate – won less than 400 across the river in City West.

The Social Democrats doubled its council representation with first-timer Eibhlín Seoighthe picking up a commendable 575 votes in the city centre, while teacher Alan Curran won a very strong 884 first preferences across Salthill and Knocknacarra. Curran had been co-opted to the council in City East after his predecessor Owen Hanley resigned amid controversy. There, Justine Delaney Heaslip failed to hold the seat with only 303 votes, and the Soc Dems may need to seriously reorganise itself to mount a serious City East challenge in future.

Clodagh Higgins polled a chunky 1,074 first preferences for Fine Gael in City West, and was very transfer friendly. Holding the current mayoralty didn’t do the photogenic Eddie Hoare any harm with a massive 1,282 votes in the Central LEA, while the Blueshirts’ wise man Frank Fahy took another 882 first preferences to be elected in the same ward. First time candidate Shane Forde did well in competitive City East, winning a seat with 665 votes.

Four councillors lost their seats. Crowe and Independent Ireland’s Noel Larkin are out of City East, whilst the Green Party lost their council presence completely. Martina O’Connor’s vote dropped over 40 per cent in the city centre, whilst Niall Murphy couldn’t hold the seat Pauline O’Reilly won for the Greens in 2019, despite polling a respectable 600 first preferences in City West.


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