Grassroots - Healy Eames v Grealish at the next general election?

Or are FG planning to take in Grealish and guarantee a gain of a seat?

After the talking came the event and now after the event comes the talking again in the shape of the post-match analysis!

In Galway West the most startling figure that will capture the attention is the breakdown of the Local Elections vote among the parties across the constituency. Taking Galway city and the county council wards of Connemara and Oranmore together, you find the FF vote has slumped to 24.25 per cent behind Fine Gael on 27.25 per cent.

This is quite a turnup for the books as regardless of the various political swings and roundabouts down through the years FF has always been the largest party in the constituency. The other figure guaranteed to get attention is the 28.5 per cent polled by Independents, making them the largest grouping in a constituency that has never returned an Independent TD!

If we examine the individual wards we find that, contrary to expectations and to the national picture, the biggest moves came in the rural areas, most specifically Connemara where FF lost two of its four seats (admittedly FF only won three in 2004, picking up the fourth when Séamus Walsh joined the party ).

Insider would make the point that the view that Fianna Fáil might escape some of the opprobrium in rural areas thanks to the personal vote of local big guns was perhaps a simplistic misreading. If you look at parts of Connemara you see a version of many of the headaches voters all across the country are facing.

Young people, blinded by much of the easy money and easy rhetoric of recent years, drawing down big mortgages and ‘living the dream’ they were sold, now find themselves taking big pay cuts, paying more taxes and levies, or worse still, losing their jobs.

It may not be as starkly visible as it is in the big commuter belt around Meath and Kildare but it is there - and so is the seething anger. It is clear that such angry voters around An Cheathrú Rua and Leitir Mór deserted Connie Ní Fhátharta causing her to lose her seat. Indeed Cllr Walsh, poll-topper in 2004, found himself scrapping for the last seat this time for similar reasons.

In Galway’s urban areas things were less dramatic. After the earthquake of 2004 there wasn’t much scope for another in Galway city. With Labour picking off Sinn Féin and Green seats, Insider would describe the city vote as ‘de-radicalisation’ with the other groupings holding their own.

Now what might all this mean at a national level? On first reading you may think a tsunami is in the offing. Another reading would suggest that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Turning first to Fianna Fáil. On less than 25 per cent of the vote it would appear the party’s second seat is in grave danger of being lost. However bar a total meltdown for FF in the general election very few from any party think this will happen. The party’s big guns, notably Éamon Ó Cuív in Connemara will beef up the vote, plus they will pick up a lot of soft personal Independent votes.

Labour will be happy. A vote of 12.5 per cent will suffice to keep the seat, but throw in the votes to be gained in Connemara (where Labour sloppily failed to run anyone for an eminently winnable seat ) and Michael D Higgins’ personal vote, and Labour is likely have a full quota.

Insider can’t help but feel though that to make a real breakthrough Labour still need to build support in rural and provincial Ireland to complement its urban support base and that the Galway results illustrated this.

Now, imagine what consternation there would be were Grealish to get onto the FG train next time round?

Turning to Fine Gael we find the big winner of these Local Elections in the shape of Padraic McCormack. It really couldn’t have gone any better for him. A strong party showing across the constituency. The council seat in West Connemara (a key area for him ) won back. The tensions between FG and the Mannion family likely to be eased by Eileen Mannion’s success. And best of all – Fidelma Healy-Eames clearly emerging as the big loser of these elections.

The result in Oranmore truly must have had Dep McCormack dancing a dance. For FG to hold the two seats in the face of a strong Labour challenge must have been good. For Fidelma’s husband Michael Eames NOT to be one of the victors, even better!

For Sen Healy-Eames the blow to the family was compounded by the startling display of Noel Grealish’s team of councillors. Poll-topping displays from coucnillors Welby, Cuddy, and O’Flaherty, with Declan McDonnell also polling strongly, leave him in a strong position come the next general election.

In spite of all the rhetoric about the crash in the FF vote, FG knows well it is Dep Grealish’s seat it will have to target if FG are to win a second seat. And for reasons of geography it is Sen Healy-Eames who must target it.

So is Dep Grealish safe? Certainly not. One can get carried away by the strong showing of the Independents but things are different in a general election where people are electing a government. Independents who win seats in general elections tend to come from very rural constituencies or very occasionally community activists in working class urban areas.

Galway West is not the type of constituency that returns and indeed never has returned an Independent TD. Throw in the logistical difficulty of putting together a team of Independents to repeat the three-man strategy of the PDs from 2002 and 2007 and you can see Dep Grealish having a big challenge on his hands. As against that he has defied the odds before and you could say defied them again via his network of councillors on this occasion.

The bottom line is that only a fool would write off the chances of either Sen Healy-Eames or Dep Grealish. Nevertheless it does look like the fight will be between them. It would be folly to call the outcome at this stage because, as Garrett Fitzgerald put it, the current political arithmetic is subject to ongoing temporal change. As recent events have illustrated such temporal changes in Irish politics are now more volatile than ever!

Now, imagine what consternation there would be were Grealish to get onto the FG train next time round?


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