It’s all to play for but FF are worried

Insider has decided to issue a half-term report on the performance of the players in the political game and what the likely results would be in the event of an early election.

It is exactly two and a half years since the May 2007 election, and, were the Dáil to run its full course, this would be the mid-point for the present Government. As all observers are aware, an election could happen at any time, and the likely results in the two Galway constituencies are, unusually, difficult to call.

This analysis is based on the present position, and the results of elections are often determined by the exact mood that prevails at the time of the election and the circumstances in which it is fought. Insider will return to this topic, to re-evaluate, if and when the political mood changes

Fianna Fáil

FF are in trouble, and they know it. Insider has never seen such anger as exists at the moment, and can never recall a time when the Government were so afraid of the people. In recent weeks, Insider has heard three Government ministers acknowledge that, if an election were held now, they would be removed from office.

Even in the difficulties of the 1980s, Insider cannot recall any Government minister effectively admitting they had lost public support. Democracies generally do not do revolutions, but Insider believes the results of the next election will be akin to a revolution on the Irish political scene.

Insider does not need to reiterate the numerous failings of the recent past, but the mediocrity of the Ahern years is becoming more apparent on a daily basis, and it seems FF is about to reap a bitter harvest from a disenchanted electorate.

What this means on the local scene is harder to figure out at this stage.

FF got 37 per cent of the vote in Galway West in 2007, four per cent behind the party’s national vote. Recent national polls show FF in the mid 20s, which would suggest a possible vote in the low 20s in Galway West.

This would be the greatest shift in voting patterns in living memory in the lifetime of one Dáil. For a party that came so close in the recent past to winning three seats out of five, there is a real danger of dropping to a single seat. This would be a disastrous result for FF and a sign its worst nightmare had become a reality.

In the event of FF securing just one seat, the obvious candidate for election would be Minister Éamon Ó Cuív. The position of Dep Noel Grealish and what, if any, party he belongs to when the election is called will be critical to the outcome.

FF could retain both its seats if either of the following happens: 1 ) Dep Grealish joins FF and runs under the FF banner or 2 ) Successful vote management splits the FF vote as equally as possible between two candidates. In the event of the latter, even if the FF vote dropped to between 24 per cent and 26 per cent, proper vote management could see two candidates elected. However, the disparity between Minister Ó Cuív and his running mates in 2007 makes this a difficult task.

Incumbents have historically been hard to dislodge, but Insider believes the unhappy mood in the population means some of the old rules may no longer apply. Dep Frank Fahey and the other pretenders may turn out to be fighting for a second FF seat that won’t exist. FF is also unlikely to attract as many transfers as in 2007, and would need to be ahead of FG on the first count to hold them off for the second seat.

FF and FG got almost the exact same number of transfers from eliminated candidates, who did not belong to either party, in the 2007 election. With the present unpopularity of the Government, it is likely that transfers to FF will fall significantly.

At 40 per cent of the vote in Galway East in 2007, and with the absence of a strong candidate from outside FF and FG, FF should be capable of holding onto their two seats here.

Again, even with a drop in their vote of up to 10 per cent, successful vote management should return two out of four for FF. Were a strong independent candidate to emerge, then the second FF seat would be in real danger, and this is where the problem may lie for FF. Should such a candidate emerge, it is almost certain that FF would be the loser this time, as FG were in 2002.

Fine Gael

Is the promised land of two seats in Galway West about to be delivered by FG? The party would be wise to take nothing for granted. It received 20 per cent of the vote in Galway West in 2007, seven per cent below its national vote.

At present, FG is showing in the mid-30s in national polls, which should give a vote in the high 20s in Galway West. This should be enough to ensure two seats with proper vote management. FG hopes party stalwart Dep Pádraic McCormack will once again be a candidate, after the stop/start run-in to election 2007.

All eyes will be on who will be his running mate(s ). Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has served her apprenticeship, and many feel the reward of being the party’s second candidate rightly belongs to her. There was concern in the party after Dep McCormack announced his intention not to run in 2007, and heir apparent Cllr Brian Walsh withdrew, that FG’s single seat was in danger.

The results of the election showed that concern was misplaced, and Sen Healy Eames would have been elected had Dep McCormack not been a candidate. The hope in FG must be that the national swing to the party will result in both making it this time.

It is felt Cllr Walsh turned down a gilt edged opportunity in the 2007 election, and Sen Healy Eames, having been there in the more difficult times of elections 2002 and 2007, will finally get her reward.

In Galway East, FG are assured of two seats, with an outside chance of a third seat. This may sound far-fetched, but the party got 39 per cent in 2007, and is now seven per cent higher in national polls than its overall performance in that election.

Also it has the added bonus of Senator Ciaran Cannon, who secured six per cent of the vote in that election. That could put the party above the 50 per cent mark, and within shouting distance of the three seats. At the moment, the odds are against it, and who the candidates are will be very important.

After the difficulties of the last decade for FG, will Deputies Burke and Connaughton hand over to a younger generation of their families, or go for one last hurrah when circumstances are much more favourable? If Sen Cannon and John Barton are in the race, there will be a battle royal between the Bs and the Cs...and talk of a possible third seat wont go down very well!

Labour

In Galway West, Deputy Michael D Higgins will be elected. It is very unlikely Labour could win a second seat, but maybe the time has come for the clear ‘Number 2’ to emerge. At 11 per cent of the vote in 2007, even a doubling of this is unlikely to lead to two Labour deputies being returned to the next Dáil.

In Galway East support for the party is simply not there to win one seat out of four. With Dep Gilmore as party leader, there may be an increase in Labour support, but the party is unlikely to be a contender, unless it finds a candidate who has much wider appeal than base support.

Greens

Insider recalls the run up to election 2007. The Greens complained about cynicism about politics and politicians and how they would be the people to clean things up.

Their subsequent grab for power, and behaviour while in office, has led to a collapse in the party’s vote, as was apparent in the local elections earlier this year. What chance do committed local candidates such as Niall Ó Brolchain and Maired Ní Chroinin have when the party leadership behave in the manner in which they have?

The Greens had a realistic chance of making an impact in Galway West, less so in Galway East, but their time seems to have come and gone. The recent party conference to renew the programme for government was another stunt, in Insider’s view.

Not so long ago, Green Deputies were complaining about the ‘Golden Circle’ deciding the country’s future. Now their own ‘Golden Circle’ make the decisions and there doesn't seem to be a problem! When the PD’s held their conference to decide to go out of existence, they were at three per cent in national polls. When the Greens held their conference to decide the future of the government, they were also at three per cent. Go figure! Nationally, and locally, they seem ready to suffer the fate of other small parties who have propped up FF.

Sinn Fein

At three per cent of the vote in both Galway constituencies in 2007, it is unlikely SF will be in the running for a seat any time in the near future. Even with the anticipated seismic shift in the FF vote, all recent polls show that SF is only benefiting slightly from the FF decrease. However the Green participation in Government has left an opening on the left, and if Labour join with FG in forming the next government, then there will be additional ground on the left for SF to expand into.

Independents

It is close to make your mind up time for Dep Grealish. It is unlikely he will join any party in advance of the next election and will hope the general disillusionment with politics and politicians will leave the electorate more disposed to an Independent.

This is a risky strategy, but is it any more risky than joining a FF in freefall, or a FG party where local rivalry is already intense? Should Dep Grealish join one of the parties, this would leave a gap which could be filled by some prominent candidate with no party affiliation.

However with the mood of disquiet among the electorate there could be a surprise in store should a high profile candidate emerge. Insider is not thinking in terms of any of the present elected members of the local council, but someone with a more national profile, perhaps in the business community, but also with a distinctly Galway flavour.

Insider will leave the naming of names until closer to the time!

With the PDs no longer in existence, some feel the transfers which elected Dep Grealish will be harder for him to obtain. This is to misread the result of the 2007 election. Though there were three PD candidates, the total transfer to Dep Grealish from his two eliminated PD running mates was only 25 per cent of their vote.

Ultimately it was the elimination of Sen Healy Eames, and the distribution of Dep McCormack’s surplus, that ensured Dep Grealish’s election.

There is every possibility that the Senator will not be eliminated on the next occasion. Dep Grealish has a lot of thinking to do. Joining FF may ensure it holds onto the two seats but there is no guarantee he will win one of them. Maybe Dep Grealish will surprise everyone, even Insider, and join FG. This would also guarantee FG two seats, but, as with FF, would Dep Grealish get one of them?

Insider believes an Independent candidate could be successful in Galway East, as Paddy McHugh showed in 2002. This time it is more likely the second FF seat, rather than the FG one, that is vulnerable. Trying to name the likely successful FF candidate(s ) at this stage is extremely difficult. On the basis that they all get their turn, could Dep Noel Treacy’s seat be in danger the next time?

Conclusions

FF are certainly on the back foot, but, no more than the country, could the tide turn in their favour in 2010 and 2011, if the Government survive that long?

Insider cannot see them make it to 2012. Can they convince the people in the coming months that they have what it takes to lead the recovery? That they were the victims of international financial turmoil, and the country was going to suffer no matter who was in power? They have the experience to take us through the difficulties ahead, and it is no time to trust the inexperienced TDs on the Opposition benches.

For FG it is also all to play for, the largest party in the state in both local authority and European seats, can this be translated into success at the next General Election? Is the unpopularity of the Government enough to sweep FG into power, or have they still a lot of convincing to do?

Making the case that FF have almost bankrupted the country twice in a generation will certainly win some votes, but what exactly will FG do once in office? The economic difficulties will remain, and a clear road map needs to be outlined.

Insider was told by a number of people who attended last week’s visit to Galway by the FG economic team that it was highly successful. “A young and energetic team, brimming with ideas and hungry for power,” was how one party supporter described the visit to Insider. Impressing a room full of Galway business people is one thing; convincing the electorate at large that you have what it takes is still a monumental task.

Insider still believes FG should adopt the line that Enda can do for the country what he did for the party. Demoralised, defeated, with the bleakest of outlooks, FG in 2002 and Ireland in 2009. Can Enda turn the country around just as he turned the party around?

Labour are on the crest of another ‘Spring Tide’, though Insider cannot see the party return to the next Dáil with more than one of the nine Galway seats. As the election moves closer, it will come under the microscope, particularly on how it would deal with the economic crisis.

Dep Gilmore has impressed to date, but Labour will have to come up with a credible alternative strategy to get us out of our present mess. There is a golden opportunity here for the party, but the Galway constituencies demonstrate how difficult it will be for Labour to turn increased support into additional Dáil seats.

Labour’s potential for gains in the Connacht area is limited and an increase in its number of Dáil seats will likely be concentrated along the east coast and urban areas. If the party’s share of the national vote increased to around 18 per cent, Insider still cannot see Labour win a second seat in Galway West or one in Galway East.

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