Those wondering if Fine Gael’s Pádraic McCormack would be standing at the next election may have received their answer as the long serving Galway West TD has been elected chairperson of the FG Parliamentary Party.
Dep McCormack beat Tipperary South TD Tom Hayes and Donegal North East TD Joe McHugh to the position, securing 26 votes against 19 for Hayes and 15 for McHugh. He will now have the responsibility of chairing parliamentary party meetings and ensuring close co-operation of the parliamentary party, the front bench, and other party units.
Dep McCormack is “looking forward to the challenge and is conscious of the honour and responsibility placed on him in this position”. He has served as TD for Galway West since 1989 and was also a member of both the Galway city and county councils.
Being elevated to this position puts him in an important position within the party and makes it look far more likely that he will be standing at the next election which is officially due in 2012.
There is intense speculation within Fine Gael as to what the TD’s long term intentions are and whether or not he will stand for re-election. His decision is important as many feel it could be the difference between winning one or two seats next time out.
The last time FG won two seats in Galway West was in 1982 but, with Fianna Fáil at an all time low in the polls, discontent among backbenchers, and a spate of ministerial resignations, FG sense it has its best chance to do so again in nearly 30 years.
The official date for the next election is 2012 but if the Government falls before then it is understood FG HQ will run a ticket of Dep McCormack, senator Fidelma Healy Eames, and either Pádraig Conneely or Hildegarde Naughton (who is currently “filled to the brim with girlish glee” as Yum Yum in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado in the Town Hall ) in the city.
FG sources feel the party will only take one seat in this scenario as McCormack will take up most of the vote across the constituency. He draws a decent vote in the city, polls well in Connemara, and always takes a chunk in the Oranmore/Headford area.
However his strong polling tends to leave a bit less for the other FG candidates, making it difficult for them to make the breakthrough. For example Sen Healy Eames, in such a scenario, would poll well, but would very likely still fall short of getting enough for a seat.
Conneely and Naughton, as Dáil election newcomers would effectively be reduced to sweepers. Cllr Brian Walsh would not run in this scenario as he is based in Renmore along with Dep McCormack.
An alternative ticket would be Dep McCormack, Sen Healy Eames, and county councillor Sean Kyne. However Cllr Kyne is adamant he will not run if Dep McCormack does as Dep McCormack commands a strong vote across Connemara and Cllr Kyne has no interest in being a sweeper (or of splitting the vote ).
However FG HQ is desperate to get two seats (knocking out either Frank Fahey or Noel Grealish in the process ) and it is felt that by 2012, Dep McCormack (who will then be 70 ) will stand down.
This would leave the way open for a ticket of Cllr Kyne in Connemara, Sen Healy Eames in Oranmore/Headford, and a city candidate in Walsh, Conneely, or Naughton.
The theory goes that this ticket would allow the party maximise its vote across the constituency and provided there was a strong performance in the city, the party could take two seats, possibly with Walsh and Eames.
With Dep McCormack now the parliamentary party chair, his position has been strengthened within FG and it will give him even more encouragement to stand in 2012. Furthermore Dep McCormack would resent any notion that his candidacy stands in the way of FG securing two seats in Galway West.
He would feel a solid candidate like himself, plus a national swing towards FG, would push more floating voters towards the party and provide enough to allow Sen Healy Eames take a second seat for FG.