Galway City East looks likely to become the city's most competitive - and possibly dirtiest - electoral battleground by the time votes are cast next June in the 2009 Local Elections.
Not only has this ward lost a seat - it is down from seven to six - but it has also lost a large chunk of its voters from the Woodquay, Bohermore, and College Road areas.
Fianna Fáil would appear to have an abundance of potential candidates this time out including councillors Michael J Crowe and Mary Leahy and most likely Cllr Declan McDonnell who looks set to return to the party following the expected demise of the PDs. The question is, can all three survive?
In 2004 FF only secured one seat out of seven in this ward and that was the final seat won without reaching the quota. How therefore can the party expect to win three out of six next June against a background of worsening public finances and inadequate services?
It’s clear that the mother of all battles looks set to ensue between the soldiers of destiny, and if last Monday night’s council meeting is anything to go by it could get very dirty. In order to analyse Fianna Fáil chances in this ward, it’s important to look at all potential candidates starting with the present incumbents.
Cllr Crowe was first past the post in 2004 securing more than 1,000 first preferences. He followed this up with an impressive performance in last year’s General Election. However since 2004 Crowe has lost his independent status and is the person most affected by the recent boundary changes - he lost his Bohermore base together with the 350 votes he secured there in 2004. He has taken the brave decision to remain in the east ward but he will have a tough job holding on to his seat.
Cllr McDonnell is one of the most experienced members of the council who brings common sense to the table when required. He enjoys good support in the Mervue area particularly through his involvement with Mervue Utd FC and he is active on the ground.
Insider believes Cllr McDonnell will hold his seat. However the ease with which he does so very much depends on whether or not he follows Noel Grealish into Fianna Fáil. Many of McDonnell’s supporters are known to oppose such a move and are likely to desert him should he return to FF.
Outside of the current mayor no councillor enjoys a higher media profile than Cllr Mary Leahy. Since her co-option to the council last year, she has certainly made herself known to the public and whilst she has yet to deliver on many of the promises contained in her endless press releases she is likely to secure her first electoral success next June.
Fine Gael’s Cllr Brian Walsh is widely regarded as having been a good mayor, however his low profile since then has prompted many to suggest that he may not contest next year’s elections. Walsh was second elected in 2004 and would comfortably hold his seat next year.
However FG’s problem in this ward is the apparent lack of candidates offering to run. The party will definitely win one out of six but it could possibly win a second if it had a strong candidate to join Cllr Walsh on the ticket.
Cllr Tom Costello, like Walsh, is another who rarely issues press releases, preferring to do his talking “on the ground”. Labour will hold its seat here but it could be the case that a younger, more energetic, candidate such as Derek Nolan - who ran a very respectable campaign in 04 - could replace Cllr Costello.
Cllr Terry O’Flaherty would appear to have stolen a march on her PD colleague in this ward by being decisive in declaring her intentions should the PDs wind up. Cllr O’Flaherty is seen as an honest politician who always does her best. While she has a tough assignment ahead, Insider believes she has a strong chance of holding on to the seat her family has held for decades.
Independent Cllr Daniel Callanan is not contesting in this ward next time out and his lack of interest in the area, particularly Ballybane where he secured most of his vote in 04, could damage the chances of any potential SF candidate.
Cllr Crowe was elected as an Independent in 04 and if a strong community based candidate emerged between now and June he/she could pose a threat to the established parties.
In summary, Insider believes the electorate of Galway City East will return McDonnell, Leahy, Walsh, and one Labour (possibly Nolan ) with O’Flaherty, Crowe, and a strong Independent candidate fighting it out for the last two seats.