Fianna Fáil fear losing Galway seats if Cowen remains leader

Grassroots - An inside look at local politics – from the pens of the politicians themselves

When it rains, it pours — will the opinion polls be another cloud on the horizon for An Taoiseach this weekend?

When it rains, it pours — will the opinion polls be another cloud on the horizon for An Taoiseach this weekend?

For the moment Brian Cowen is safe in his position as Taoiseach, but let no one be fooled, he is a dead man walking. He says he is not “on probation” but the only one who believes that is himself.

Dead man walking

Questions arose about Brian Cowen’s leadership following his groggy interview on Morning Ireland last week. However the controversy was not about his right to have a drink. Instead it was more a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Were the economic situation not so serious, that interview might have been deemed a silly season story. However the economic situation is very serious and Cowen’s radio performance was the point at which all his failings as a Taoiseach over the past two years were crystallised into one moment. It seemed to say that Cowen was neither serious about the job nor up to it.

Let Insider put it this way, the worst thing wasn’t so much Cowen being the worse for wear, but that thousands of people listening to it were going out to work to try to survive while it sounded as though FF was living the life of Reilly down in Galway.

All that is keeping Cowen in office at the moment is Fianna Fáil’s fear of a General Election and the reluctance of the pretenders - Brian Lehihan, Micheál Martin, Dermot Ahern, and Mary Hanafin - to plunge the party into a leadership contest (which would also precipitate a General Election ) and harm the coalition’s already narrow majority in the Dáil.

Cowen is only holding on by luck, not by having overcome the recent difficulties. Trip wires remain, though, such as the upcoming opinion polls in The Irish Times and the Sunday Business Post and the continually perilous state of the economy.

Will there be a November election with a new Fianna Fáil leader? Well let’s say that the election is likely within the next nine months with a new Fianna Fáil leader.

The effect in Galway?

So what is the Galway take on all this? According to Fianna Fáil sources, the general view within the party is that Cowen is a lame duck and his days are numbered. Many party members also feel Cowen remaining as leader could further weaken FF within the county and cost the party one seat in each of Galway’s two constituencies. How so?

If you vote for a party candidate, you are not only voting for him/her, but for his/her party leader to lead the next government. Cowen was already deeply unpopular before the Morning Ireland interview and polls showed Fianna Fáil plummeting to record lows.

Events of the last few weeks - the grogginess, the continuing black hole that is Anglo, the looming budget - will do nothing to improve the situation, and will persuade even more people that voting for FF is, to be frank about it, not a sustainable proposition.

Let’s take a look at the figures. Before the local elections last year FF were polling in the 20-22 per cent region and ended up with 25 per cent. Even if FF gets 25 per cent at the next General Election this will constitute a drop of almost 17 points from 2007. That is the equivalent of a full quota in a five-seater.

This essentially means FF could lose a seat in virtually every constituency with the possible exception of some of the constituencies in which they hold one seat currently.

These factors will affect the Fianna Fáil vote across Galway East and Galway West. There are other factors as well (some which tie in with the Cowen issue, others not ) that will also put the party’s four seats in danger.

Let’s take Galway East first. Currently the party holds two out of four seats, with Noel Treacy and Micheál Kitt. It is speculated that one of them will retire before the next election. This means the party ticket could be Kitt or Treacy with councillor Mary Hoade and/or Gerry Finnerty facing a confident Fine Gael of Paul Connaughton and Ulick Burke and a dark horse in Independent Seán Canney, in a climate already unfavourable to FF.

Also in the Galway East area there are more FG councillors than FF so the party vote is already down.

In Galway West the situation is complex. The Minister for Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív is seen as safe, as is Independent Noel Grealish, so the Government has two out of five seats. However Frank Fahey is seen as vulnerable, given that he struggled to reach the final seat in 2007.

Dep Fahey’s woes are not, however, Mayor Michael J Crowe’s opportunity. Mayor Crowe pulled off an amazing coup of getting three FFers elected in last year’s locals in spite of public anger, but the climate is even more hostile now and in a General Election, the national issues and the question of who people want as Taoiseach come to the fore.

That said, if Michael D Higgins is chosen by Labour to run for the presidency, he is may not contest his Dáil seat. That could give FF a window of opportunity, but remember Fine Gael is gunning for two seats as well and will be targeting both FF and any Labour vacancy. Of course Labour will not be content to let either of the ‘big two’ take what it sees as its seat and will fight tooth and nail to keep it.

Fianna Fáil will not increase its seats in Co Galway, so the best the party can do is hope to retain what it has. Galway’s FF TDs, like their party colleagues across the State, are practically certain to be banished to the opposition benches.

The only question is whether the party will be lucky and hold onto its four TDs in Co Galway or will it be the case that two of them will not be on the train to Dublin after polling day?

 

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