Labour sets its sights on two seats in Galway West

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

Fianna Fáil will struggle to hold two seats in Galway West at the next General Election, while Fine Gael is confident it can win two. Labour though has no intention of letting the ‘big two’ have things all their own way.

Labour is riding high in the polls at the moment and the party is determined to capitalise on this by mounting its biggest campaign yet to becoming the largest party in the State. It is a seriously tall order and difficult to see, how, even on a good day, Labour could win enough seats to outstrip Fine Gael.

Fortune favours the brave though and Labour is looking at running candidates in every constituency, including two candidates where there is already a sitting TD. FF is mortally wounded, people are not warming to the idea of Enda Kenny as taoiseach. Labour members smell blood, they have to go for it.

Labour faces it’s biggest challenge west of the Shannon. Their representation here is scant in both Dáil and local authority levels, and with Dep Michael D Higgins running for the presidency he will not be seeking re-election to the Dáil in (officially ) 2012 (but more likely early 2011 ).

The western constituencies are the very ones Labour needs to make gains in order to have a chance of being elected. If the party fails to maintain the seat in Galway West and makse no progress in Sligo, Leitrim, etc, then Eamon Gilmore can kiss the chance of being taoiseach good-bye.

Insider does not believe Gilmore will get the numbers to be taoiseach, but he does think Labour stands on the cusp of having a second ‘Spring Tide’, or ‘Gilmore Gale’ to be more contemporary. If the party is to progress from its stagnant performances in the last two elections it has to win seats in Connacht.

Galway West is a key consistency for Labour. It has to hold on to the seat Michael D Higgins has held here since 1987 and it needs to challenge seriously for a second seat - and ensure the battle for the final seat in the constituency is not between FF and FG. So what is happening in Labour right now?

Recently party HQ sent a letter to all Labour members to open the candidate selection process. A committee, headed by Limerick East TD and party health spokesperson Jan O’Sullivan, will oversee the process, consult with local organisations, decide how many candidates can go before a selection convention, and how many should run in a constituency. Members are being encouraged to write to the committee and inform it of their ideas and suggestions. All views must be submitted by Monday October 4.

Labour has five city councillors - Tom Costello, Billy Cameron, Colette Connolly, Derek Nolan, and Niall McNelis - so who is likely to be throwing his/her hat into the ring?

Derek Nolan has been groomed by Labour to be the successor to Michael D, although the party probably thought it would be the 2017 election when he would finally contest a Dáil election.

However, as the former British prime minister Harold Macmillan once said “Events, dear boy, events”, and Cllr Nolan will now find himself facing the electorate sooner than he anticipated.

That said, his local election campaign in 2002 (when as a first time candidate he came within a whisker of winning the seat ) and his emphatic and confident win in the 2009 locals show he has the appetite and the skills. He has also shown himself to be a good performer in both the council chamber and on the ground.

He also has the belief of his party behind him. Recently Cllr Nolan was asked to chair Labour’s Winning The West conference, to be held in Castlebar on Saturday October 16, which will focus on winning seats in Connacht and issues such as the rural economy, jobs, and regional health services.

Cllr Nolan also enjoys the support of the local party and Cllr Cameron this week announced that while he will not be seeking a nomination to run for the Dáil himself - a surprise to many given his workrate and popularity - he will be fully supporting Cllr Nolan.

“I have asked Derek to put his name forward and I certainly hope he does,” Cllr Cameron said in a statement this week. “Derek will get my 100 per cent support from now until Election Day. We need decisive and imaginative people, and from working with Derek in Labour and on the Galway City Council I have found that he has these qualities and more.

“I will be asking my own friends in Labour, and those who for vote for me locally, to row in behind Cllr Nolan in order to secure continued effective Labour representation for Galway West in Dáil Éireann.”

Cllr Nolan’s selection as a candidate is not cast in stone and he would not want to make any assumptions, but that is certainly a ringing endorsement and even someone as cynical as Insider cannot see him being shafted.

The real question though is what else will Labour do? Cllr Tom Costello is interested in standing at the next election, as is Cllr Colette Connolly, and perhaps even Cllr Niall McNelis. In that case does Labour run two candidates, and if so who will join Cllr Nolan?

Michael D, more often than not, won emphatic victories through a combination of a solid personal vote and an outstanding ability to attract transfers from across the political divide, but, his vote was a personal vote, much more so than a Labour vote. No matter how angry people are with Fianna Fáil, a sole Labour candidate in Galway West will not pick up enough to votes on his/her own to see him/her through.

A sole Labour candidate will attract the core party vote, some Left transfers, and a few protest votes, but it’s taking a risk to just concentrate on the city. Labour realises this and is interested in running a second candidate.

As a result feelers were put out to a few Independents in Connemara to see if they might join. It is understood that the idea was “very informally” floated to Oughterard councillor Tom Welby, but he was not interested.

Running a candidate in Connemara or Oranmore/Headford makes sense, but as things stand the party may have to run two in the city. This is risky as it could split the vote, or, prove a brilliant stroke. Labour could adopt a Corrib divide strategy, with Cllr Nolan looking after the east of the city and Oranmore/Headford, and the second candidate looking after the west and Connemara. This way both candidates could be from the city and yet not clash.

In that light, who is the party likely to go for? Niall McNelis is a councillor for Galway City West but it is not certain he is interested in running at this stage. He has a young family and business interests to look after and his political interests, apart from the council, mainly lie in the EU.

Cllr Tom Costello is the longest serving Labour city councillor, but being based in the east side of the city he would be pulling from the same trough of votes and the same base as Cllr Nolan. This may count against him in the selection process.

This leaves Cllr Colette Connolly. She is ideally placed on the west side of the city and would be respected by many for her hard work, no nonsense approach, and commitment to Left wing issues and values. The problem here is that she is not the most popular among party members, many have never forgiven her (and question her loyalty ) for campaigning for her sister Catherine, when Catherine split from Labour and went Independent.

The party however could decide to run Josette Farrell or Enda O’Rourke, who both ran in the locals and who both live in the Oranmore area, thereby leaving the city candidate to concentrate on the city alone. However this leave out Connemara, where Michael D always got a few votes.

The momentum is with Labour, the chance is there, but strategy and careful candidate selection is required if the party seriously wants to challenge for two seats - a difficult task, as Fine Gael can tell them.


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