Independents to have their day on February 25?

County Galway is normally an unhappy hunting ground for Independents seeking election to Dáil Éireann, but that could all change on February 25?

Galway West has never elected an Independent while Galway East has only elected two - Paddy McHugh in 2002 and Michael Donnellan in 1943 and 1944. As such the trend is not in the Independents favour. However Election 2011 looks set to finally overturn Galway’s reputation for being ‘boringly predictable’. The question is, can the Independents capitalise?

The recent Red C poll showed that FF, FG, and Labour had risen by one to two per cent, while the Independents had fallen by four down to 11 per cent. The Irish Times poll on February 2 showed Independents at 15 per cent. If either of these results are replicated in County Galway, there will be no Independent elected as a quota in a five seater (Galway West ) is 16.67 per cent and in a four seater (Galway East ) is 20 per cent.

However Independents rely on local factors which polls cannot always factor in and this is important to bear in mind when assessing possible outcomes.

Galway West

Dep Noel Grealish, councillors Catherine Connolly and Tom Welby, Eamon Walsh, Mike Cubbard, and Joe ‘Anglo Avenger’ McNamara are all standing - the highest number of Independents in the constituency since 1987, when six non-party candidates also ran.

No one takes the Anglo Avenger seriously and Mike Cubbard’s campaign looks set to be rather forlorn. The real battle is between the remaining four with Grealish and Connolly being the strongest.

At this stage the general consensus on what will happen in Galway West is Éamon Ó Cuív (FF ) and Derek Nolan (Lab ) will take seats, Fine Gael will take two and the last seat will be fought for between Fianna Fáil’s Michael J Crowe, Grealish and Connolly, with maybe Welby and Eamon Walsh.

Cllr Welby enjoys great support in Connemara and received one of the highest first preference votes in the State at the 2009 local elections, securing 2,584 votes. It is a strong base that allows him the ability to make a decent challenge.

The problem for him (and for FG’s Sean Kyne and SF’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh ) is that he is located in Connemara - the near personal fiefdom of Éamon Ó Cuív. Ó Cuív will take the lions share of the region’s vote, leaving only crumbs for the rest. As such the Welby challenge is likely to be blunted.

Catherine Connolly’s 2007 general election performance was unspectacular, but showed she drew votes from outside the city. In this currant climate of anger at Fianna Fáil, she stands to benefit from the protest vote, and with Michael D no longer running, she can take a greater share of the Left vote.

If things go her way, she could capitalise on this and take (or rather create ) a second Left seat alongside Labour’s Derek Nolan. There are problems though. Cllr Connolly is in danger of doing an ‘Ó Brolcháin 2007’, where her chances become over-hyped. Some evidence of this appears to be that her name is not coming up on the doorsteps during canvassing as much as expected.

Another factor is Eamon Walsh. The presence of so many Independents can/will split the Independent vote. While Mr Walsh does not have direct links with ‘the Labour family’, Cllr Connolly’s vote is more likely to be based around people with concerns similar to his, than say the Grealish/Welby vote, which would be more geography-based.

Also, SF’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh would be in the same ‘political gene pool’ as Cllr Connolly and would be expected to transfer well to her. The counter-argument is that he could be a distraction and split the hard Left vote.

Another challenge for Cllr Connolly will be attracting transfers as she is not as centrist as the other candidates, in particular Derek Nolan, who will take a lot of the transfers she would be hoping for.

As regards Dep Grealish, his vote is heavily centred around Oranmore and crucially in both 2002 and 2007, he stayed ahead of FG’s Fidelma Healy Eames and did well off her transfers. This time though FG support has surged and she is seen as a near certainty for a seat. This begs the question, can Oranmore/Headford sustain two TDs?

In terms of its population Oranmore/Headford constitutes just under one-sixth of the constituency, which is one quota. Both will draw votes from outside the region as well, but it looks set to be a local dogfight between Grealish and Healy Eames. Whether both survive or one cancels out the other is anyone’s guess.

If Dep Grealish survives Oranmore and Fianna Fáil’s Mike Crowe is squeezed out, the battle for the final seat will be between him and Cllr Connolly. This is equally impossible to call.

Galway East

Galway East looks set to be a much better prospect for Independents. The view so far is that FG will take two seats (Paul Connaughton and Ciaran Cannon ), Fianna Fáil one (Michael P Kitt ), with the remaining seat being a battle between Labour and the Independents.

Three Independents are running - councillors Sean Canney, Tim Broderick, and Pat Hynes. Of these, Canney and Broderick are the strongest.

Cllr Broderick is seen as a possible dark horse and should poll well. However he is likely to be pipped at the post by Connaughton and Kitt who will take the lions share of all votes in the Ballinasloe region.

Tuam based Cllr Canney though is a very serious contender. At the 2009 locals he topped the Tuam ward poll with a staggering 3,273 first preferences, giving him a solid base to build on. His local and now general election rivals Colm Keaveney (Lab ) was on 2,519 and Tom McHugh (FG ) was on 2,845 and they have nearly all of north Galway to themselves, giving a boost to all their chances.

The battle for that seat will be hard fought and Labour has an advantage in second candidate Lorraine Higgins who can secure votes in the southern section of the constituency. However if Tuam wants a TD bad enough, it’s people will elect one as they did in 2002. Canney is a contender who cannot be written off.

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