One of the key battles in Galway West for Election 2011 will not be Fine Gael versus Fianna Fáil, or Labour versus Catherine Connolly, but the battle for a seat between Fine Gael’s two city candidates.
The Recent Red C poll shows Fine Gael on 35 per cent, while The Irish Times poll on February 2 shows the party on 33. Given that a quota in a five seater like Galway West is 16.67 per cent, FG is on two quotas and on course for two seats.
Fine Gael is running four candidates in Galway West - Fidelma Healy Eames, Brian Walsh, Hildegarde Naughton, and Seán Kyne.
Senator Healy Eames is seen as being the strongest. This is due to the fact that she is the senior ranking person on the ticket, has a national profile due to her role as a senator, her experience from the 2002 and 2007 election. This, coupled with her voracious hunger for a place in the Dáil and determined campaigning, is expected to see her take a seat.
However on Tuesday TG4’s Rónán MacConIomaire pointed out that there is a growing opinion that Cllr Naughton could take the first FG seat leaving Sen Healy Eames slugging it out with Cllr Walsh.
This is possible, but the fact that Sen Healy Eames can take votes from across the constituency, name recognition, and the unlikeliness of FG taking both its seats in Galway city, means she is probably still in the strongest of the four FG candidates.
If Sen Healy Eames takes that seat, a major battle between Walsh and Naughton will ensue. If she does not take the first FG seat, there will still be fierce competition in the city between Walsh and Naughton. The winner will take a seat, the loser with fight against Sen Healy Eames for the second. Either way the Walsh/Naughton battle is significant.
Cllr Walsh appears the stronger. He is the party leader on the Galway City Council, has strong backing within FG HQ and the party hierarchy, and is regarded as the heir apparent to former TD Pádraic McCormack, who is supporting him. He is also popular and has enjoyed a solid vote in the local elections (1,234 in 2004 and 1,544 in 2009 ).
However Cllr Naughton is not a woman who does things by half measures, arriving in the city council with a bang in 2009. A first time candidate, she polled 1,061 first preference votes, knocking out long serving FG councillor and former mayor John Mulholland into the bargain.
Over the past 18 months she has become one of the most outspoken councillors, roundly condemning other elected members for rezoning land against the advice of the planners and speaking out against ‘old style politics’.
In the post-Celtic Tiger climate, this will play well among many voters within and, more importantly, outside the traditional FG pool. Furthermore, the electoral performance of both Cllr Naughton and Cllr Walsh in 2009 was quite similar, and it could be argued that both have an equal chance of taking a seat.
Cllr Walsh is mainly canvassing the east of the city and Cllr Naughton the west, but Cllr Naughton has a number of advantages. She has roots in Oranmore which could see votes from the eastern section of the city coming towards her.
Being based in the west of the city, her only other serious contender for votes is Independent Catherine Connolly. In contrast, Cllr Walsh is in a section of Galway West that is the stomping ground for Labour’s Derek Nolan, Fianna Fáil’s Michael J Crowe and Frank Fahey, and not too far away, the Oranmore/Headford candidates of Noel Grealish and Sen Healy Eames (who would be expected to have most of the FG vote here immediately outside the city ).
Cllr Walsh remains the favourite to take the other FG seat but he can afford no complacency, for the more the election goes on, the more Cllr Naughton emerges as a dark horse contender.