What happens to Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames tomorrow, when Galway West goes to the polls, could determine the entire outcome of the election results in the constituency.
The common consensus across the political spectrum in Galway West is that Fine Gael will win two seats, Fianna Fáil one, and that the last three seats will be a battle between Labour and the Independents.
Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív is certain to win a seat, but his vote is expected to fall, given the vast decline in the party’s support. As a result he is unlikely to top the poll and take the first seat as he did in 2002 and 2007.
However his running mates look set to fare worse. Frank Fahey, one of the best known names in national politics, is widely expected to lose his seat and even his closest supporters are privately conceding defeat.
The more optimistic argue FF could be in with an outside chance of the last seat, on the basis that Dep Fahey polled around the same as Noel Grealish in 2007, and they point to the work strongly disciplined and organised Crowe brothers’ electoral machine, otherwise known as Oliver’s Army, in getting the core vote out.
However it seems this is mostly wishful thinking as with the party at just 14-16 per cent in the opinion polls, they will have just enough to reach a quota in Galway West. Even if they were to rise by 10 per cent, FF would still be short by five/six per cent of two quotas (33 per cent ) which is needed to take two seats in a five seat constituency like Galway West.
Fine Gael looks set to return two TDs for the first time since November 1982. City councillor Brain Walsh is widely expected to be the first FGer to be elected and may even top the poll (as he did in the Galway Advertiser’s opinion poll in Galway West last week ).
However the real speculation lies in how his running mates - councillors Sean Kyne and Hildegarde Naughton and Sen Fidelma Healy Eames will perform.
Cllr Naughton, though allegedly preferred in FG HQ to Sen Healy Eames and seen by a minority of political watchers as being a dark horse, looks unlikely to make it this time as the city is unlikely to return two FG TDs and it is difficult to see Cllr Naughton overtaking Cllr Walsh.
As a result expect to see two FG TDs - one from the city and the other from the county. Cllr Kyne has to contend with Éamon Ó Cuív, who will still command the majority vote in Connemara, even if it is well down on 2007, and it will be difficult for him to get enough first preferences to challenge for a seat. Nonetheless expect him to poll well, improving on his 2007 showing and position himself well for later general elections.
Sen Healy Eames would appear to be the strongest given her experience in running in elections, her term in the Seanad, national profile, and highly visible campaign. She is also expected to poll well in the Oranmore and Headford area, with her only main challenger being Independent TD Noel Grealish.
However this is the difficulty she faces. The numbers do not stack up to allow Oranmore/Headford to elect two TDs, if Grealish wins Healy Eames loses out and vice versa.
Sen Healy Eames needs to outpoll Dep Grealish and stay ahead of him to ensure she takes the seat. If she does, she will knock Grealish out and this will free up the last two seats for the Galway Left - which means victories for Labour’s Derek Nolan and Independent Catherine Connolly.
However if Sen Healy Eames polls fewer first preferences than Dep Grealish and is eliminated before him, her transfers would boost Dep Grealish (to whom she transferred well in 2007 ) and her FG running mates, which would then see either Kyne or Naughton take a seat as there are two Fine Gael seats for Galway West no matter what happens.
Secondly, if Sen Healy Eames goes out, Dep Grealish will be boosted by this and in a position to take on and beat Cllr Connolly to the last seat, thereby keeping the Left representation in Galway West confined to Cllr Nolan.
While Derek Nolan cannot, and does not, assume victory after Friday, Labour is confident he will hold the seat, originally held by Michael D Higgins since 1987. He will hold the core Labour vote but needs the support of those who voted for Michael D, even if they themselves were not Labour supporters. However he appears to be building up a solid personal vote of his own.
Although Sinn Féin’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh will not take a seat, expect him to put in a strong performance that could give him a very good base for the next local elections.
Final prediction: Walsh, Ó Cuív, second FGer, Nolan, Grealish/Connolly.