Get set for the local elections - they are only three years away

The election is over! Bring on the next one! After the marathon counts in Galway East and Galway West, there cannot be many people who want another election too soon.

No Insider is not calling for another election - even his passion for politics has some boundaries. What I mean is that now Election 2011 is over, the battle for the next elections - the Seanad elections and the 2014 locals - will begin.

The parties will be starting to assess their performances, look at how individual candidates polled, break down the figures on a local area by local area basis, and see who might be worth running for a local authority seat and who needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Fine Gael and Labour

What kind of indication do the results from Galway West and Galway East give us about who will be running in the next local elections and how they might do?

Let’s start with the largest party in the State - Fine Gael, now there’s a sentence Insider never thought he would write. Mind you many Fine Gaelers never thought they would see the day either!

The implosion of Fidelma Healy Eames and her failure to take a seat means her political career is now dead in the water. After having backed her in 2002, 2007, and 2011, appointed her to the Seanad, and made her Seanad education spokesperson, FG HQ will now view her as unelectable and dispense with her services.

Her call for a re-count on Sunday was her last act in politics. It was also her political death warrant. The re-count pitted her against her party colleague Sean Kyne and her alleged comment of “That’s my seat!” when demanding a recount spoke volumes.

By contrast Cllr Hildegarde Naughton can look towards the future with much optimism. Her solid first preference vote of 3,606 hints that she will comfortably hold her city council seat and put her in position to be chosen as a candidate for the 2016 General Election.

Not running for the next local election will be city councillor Brian Walsh and county councillors Sean Kyne and Paul Connaughton jr now they have been elected as TDs. Speculation now falls on who will be co-opted onto the councils to replace them.

For Brian Walsh, the names of Barra Nevin, who ran in the last locals and who was conspicuous by his presence in the count centre in Leisureland, and Frank Fahy, who also ran in the locals, have been mentioned, as has the name of his brother John Walsh. No names have yet emerged for Sean Kyne and Paul Connaughton, but in the case of the latter, could another family member be waiting in the wings, or at least a close ally of Galway East’s leading political family?

As regards Labour, the party delivered Derek Nolan in Galway West and Colm Keaveney in Galway East and replacements will be needed. Again no definite names have been mentioned but as with FG, Labour will demand a candidate who can perform at local political level and be able to hold the seat when the next locals come around.

So who might be chosen? Nuala Nolan ran with Derek Nolan (no relation ) in the 2009 locals and in the same ward (Galway City East ) so she may be in line. Other names being mentioned are Peter Kenny, Dep Nolan’s director of elections, and teacher Kathleen Locke. Labour sources are clear that a number of names are in for consideration but the party will take its time on this.

With a seat needing to be filled on the county council could Labour co-opt Lorraine Higgins who took an impressive 3,577 first preferences in Galway East and transferred a handsome 2,452 votes to Colm Keaveney, thus ensuring he won the seat in Eamon Gilmore’s native constituency?

The answer is ‘No’. However this is only because Dep Keaveney represents the Tuam ward while Ms Higgins is based in Athenry. Dep Keaveney’s replacement will have be from the Tuam area.

Ms Higgins’ vote though will not have gone unnoticed by Labour and the party does owe her a debt of thanks. Insider believes Labour will nurture her for the future and that we will see her running in the next locals. Her first preference vote and the fact that Labour has made a major breakthrough in Galway East puts her in a good position to take a Galway County Council seat at the next locals.

Co-options onto the councils do not end there. While Fine Gael have pledged to abolish Seanad Éireann, Insider expects there will be one last run for this most unrepresentative of bodies. As one city councillor told me over the weekend: “It would be a very special honour to become a Senator this time because in 18 months it’s gone.”

On the city council FG’s Pádraig Conneely and Labour’s Niall McNelis are known to be interested. It is understood that Cllr McNelis has spoken with party leader Eamon Gilmore this week about running.

The electorate of the Seanad is largely made up of TDs, senators, and councillors and Cllr Conneely is well known among the FG members and, importantly, is well liked. He is also a member of the Association of Municipal Authorities Of Ireland and the Local Authorities Members Association, both of which increase his profile among councillors in the State and further extended the number of voters whom he knows and who know him. All this makes him a favourite to take a Seanad seat.

As a result it looks as if we will not only have a new set of faces representing us in Dáil Éireann, we will have a host of new faces on our city and county council as well.

Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Independents

Spare a thought though for Fianna Fáil - agh to hell with them after what they have done to our State! Let us, should Insider say, take a look at their fortunes, or lack of them.

Mayor Michael J Crowe’s pitiful performance in the elections, securing a desultory 1,814 first preferences has provoked much comment on his future.

“Is this the end of the Crowes?” a Labour member asked Insider at the count on Saturday. This is hard to call as their are two schools of thought on this.

The first is that in the current atmosphere, where FF was toxic and in for a hiding at the election, Crowe not only had no chance of a seat, but he was always going to suffer in terms of votes. In this sort of atmosphere FF was foolish to run three and risk exposing Crowe to such a pasting.

The second theory was summed up by one city councillor who said: “Perhaps the Mayor should now consider his position seeing as he failed to get a mandate from the city.”

Mayor Crowe may have delivered three seats for FF during the difficult 2009 locals and increased the FF vote when nationally it dipped, but not this time. This time he was comprehensively outpolled by Sinn Féin’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (3,808 ) who, unlike Crowe, has never ran in a general election before and who is not a sitting councillor.

That the Mayor of the city came 11th out of 17 candidates in the first preference votes and was eliminated on the fourth count is a stunning fall for the Bohermore man and a dramatic rejection of him by the voters of Galway. Crowe might have been sick of trees but the voters were sick of him.

Mayor Crowe will probably live to fight another day as a city councillor but FF HQ will never be keen to run him as a Dáil candidate again. His ambitions have bitten the dust.

Trevor Ó Clochartaigh though was a very happy man over the weekend. He has scored the highest vote of any Sinn Féin candidate in Galway West in living memory, outpolling a sitting TD (Frank Fahey ), a senator (Niall Ó Brolcháin ), and three sitting councillors (Crowe, Tom Welby, and Hildegarde Naughton ) in terms of first preferences.

His vote also comes from outside the core SF vote, and took in the hard Left, and Connemara voters who keep their votes for Connemara candidates. He now has a great base to build on for the next local elections. Insider says keep your eyes on Ó Clochartaigh, he could be a county councillor in three years time.

Councillor Catherine Connolly is no doubt bitterly disappointed not to have taken a seat having come so close. However her 2011 first preference vote of 4,776 is a fair jump from the 2,006 she took in 2007 and she has personally helped increase the Left vote in Galway. She is building towards a seat. She should not give up yet.

So Election 2011 has seen the end of Fidelma Healy Eames; the abrupt end to the advancement of the Crowes; the emergence of Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Lorraine Higgins as contenders for the next locals; Hildegarde Naughton and Catherine Connolly as contenders as future Galway West TDs; and Sean Kyne, Derek Nolan, Brian Walsh, Colm Keaveney, and Paul Connaughton as the new Galway names in national politics.


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