Does Fianna Fáil have a future in Galway?

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

Many doubted it would come to pass. Many foes were convinced there was a significant hardcore element out there who would find it too difficult to wield the dagger no matter how much they complained about Fianna Fáil. Many party loyalists were deluded into believing that ‘In our final hour of need they will not desert us’.

As the ballot boxes opened on February 26, however, it became apparent that the people really meant what they were telling pollsters for the last two years. Fianna Fáil was well and truly routed and an electoral Armageddon had come to pass.

With the voting over, any good political junkie now turns his/her attention to a review of the tallies – always fascinating to see where the votes were won and lost.

On this occasion the tallies really do perform an educational function for they readily and coldly dispel so many of the myths that caused people to doubt that the meltdown would come to pass – the fabled ‘strong candidates’ swept away, rural and urban voters alike savaging FF, and the party being rejected in areas where even the locals themselves thought a pardon would be forthcoming.

Galway West

Overall FF actually polled slightly above the national average at 21 per cent of the vote – this was still an historic low and emphasises why Frank Fahey was, in his own words, always “a goner” on this occasion.

Tallies indicate that the party polled just under 17 per cent in the city, putting it in third place behind FG and Labour. Connemara was somewhat better with the party in first place and polling 30 per cent of the vote, which is still a dramatic fall on 2007.

The area east of the city – centred around Oranmore and its hinterland - returned a truly appalling performance with the party polling less than 15 per cent.

A review of individual boxes throws up some interesting figures. For instance while the performance in Connemara was (in the circumstances ) decent there were some variations. The party was heavily punished in the areas closest to the city – in Moycullen for instance FF polled 13.5 per cent - and suffered heavy losses in An Spidéal and An Cheathrú Rua to return a more modest than usual vote share, albeit performing very well in other parts of Connemara and among island communities.

In the city the vote was relatively consistent (consistently bad that is ) but slightly stronger in the east of the city (where FF’s two city candidates were based ).

Fianna Fáil will be alarmed at its poor showing in working class areas in the west of the city, where the vote was again barely above 13 per cent as the party was swept aside by Labour and Independent Catherine Connolly.

Coupled with indications of a renaissance in Sinn Féin’s fortunes and a decent showing by Independent Michael Cubbard, FF will worry for the safety of councillor Ollie Crowe’s council seat unless it can shore up support in Westside.

The poor performance in Oranmore and Moycullen might initially be put down to the presence of ‘unique local factors’ in the shape of strong candidates Noel Grealish, Fidelma Healy-Eames, and Seán Kyne. This is, however, far too simplistic an analysis.

An alternative analysis suggests that the outcome in Oranmore and Moycullen is very similar to the outcome for FF in the ‘commuter belt’ constituencies in the east of Ireland where they were as good as wiped out.

These are new communities populated by young families who are relatively affluent on paper. In reality they are living on the edge for the past few years, trying to juggle mortgages and childcare costs, sick with the worry about job loss and cuts in income, and seething with rage at FF.

This is the ‘betrayed generation’ singing (or in this case voting ) in unison; the song is not one that is music to the ears of FF. The party will be hard pressed to ever win back support in these areas.

The end of the Crowes and Ó Cuív?

Returning to the city for a moment, the party will be dismayed by the appalling performances of designated city candidates Frank Fahey (a former government Minister ) and Michael Crowe (the current mayor ) who suffered the indignity of being outpolled in the city by their rural running-mate Éamon Ó Cuív.

Indeed Mayor Crowe’s eagerness to run in an election in which neither he nor Mr Fahey stood a hope of being elected now appears foolhardy in the extreme.

Had he sat this one out his record would not now carry the blemish of this performance - a miserable 1,814 first preferences, rising to only 1,895 by his elimination on the fourth count - and he might have been well placed to be the party’s standard bearer in the city.

As it stands, can anybody answer this question – “Who is FF’s man (or woman ) in this town?”

While identifying the party’s champion in Connemara is certainly not a chore, FF now must confront some realities. While he may be personally popular and polled well in the circumstances, the reality is that Dep Ó Cuív was a member of a cabinet that brought Ireland to its knees.

The tag ‘disgraced former Minister’ may sound a little harsh but in reality that is how he and his former colleagues in cabinet are regarded by the bulk of the Irish people. The next few years are likely to see much reviewing – and quite possibly some investigations – of the role of government in recent years and Dep Ó Cuív may be in for an uncomfortable ride.

This could be exacerbated by the fact that he is one of the few senior figures of that government remaining in public life. In its attempts at rehabilitation, Fianna Fáil may find it needs to ship out its officer class (including the party leader ) and locally FF may therefore have to consider the possibility that Dep Ó Cuív may not be a candidate on the next occasion.

The party’s candidate selection processes in Connemara in recent years have been somewhat helter skelter and a far more focussed approach is required if a successor to Dep Ó Cuív is to be identified.

Galway East

A box-by-box review of the tallies here rather coldly sums up the scale of Fianna Fáil’s demise. Any suggestion that the backlash in rural areas would be more contained is roundly dispelled when one reviews Galway East. The party’s vote share at 18 per cent was in fact less than a quota in what is a four-seat constituency.

The remarkable thing when reviewing the individual boxes is that FF’s performance was consistently abysmal across the constituency. There were very few boxes where FF polled well.

In regional terms the party did best around Ballinasloe – perhaps surprising as Joe Callanan’s former lieutenant Tim Broderick running as an Independent was well out in front in that region. Yet at 21 per cent this was not exactly an earth-shattering display by Fianna Fáil.

The party was weakest in North Galway where their vote dipped below 15 per cent. It is doubtful, however, if FF suffered a bigger humiliation anywhere in the country than they did in the polling station at Tuam CBS where out of almost 4,000 votes cast the party’s share barely exceeded eight per cent.

In addition to emphasising the lack of immunity for the party in rural areas, however, the display in Galway East re-emphasised FF’s problem in newer communities.

Galway East has changed dramatically in the past decade from a conservative, rural constituency to one with a sizeable commuter belt for Galway city and whose voting patterns have shifted dramatically. So the anger with FF that was palpable in areas such as Moycullen and Oranmore also manifested itself in Galway East with Ciaran Cannon (FG ) and Labour (perhaps notably Lorraine Higgins ) the apparent beneficiaries and FF most certainly the losers.

No future?

What, then, does the future hold for FF in Galway? Again it must be emphasised that the answer will in the first instance be determined by the way the national picture plays out in the next few years.

If Fianna Fáil continues to languish at 17 per cent or even worse in the national polls then there is no way it is going to buck the trend in either Galway constituency and win back the lost seats.

In Insider’s view it is very difficult to forecast with any confidence how things will play out for FF. There are myriad factors at play but perhaps the central question is this – if difficult economic times continue for the next few years, as sadly it appears they will, will the electorate turn on the FG/Labour government to the advantage of FF or, alternatively, will attitudes against FF as ‘the party that got us into the mess’ harden?

Insider is unsure what the answer is but the suspicion must be that the latter factor will remain present for the foreseeable future and at the very least hamper any FF recovery effort.

At a local level what FF needs to do is to take advantage of the time between now and the next local elections in 2014 to review its structures and candidate strategy. The ambition must be to have a ‘champion’ to sell the message in each part of the county.

In Insider’s opinion, the party should give special consideration to having someone who can sell the message to voters in commuter areas such as Moycullen and Oranmore and the city’s newer suburbs.

Again, though, the party must be cognisant that no matter how good the messenger, s/he is of no use if s/he has no message to sell.

The public’s view of Fianna Fáil is summed up by such emotive phrases as “They brought the country to its knees” or as Éamonn Gilmore put it in the recent leaders’ debate on TG4 – “Tá an tír scriosta agus tá sí scriosta ag Fianna Fáil.”

As a result it is now Fianna Fáil itself that is “scriosta” and “on its knees”. It will be a long hard road back - if indeed there is a road back.


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