The dust has settled; the new Government has come through its first 100 days; Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and US president Barack Obama have been and gone; Garrett the Good, Declan Costello, and Brian Lenihan - three icons of Irish politics - have passed to their eternal reward. What a first six months of 2011 this has been.
The political landscape has changed fundamentally in the State. Here in Galway we have seen fundamental changes also, with six new TDs and two new senators elected to represent us for the lifetime of the current Government - however long that might be.
These changes have prompted Insider to take a closer look at the major winners and losers from the aftermath of the Dáil and Seanad elections in both Galway East and Galway West.
South Galway stars
Although not elected by the masses or the narrow elite who choose our Senators, the biggest local winner from the elections is the new Attorney General - Marie Whelan from Kinvara.
Her appointment to the post on March 9 by President McAleese surprised many, especially in the ranks of the legal profession. The dark rimmed spectacle-wearing Ms Whelan, who saw off such legal luminaries as Alan Shatter (now Minister for Justice ) and Alex White SC (now a Labour TD ), was rewarded for her long service and commitment to the Labour Party over a 30-year plus period.
A former student of sociology and politics under current Labour Party president Michael D Higgins at UCG (now NUI, Galway ) Ms Whelan is the author of a legal textbook on the National Asset Management Agency and is an expert on property law, conveyancing, and children’s rights - qualities that will be vital to the new Government.
Prior to her elevation to the top legal post in the State, Ms Whelan served as Labour’s financial secretary and played a crucial role in Lorraine Higgins’ general election campaign in Galway East.
In Insider’s opinion the next biggest winner is junior minister Ciaran Cannon, formerly a senator and, before that, short-lived leader of the now defunct PDs. Minister Cannon’s meteoric rise through the political ranks has been truly amazing.
A former employee of the Galway County Council, the Carrabane man has plotted his political career with military precision. First elected to represent the Loughrea area in 2004 with a first preference vote of 1,307, Cannon more than doubled that in the 2007 General Election with 3,321 first preferences. In the 2011 election he again more than doubled his tally, coming in second to Paul Connaughton jr with just under 7,000 votes on the first count, before finally exceeding the quota with 11,856 on the eighth count.
Having just joined Fine Gael in 2008, this was a remarkable performance by Cannon, who was helped along the way by FG HQ, who sent former Taoiseach John Bruton into the hustings to assist in his election campaign, much to the anger and annoyance of current county mayor Jimmy McClearn, who was also a Dáil candidate in that election. A personal letter to constituents from Ballinasloe medical consultant John Barton, together with campaigning by Dr James Reilly also helped Cannon’s case.
Since his appointment in March as Minister of State for Training and Skills, the 46-year-old has embraced the position with vigour and enthusiasm and is now the sole ministerial holder in Galway, something which has not gone down well with some supporters of his Galway West colleague Fidelma Healy Eames.
The agony and the ecstasy
Next into the winners’ enclosure comes the Labour Party, which has, for the first time, two TDs and a senator representing the county. The election of former Tuam-based councillor and SIPTU official Colm Keaveney was the first time Labour has ever won a seat in Galway East. This was a roller coaster election for Dep Keaveney, whose prospects looked dire after the first, second, and third counts in the New Inn Leisure Centre.
However a whopping transfer of 2,452 votes in the fifth count from running mate Lorraine Higgins catapulted Keaveney from eighth position to fourth, leaving his Tuam rivals Tom McHugh and Sean Canney trailing behind him.
A cliffhanger enued with the elimination of Canney, leaving Kilconnell publican Timmy Broderick two votes ahead of McHugh. One way or the other Keaveney was going to be the beneficiary and on the ninth count was elected, without reaching the quota, with 10,126 votes.
A personal victory for Keaveney and a major win for Labour in a constituency which had always been Green and Blue. There was more to come when Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore appointed Lorraine Higgins to the Seanad which, along with Derek Nolan’s victory in Galway East, counts as a ‘win, win, win’ position for Labour in Galway.
In Galway West Fine Gael were the big winners with Brian Walsh and Sean Kyne wrestling the laurels ahead of party senator and front runner Fidelma Healy Eames. This was a major blow for the Maree Senator who had high hopes of a Dáil seat, but her failure to connect with the electorate was her downfall.
Many felt that Moycullen councillor Sean Kyne had not a hope in hell in this election - including the bookmakers. Insider thought differently and backed Kyne at the generous odds of 8/1 to become a winner in his own right.
Kyne has been dreaming of becoming a TD for the last 20 years and the Galway West electorate granted his wish after a mammoth 95 hours of counts and recounts in Leisureland. Dep Kyne, along with Dep Walsh, is now the party standard bearer in the constituency.
This was a major breakthrough for Fine Gael and sees them hold two seats in Galway West for the first time in 30 years, the last occasion being when Fintan Coogan and John Donnellan won two seats in November 1982.
If Dep Kyne was the big winner here, Sen Healy Eames was the major loser. Yes, she did retain her Seanad seat, but can she recover from the devastating setback of the General Election? Insider does not think so. City councillor Hildegarde Naughton is lying in the long grass, and with her about to become mayor of Galway city, she is poised to pounce at the next General Election.
Apart from Sen Healy Eames, the other major losers in Election 2011 were the current Mayor Michael J Crowe, who put in a disastrous performance, and long-time (29 years in fact ) TD and former cabinet and junior minister Frank Fahey. Where now for them? There is nowhere for them to go in national politics.
As FG is looking to Hildegarde Naughton for the future, so Fianna Fáil is looking to Cllr Peter Keane. Is Dep Derek Nolan’s seat safe? He will be looking over his shoulder at Independent Catherine Connolly who, although she did not get elected, did win 9,095 votes, 2,000 ahead of her female rival Sen Healy Eames.
Over in Galway East all eyes will be on Lorraine Higgins. How will she perform in the Seanad? Will she run in the European Elections in 2014? Insider believes that Labour will want her to increase her profile so as to take out Dep Keaveney ,who is understood to be at loggerheads with party leader Eamon Gilmore.
Another to watch for the future is Independent councillor Tim Broderick who, like Catherine Connolly, was not elected, but nonetheless polled extremely well.
Finally, Insider is prepared to wager that the man voted ‘sexiest TD in Ireland’ - Sean Kyne - will become a minister in the future. He has blossomed into an excellent speaker and is easily the pick of the bunch. With his statesmanlike stature and good looks he might eventually become a future Fine Gael leader, and perhaps even Taoiseach