Fine Gael poised to gain seats in city in local election

A mixture of familiar faces, dynasties, and at least one new name characterise the make up of Fine Gael’s 2014 Local Election ticket for Galway city.

Next May, the party will run former mayor John Mulholland and first time candidate Michelle Murphy in Galway City West; Mayor Pádraig Conneely and Frank Fahy in Galway City Central; and John Walsh, brother of TD Brian Walsh, in Galway City East.

Cllr Mulholland lost his seat in 2011 to the now Sen Hildegarde Naughton, but her elevation to the Seanad allowed him a way back and saw him co-opted on to the council during the summer.

With FG at 26 per cent in recent polls, it is close to two quotas in Galway City West meaning Cllr Mulholland is in a strong position to take a seat next year. However he may be wary of running mate Michelle Murphy, for, like Sen Naughton in 20111, she too is a first time female candidate and the ward has long been favourable to female candidates with Catherine Connolly, Margaret Cox, and Hildegarde Naughton all having served there.

Any candidate in GCW will have to content with the fact that Independents Donal Lyons and the aforementioned Catherine Connolly will command the majority of votes on polling day.

However, with the ward having increased by one seat (it is now a six seater ) Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will take a seat each, with the last two seats being a battle between these two parties and Labour.

If FG get the vote management right, and if enough transfers come in from people like Cllr Lyons, FG has a chance of taking two, although this is by no means

For the first time in at least a decade, FG is running two candidates in Galway City Central, with the outspoken Pádraig Conneely finally having a running mate, after being the party’s lone standard bearer in the 2004 and 2009 locals.

However Cllr Fahy’s move makes sense for a number of reasons. The recent boundary revisions has seen Galway City Central increase from a four to six seat ward. Although Fine Gael will face competition from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, it can expect to be strongly in the hunt for taking two seats here.

Mayor Conneely’s combative stance against officialdom in City Hall and populist touch is likely to see him returned to City Hall for a third term.

The boundary revisions also saw Menlo, Ballindooly, Tirellan Heights, Ballinfoile, and Castlelawn Heights become part of the Galway City Central ward. These areas, and Menlo in particular, are where Cllr Fahy can expect to draw a core vote, putting him in a good position with which to challenge for a second seat.

The party’s decision to run just one candidate in Galway City East appears strange at first glance. However this is often the most over-crowded ward in terms of candidates and FG know that the former PDs Declan McDonnell and Terry O’Flaherty command the majority of the centre-right/conservative vote. Fianna Fáil is also guaranteed a seat here, and the Left usually takes one or two.

As a result, Fine Gael does not want to fall into the trap the party often creates for itself by running too many candidates in one area. By concentrating on just running one, and picking up transfers from councillors McDonnell and O’Flaherty if needs be, the party can maintain its presence here.

Also selecting John Walsh appears to be a good move. His brother Brian took a seat here for FG in 2004 and again in 2009, and taking a Dáil seat in 2011. As such, John, from a family with a strong FG tradition, inherits an already solid base.

Granted there has been controversy over Brian’s voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, but John is likely to command support from those who were sympathetic to Brian. With John being also a member of the party (at this time Dep Walsh is not allowed call himself a FG TD ) he will be favoured by those critical of his brother’s actions.

Although there are still almost seven moths to go to polling day, FG looks to be in position to increase its representation from its current three seats to at least four, with perhaps five if vote management and transfers work out, and current support levels hold up.

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