Fianna Fáil could take three seats in Connemara

Fianna Fáil look set to challenge for three seats in Connemara in May’s Local Elections, but there will be no return to the party’s former dominance of the area.

Connemara has expanded from seven Galway County Council seats to nine under last year’s boundary revisions, and in attempt to claw back the ground lost in the 2009 elections, Fianna Fáil is to run six candidates.

The candidates, selected at the recent FF convention in Maam Cross, are strategically spread across the ward: Cllr Seán Ó Tuairsig is based in Indreabhán; Mairtín Ó Laoi in Leitir Mór; Josie Conneely in Ballyconneely; Cllr Seamus Walsh in Oughterard; Noel Thomas in Moycullen; and MacDara Hosty in Barna.

The party’s former dominance of the region looks to be a thing of the past. Current poll figures showing it at between 20 and 23 per cent means FF has two quotas, and, if transfers go its way, could challenge for a third seat. However talk in some sections of the party of “winning four” is delusional.

The increase of two seats; the consolidation of the Fine Gael vote; the tradition of electing strong Independents; and the notable rise in the Republican vote is increasingly giving Connemara a greater political diversity.

Cllr Ó Tuairisg is the strongest of the six FF candidates. He retained his seat in 2009 despite the drop in FF support and his running mate Connie Ní Fhátharta failing to get re-elected. He enjoys strong support in south Connemara, despite the rise of Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, which is likely to eat into some of the FF vote in the area and transfer to SF’s local election candidates.

Ó Tuairsig’s chances are further bolstered by being a teacher in Cois Fharraige (the Furbo to An Spidéal area ) but originally coming from Cornamona, which gives him a north-south spread.

Cllr Walsh enjoys solid support in Oughterard but here he competes for votes with the 2009 poll topper, Independent Tom Welby. This means he will need all the transfers he can get from Ó Tuairsig (provided he has any surplus after being elected ) and from the Moycullen based Noel Thomas.

That said, Mr Thomas could challenge for a seat himself. Fine Gael’s Sean Kyne held the ‘Moycullen’ seat until elected to the Dáil in 2011. His replacement was Seosamh Ó Laoi who is based in An Spidéal. In 2009 Oughterard took two seats while Barna, Moycullen, and Cois Fharraige elected one locally based councillor each. So while Cllr Ó Laoi can be expected to retain his seat, the switch in the FG seat from Moycullen to south Connemara opens up an opportunity in Moycullen for FF and Mr Thomas. He also commands support in Killanin and Oughterard. The challenge is for him to take off as a candidate.

By contrast, a Josie Conneely comeback is unlikely. East Connemara elects more candidates as it has a larger population. In 2009 it took five out of the seven seats. The other two went to Carna and Clifden. Is it realistic for Josie Conneely to win a seat for FF and Cllr Eileen Mannion for FG in light of this? In 2004 and 2009 the answer was no, and 1999 was the last time west Connemara had a double - through JJ Mannion and Josie Conneely. With nine seats next time it is more possible but still a big ask, especially as Cllr Mannion is the favourite to take the Clifden seat and the main west Connemara vote.

Messrs Ó Laoi and Hosty will effectively be sweepers for Ó Tuairsig, Walsh, and Thomas/Conneely. Of the two, Mr Hosty could unearth a lot of votes in Barna but polling data suggests FF might not be so strong there. He will also have to contend with Republican Sinn Féin’s Cllr Tomás Ó Curraoin who will be competitive in the fight for the final two seats.

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