Independents, female candidates, and Fianna Fáil stand poised as the main winners when the votes for the 2014 Local Elections in Galway city are counted this weekend; but Labour is fearful it could be reduced to just two councillors in City Hall.
While Labour have acknowledged it will lose at least one of its current five seats, the party is fighting a massive rearguard action to come back with at least three seats in the face of voter anger, poor poll results, and self-inflicted, bad strategy, decisions.
Fianna Fáil however, the party that cheer-led the way to the State’s financial implosion and imposed the disastrous bank guarantee of September 2008 upon citizens, looks set to have its best local election in years with the party looking set to win up to four/five seats.
Galway city is divided into three wards (Galway City West, Galway City Central, and Galway City East ), each with six seats meaning the quota for election is 14 per cent. On current poll figures this would result in Fine Gael and Independents taking five seats each; Fianna Fáil winning four, Sinn Féin three, and the Greens one.
However, the nature of local elections throws up ‘on the ground’, local factors, and personal votes above the party votes, which polls cannot foresee, but which the political analyst must take note of to be able to read the voters’ mood as accurately as possible.
In Galway City West, two Independents will take the first two seats - the centre-right Donal Lyons, and the left-wing Catherine Connolly. Both enjoy massive personal votes and strong followings. Their transfers will play a significant role in the fate of the other candidates.
Given it’s largely middle-class and long established neighbourhoods, GCW should give Fine Gael two seats, but the party has never made that breakthrough, primarily because of the old PD vote in the ward, which has continued with Cllr Lyons since he became Independent.
This and a very poor strategy by the party will see only one of FG’s two candidates win a seat here. Although Michelle Murphy is the sitting councillor (she was co-opted in 2013 ), the fact that she lives in Corofin, and not in Salthill or Knocknacarra, has left FG/FG-leaning voters unimpressed and bewildered as to why she was selected to represent them. Pearce Flannery’s campaign has not been shy to draw attention to this with the ‘For Salthill, From Salthill’ posters. This, and his energetic campaign will see him take the ‘blueshirt’ seat.
Although Labour have fallen to seven per cent in the polls, Labour’s Cllr Niall McNelis should keep his council seat. His advantage is that he is not a traditional Labour candidate and does not have to rely soley on a core Labour vote. Although he may start off with a small first preference, he will pull votes and transfers from the political right and centre-right, as well as from Cllr Connolly, that should see him home.
The major point of interest in the ward though is the battle between Fianna Fáil candidates Cllr Peter Keane and David Burke, and which of them will be elected first.
Both stand a good chance of being elected, provided they transfer well to each other and pull further transfers from Cllr Lyons and Fine Gael. As it stands, Cllr Keane is seen as slightly stronger, which means Mr Burke could be battling it out for the last seat with the ward’s dark horse - Sinn Féin’s Cathal Ó Conchúir.
This ward, where the PDs were founded in 1985, is possibly the most anti-Republican in the county, but astonishingly, as a sign of how times have changed, and voter disillusionment with the mainstream has grown, Mr Ó Conchúir is being seriously talked of as a challenger. Although far from certain, his chances cannot be dismissed. His main challenge will be to pull enough transfers from left candidates (and some from FF ) if he wants to catch up with Mr Burke.
Galway City Central will see three of the council’s ‘Big Beasts’ returned comfortably - Labour’s Billy Cameron, Fine Gael’s Pádraig Conneely, and Fianna Fáil’s Ollie Crowe (tipped as the poll topper ). Cllr Conneely is almost certain to be joined by his running mate Cllr Frank Fahy, who had the benefit of his old Galway City East heartland - Menlo, Ballindooly, Tirellan Heights, Ballinfoile, and Castlelawn Heights - moved into GCC as part of the electoral boundary changes.
The real interest lies in the fight for the last two seats. Independent Mike Cubbard looks on course to take a seat and there is a feeling among his supports, and even opponents, that it is ‘his time’.
This could result in the last seat being a ferocious battle between Fianna Fáil’s rising star Nicola Deacy; the Green’s Sheamus Sheridan, whose business and sporting contacts give him a good base; and Labour’s John McDonagh or (more likely ) Colette Connolly.
Privately, Labour acknowledge that running two candidates who live close to each other and who will be drawing from the same pool of votes as each other, and Ms Deacy, was a strategic error that could prove costly.
Sinn Féin’s Anna Marley has an outside chance, but the party has more likely missed an opportunity here by not getting fully behind her campaign.
Of these last ‘six for two’, Mr Cubbard is the strongest, but the final seat is near impossible to call.
Galway City East, Independents Terry O’Flaherty (the possible poll topper ) and Declan McDonnell will be re-elected. However the latter may face a challenge from the sudden rise of fellow Independent Noel Larkin.
Mr Larkin has emerged out of nowhere to become a serious contender for a seat. GCE has form in this regard as Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael J Crowe began as an Independent no one saw coming in 2004, and who went on to top the poll.
Sinn Féin’s one absolute certainty in the city is Mairead Farrell, now looking very strong to be the first SF councillor elected to City Hall in 10 years. Highly educated, articulate, and strong willed, she will bring a hard left and female voice to complement that of Cllr Catherine Connolly in the west.
Like GCW, Fine Gael should be taking two seats here, but the party only seems interested in promoting John Walsh, brother of TD Brian Walsh, leaving Margo Kelly struggling to make an impact, and reducing John Rabbitte’s potential as the ward’s dark horse.
As in GCW, the greatest interest will be the battle within Fianna Fáil and it’s candidates Michael J Crowe and Alan Cheevers. There is certainly one FF seat in the ward, and despite his dramatic drop in profile since the 2011 General Election, Cllr Crowe must be favourite, but Mr Cheevers has by far, run a much more high profile and energetic campaign.
Whoever is left come the sixth seat will face Labour’s Monica Coughlin. Ms Coughlin is well known in the ward, has a record of community involvement, and her GAA connections will only benefit her, but while Labour can be confident of councillors Cameron and McNelis holding on, the party sees GCE as vital to preventing a humiliating fall from grace.
As of now, the final seat in this ward is, like GCC, near impossible to call.
In conclusion, Galway city is set to increase the number of women (at most five ) and Independents in the council chamber; boost Fianna Fáil by perhaps another two seats; give FG only one extra seat; elect at least one Sinn Féiner; and reduce the number of Labour candidates.
Galway City East
Conor Burke - Anti-Austerity Alliance
Alan Cheevers - Fianna Fail
Monica Coughlan - Labour
Michael Crowe - Fianna Fail
Mairead Farrell - Sinn Fein
Margo Kelly - Fine Gael
Noel Larkin - Independent
Declan McDonnell - Independent
Nuala Nolan - Labour
Terry O’Flaherty - Independent
John Rabbitte - Fine Gael
John Walsh - Fine Gael
Galway City Central
Sean Byrne - Anti-Austerity Alliance
Billy Cameron - Labour
Padraig Conneely - Fine Gael
Colette Connolly - Labour
Cormac O’Corcorain - Independent
Ollie Crowe - Fianna Fail
Mike Cubbard - Independent
Nicola Deacy - Fianna Fail
Kiran Emrich - People Before Profit Alliance
Frank Fahy - Fine Gael
Mike Geraghty - Independent
Jimmy Horan - Independent
Anna Marley - Sinn Fein
John McDonagh - Labour
Seamus Sheridan - Green Party
Galway City West
Marc Anderson - Independent
David Burke - Fianna Fail
Cathal O’Conchuir - Sinn Fein
Catherine Connolly - Independent
Pearce Flannery - Fine Gael
Tommy Holohan - Anti-Austerity Alliance
Peter Keane - Fianna Fail
Donal Lyons - Independent
Niall McNelis - Labour
Michelle Murphy - Fine Gael
Tommy Roddy - Independent