Fine Gael looks set to continue its current dominance of Galway County Council, but Fianna Fáil and Independents are set to have a solid election and may even narrow the gap with the governing party.
The county remains a wasteland for the left with Labour unlikely to take a seat, and Sinn Féin only having the prospect of realistically taking one in Ballinasloe, with a small chance of a second in Connemara, although its rival party, Republican Sinn Féin, looks set to retain the seat it won in 2009.
County Galway is divided into five electoral wards - Connemara (nine seats, quota 10 per cent ), Tuam (nine, quota 10 per cent ), Loughrea (nine, quota 11.1 per cent ), Athenry-Oranmore (seven, quota 12.5 per cent ), and Ballinasloe (six, quota 14 per cent ).
On current poll figures this would result in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil winning between nine and 10 seats; Sinn Féin taking six, Independents winning 12, and Republican Sinn Féin taking one. However polls cannot take into account ‘on the ground’ factors which play significant roles in determining the ultimate outcome of the election. These however, must be studied by political analysts to get a proper sense of how the vote will go.
Connemara is one of Galway’s most fascinating wards, given its nine seats and that it divides neatly into the Gaeltacht/R336 Road region, and the N59 Road non-Gaeltacht region. Both areas can have different issues and can tend to vote along separate lines. There is also a disparity between the more populated east and the more sparsely populated west.
Although some candidates enjoy votes from across such divides, it makes sense for parties to plan strategies based on sound geographic placing. Fine Gael has clearly done this.
FG is likely to win three seats in Connemara and return one of the best results for female candidates in the county. A good geographical spread and strategy sees all territories covered, with sitting councillors Eileen Mannion taking the Clifden region and Seosamh Ó Laoi taking Chois Fharraige.
The highly competitive Oughterard region, home to council heavyweights Tom Welby and Seamus Walsh, however looks set to elect a new councillor in Niamh Byrne. The youngest candidate in the ward and a first-timer, she has taken many by surprise to become a serious contender for the seat.
Fianna Fáil is on somewhat more shaky ground. Seán Ó Tuairisg will take votes in Chois Fharraige, but also pull from across the region. New candidate Noel Thomas will poll strongly in Moycullen and its surrounding areas. He will also take votes from Oughterard and this, as well as the rise of Ms Byrne, will hurt Seamus Walsh. Although the seat is far from lost, Cllr Walsh may be find himself sweating a little trepidation at the count.
The Barna region is highly competitive with Republican Sinn Féin councillor Tomás Ó Curraoin; Fianna Fáil’s MacDara Hosty, and Fine Gael’s Mary McHugh vying for a seat. Despite the area’s reputation as thoroughly middle-class, neither Hosty nor McHugh has been able to dent Cllr Ó Curraoin, whose commitment and work-rate make him a respected figure and very capable of retaining his seat.
While poll figures show Independents have the capacity to take two seats, a number of factors complicate this - the dominance of Tom Welby; the retirement of Seosamh Ó Cuaig; and the rise of Sinn Féin.
Independent councillor Welby is ‘the King of Oughterard’ and can be confident of being returned - and a likely poll topper. As well as a strong personal vote, he can also expect transfers from FF and FG, and to pull votes from across east Connemara.
The ninth seat though, is the hardest to call. The retirement of Cllr Ó Cuaig leaves a large gap in the Left/Republican/Protest vote which protest candidates and Sinn Féin are eager to fill.
The Independents are Padraic ‘A’ Tailliura Ó Conghaile and Daithí Ó Cualain. The latter however is proving the stronger and his campaign has really taken off with his call for a fire service for south Connemara. He is being spoken off by many as a serious dark horse for the ward.
SF senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has polled well in his election outings, particularly in 2011, and between this, Cllr Ó Cuaig’s absence, and the rise in support for SF, the party should be looking to challenge for a seat with either Tom Healy or Máirín Mhic Lochlainn. However Cllr Ó Curraoin will command a solid part of the Republican and protest vote.
Jumping from four to seven seats, Athenry-Oranmore is another highly contested and competitive electoral battleground.
Here again, Fine Gael looks set for three seats with Peter Feeney being tipped by many as a likely poll topper. Although Liam Carroll has had a very good year as mayor of the county, he may struggle in the initial counts, but will eventually pull enough to be safely re-elected.
While Josette Farrell is expected to put in a good performance, the third FG seat is likely to go to Frank Kearney. Not that it will be easy, there will be a ferocious scrap with Independent David Collins for every last vote in the Lackagh/Turloughmore area, but Mr Kearney, who will benefit from the work of former councillor Jarlath McDonagh in over the last 30 years, will prevail.
Fianna Fáil’s Malachy Noone was one of the surprise wins in 2009 and he can be confident of being returned this weekend. Expected to join him is Cathal Moran, who many see as having the potential to poll well.
With the backing of Independent TD Noel Grealish, and his own work rate in the area, Independent Cllr Jim Cuddy is on course to retain his seat. Indications on the ground as well as poll figures show the ward can potentially elect another Independent.
James Charity looks set to be the beneficiary of the electoral boundary changes which saw Annaghdown and Corrandulla moved into the new ward. Now without the local representative, there is a mood to get behind Mr Charity and make sure ‘one of their own’ represents them in County Buildings.
Tuam is proving the most difficult ward to call. Feedback on the ground indicates that no candidate or team is prepared to call how the nine seats will fall, with the area’s most prominent councillors all putting them in strong positions to come near the top of the poll. A lot of this is due to the fact that the geographic areas of the ward have been changed to accommodate its expansion from seven to nine seats, meaning, it is, in some areas, and for many candidates, a new constituency, with trends from the 2004 and 2009 locals rendered irrelevant.
As a result, polls need to be fallen back on here, and this would see three Independents (one of whom should be Cllr Seán Canney ); two/three FG, and two/three FF (Cllr Mary Hoade should be returned, while the performance of Nora Fahy will be interesting to see ). Although Sinn Féin has theoretically enough to see Mary O’Brien elected, there is a feeling that the party is not strong enough in north Galway to command that type of vote.
Loughrea is also difficult to call, but Fine Gael will be disappointed with anything less than three seats, with sitting councillors Jimmy McClearn, Michael ‘Mogie’ Maher, and Bridie Willers all expected to return - even if the last could face a challenge from running mate Joe Byrne.
Fianna Fáil will be looking to take two seats, with sitting councillor Gerry Finnerty, leading its three candidate team. Independents can do well, although sitting councillors Pat Hynes and Michael Fahy are likely to dominate.
SF has the poll numbers to take a seat but its candidate Eoghan MacCormaic does not have a realistic chance of a seat. The one scrap of comfort for Labour in the county elections may come through Dessie O’Brien who some see as challenging for a seat, but this will be an uphill struggle. The weakness of the left here is something Independents, FG, and Fianna Fáil will be keen to exploit.
In Ballinasloe, campaigners on the ground feel that the main candidates will all pull in first preference votes of in and around the same level, making transfers more crucial than they already are.
That said, it is difficult to see Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil not taking two each here - Michael Finnerty and Kevin Ryan (FG ) and Michael Connolly and Pat O’Sullivan (FF ) - with Sinn Féin’s Dermot Connolly and Independent Tim Broderick, completing the line-up.
In conclusion, FG is likely to take 13/14 seats; FF between 10 and 13; Independents 10/11; Republican Sinn Féin one; and Sinn Féin one, with an outside chance of a second.
Galway County Council Election Candidates 2014
Athenry-Oranmore Electoral Area
Carroll, Liam-Fine Gael
Charity, James- Independent
Cronnelly, Gabriel-Sinn Féin
Dean, Madge- Labour Party
Farrell, Josette-Fine Gael
Feeney, Frank-Fine Gael
Kinane, Martina- Fianna Fáil
Moran, Cathal-Fianna Fáil
O'Keefe, Suzanne- Fís Nua
Shelvin, Clement J- Labour Party
Conamara Electoral Area
Byrne, Niamh- Fine Gael
Conghaile, Pádraic ''A Táilliúra'' Ó-Independent
Curran, Joe-Labour Party
Curraoin,Tomás Ó -Republican Sinn Féin
Garvey, Ronan- Independent
Healy, Tom- Sinn Féin
Hosty, Mac Dara- Fianna Fáil
Lee, Máirín- Fianna Fáil
Lochlainn, Máirín Mhic- Sinn Féin
Mannion, Eileen-Fine Gael
McHugh, Mary- Fine Gael
O Laoí, Seosamh- Fianna Fáil
Thomas, Noel- Fianna Fáil
Tuairisg. Seán Ó- Fianna Fáil
Walsh, Chris- Independent
Walsh, Seamus- Fianna Fáil
Welby, Thomas- Independent
Ballinasloe Electoral Area
Burke, Donal- Fianna Fáil
Connolly, Dermot- Sinn Féin
Connolly, Michael- Fianna Fáil
Donohue, Aidan- Fine Gael
Finnerty, Michael- Fine Gael
O'Sullivan, Pat- Fianna Fáil
Ryan, Kevin- Fine Gael
Walsh, Johnny- Labour Party
Loughrea Electoral Area
Byrne, Joe- Fine Gael
Donnellan, Shane- Fianna Fáil
Fahy, Michael- Independent
Feeney, Adrian- Independent
Finnerty, Gerry- Fianna Fáil
Hynes, Pat- Independent
MacCormaic, Eoghan- Sinn Féin
Maher, Michael ''Moegie''- Fine Gael
McClearn, Jimmy- Fine Gael
O'Brien, Dessie- Labour Party
Rabbitte, Anne- Fianna Fáil
Regan, James- Independent
Willers, Bridie- Fine Gael
Tuam Electoral Area
Bane, Larry- Fine Gael
Cunniffe, Shaun- Independent
Fahy, Nora- Fianna Fáil
Fitzmaurice, Michael- Independent
Hoade, Mary- Fianna Fáil
Keaveney, Peter- Fine Gael
Killilea, Donagh Mark- Fianna Fáil
Kitt, Eamonn- Fianna Fáil
McHugh, Karey- Independent
McHugh, Tom- Fine Gael
Niland, Thomas ''T.P.''- Independent
O'Brien, Maeve- Sinn Féin
Roche, Peter- Fine Gael