Despite the punishment handed out to the establishment parties in Galway city’s local elections, the centre-right is regrouping and set to take control of City Hall for the next five years.
Although no official meetings or decisions have taken place in the week after polling day, it is widely expected that this weekend, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Independent former PD councillors will agree a formal pact ahead of the first meeting of the new council on Friday June 7 at 4pm.
However Sinn Féin, now with three councillors, is determined to flex its muscles and build a “progressive alliance” among the Left in City Hall to ensure Left values become a key feature of the next council.
A FG/FF/ex-PD alliance would result in a bloc of 10 out of 18 councillors., which would see the mayoralty rotating between the three groups, and much leverage in the make-up of the various policy committees to which councillors can be appointed.
Given that Cllr Donal Lyons did not get a year as mayor under the previous pact, there is speculation he may be the first to don the chain in the new council. FF’s Ollie Crowe and Peter Keane can also expect to become mayor at some point in this council’s term.
The FG/FF/Ind pact also operated in the previous council. FG’s Cllr Pádraig Conneely said it worked well and that stability would be important in the council chamber.
“We need the next five years to go without any hitches,” he told the Galway Advertiser. “We have to bring stability to the council chamber, especially one that has such diverse views as this one. That’s important for getting the budget through.”
The failure of Fianna Fáil to increase its seats from three, showed Galway voters, unlike the rest of the State, have not forgiven the party for its role in the economic collapse and while FG took an extra seat from 2009, its first preference vote collapsed, meaning three of its councillors scraped seats on final counts not having reached the quota. Labour meanwhile lost three of its seats to Sinn Féin.
Voter anger played a major role in these results and Sinn Féin councillor Anna Marley believes this is an opportunity to build on. Speaking to the Galway Advertiser after her election on Sunday she said: “The challenge now is to turn that protest vote into an alternative. In 2009 Labour had the seats to be a strong force, but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael came together and the Labour vision was halted. The people have voted for Sinn Féin and for something different this time, and we have to respond. We need to build a ‘progressive alliance’ among the left in City Hall.”
Such an alliance would contain SF, Independent councillor Catherine Connolly, and perhaps Labour councillors Billy Cameron and Niall McNelis. At six votes it would not be enough to outmanoeuvre FG/FF/ex-PD but could represent a coherent bloc to challenge the centre-right dominance.
However Cllr McNelis is unsure what influence a Progressive Alliance could have in council.