The catastrophic collapse of Fianna Fáil’s support at the last general election saw the party lose half of its seats in Galway as it nose-dived to the worst electoral result in its illustrious history.
Galway’s constituencies will be strategically vital in 2016 if the party is to stage a revival to rescue it from the unfamiliar obscurity of Opposition. This week, Insider evaluates its prospects in the electoral battlefields of Galway East and Galway West.
Keaveney v Kitt
In few constituencies was Fianna Fáil’s demise as stark as in Galway East. In 2007, Noel Treacy and Micheal Kitt had won two of the four seats for the party with almost 40 per cent of first preference votes.
In the electoral spanking of 2011, the party’s vote plummeted to just 18 per cent and it ceded its second seat to the then-Labour Party TD Colm Keaveney. Ironically, Fianna Fáil restored its representation in the constituency to two again by recruiting Dep Keaveney a year after he defected from the Government party over cuts to the annual respite care grant.
However Galway East will be reduced to a three-seater at the next General Election, leaving two Fianna Fáil incumbents to scrap over what is likely to be a single seat for the party after 2016.
The question here, therefore, has centred on ‘who’ rather than ‘how many’.
Dep Keaveney’s induction caused some unrest among the parliamentary party for two reasons. First, his recruitment represented a solo run by the party leader Micheal Martin, who negotiated the move without reference to either his advisors or Dep Keaveney’s future constituency colleague.
This infuriated Dep Kitt, who felt he had fallen victim to Dep Martin’s plans to cull the withering old guard in preference for a younger generation of politician, untarnished by the notorious errors of the past.
Dep Martin, who had been publicly slighted by Dep Kitt over the latter’s appointment as Leas Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, seems to have enjoyed the opportunity to return the favour by bringing Dep Keaveney into the party fold under his nose. The second reason the move caused ruffled feathers on the depleted Fianna Fáil benches was speculation that a deal had been struck during negotiations between deputies Martin and Keaveney that promised a Cabinet seat if the party finds itself in government after the next election.
Details of any such deal have been guarded like the third secret of Fatima, but whispers have been widespread and detailed enough to cause jealousy and resentment among other Fianna Fáil TDs who have their eye on such a post.
First though, there is the small matter of winning a seat in Galway East for such a promise to come to pass. Dep Keaveney will have to beat Dep Kitt if he wants to lay claim to what will surely be the only Fianna Fáil seat in Galway East. There are a number of factors that will assist him in this task. Most significantly, he will have the backing of party HQ. Micheal Martin was single-handedly responsible for Dep Keaveney’s recruitment and therefore has invested personally in the move. If Dep Keaveney fails as a Fianna Fáil candidate, Dep Martin’s authority would be undermined and their fortunes are therefore interwoven with one another.
The party’s backing will bring with it the support of former TD Noel Treacy, who remains politically active and closely aligned with Micheal Martin since their days in government together.
There is also speculation that Micheal Kitt will retire at the next election and he has been pressed for a decision in this regard by party HQ. He is 64 and will have been in politics for more than 40 years by 2016. He has failed to land many blows on his opposite number as housing spokesperson in spite of the housing crisis, and it may well be that the Leas Ceann Comhairle’s appetite is waning as he enjoys the Indian summer of a long political career with the comforts of a State driver and a junior ministerial salary.
Martina Kinane for Galway West?
In Galway West, Fianna Fáil’s vote fell from more than 37 per cent in 2007 to just 21 per cent in 2011. The retention of much of this support is owed predominantly to the personal popularity of former minister Éamon Ó Cuív, who remains the uncrowned King of Connemara.
His support will only grow at the next election, having been gifted a large section of south Mayo in the review of constituency boundaries. He is the only political heavyweight geographically placed to capitalise on the additional voters and is already cultivating his support in the Ballinrobe area. The question for Fianna Fáil in Galway West is who should run alongside Dep Ó Cuív in order to win back the second seat it lost in the electoral bloodbath of 2011.
Frank Fahey had been the incumbent here and he recently threw his weight behind a number of candidates in the local elections with very limited success. The only Fahey-backed runner who landed a seat last May was Martina Kinane from Clarinbridge.
Redressing the party gender balance will be a priority for Fianna Fáil in 2016. It currently has no female TDs and wants desperately to end its appearance as an old boys’ club. That goal will necessitate a two-candidate strategy in every five-seat constituency in the country, where they will run one male and one female. In Galway West, this will have disappointing implications for the Chuckle Brothers, councillors Michael and Ollie Crowe, as well as Cllr Peter Keane.
All three city councillors harbour ambitions of having a tilt at winning back what they see as a second Fianna Fáil seat in the constituency. Unless they feel like donning a frock and some lipstick at convention, it seems more likely a female candidate will get the nod in order to comply with gender quota rules.
This opens the door for Cllr Kinane but a more experienced political heavyweight would be the current Mayor, Cllr Mary Hoade. She has a formidable support base in the Headford area and is closely allied to Éamon Ó Cuív. Unfortunately for her, she may also be too closely located to Ó Cuív in the north of the constituency and, for that reason, Cllr Kinane might well get the nod.
Fianna Fáil has a lot of work to do from a policy perspective before the party can expect to claw back much of the losses it incurred three years ago. However, on the ground in Galway, it has candidates poised to capitalise should voters decide to blow wind back into its sails.