Will Walsh or Kyne survive the 2016 General Election?

Brian Walsh and Seán Kyne at Leisureland during the Galway West General Election count in 2011. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Brian Walsh and Seán Kyne at Leisureland during the Galway West General Election count in 2011. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

It was not the bank collapse of 2008, the implosion of the economy, the unforgivable bank guarantee, nor four years of harsh austerity measures which forced the Irish people on to the streets in protest.

It was the imposition of the water tax and the numerous unanswered - and given some Government reaction - unanswerable questions over the deeply dysfunctional and highly mistrusted quango Irish Water which has seen tens of thousands march in protest. Fine Gael-Labour were not expecting this, counting instead on continuing supine obsequiousness from the public.

It has been a rude awakening, leading to defensive remarks by Leo Varadkar (note his use of “reasonable people” when talking about protesters ), to hurried announcements of waivers and discounts, Tánaiste Joan Burton declaring nobody will pay more than €200, to An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny’s, pledge that “all questions will be answered” about Irish Water and the tax in the Dáil next Wednesday.

Has people power - so seldom truly excercised in this State - actually unnerved the Government? Insider hopes so, but whether Irish Water becomes to Enda Kenny what the poll tax in Britain was to Margaret Thatcher has yet to be seen.

Whatever happens, Irish Water is an issue, to use the Taoiseach’s own phrase back at him, that is “here to stay” and is likely to play a role in shaping public opinion in the run up to the next General Election, no more than 18 months away.

Last week Insider looked mainly at Galway East and the battle royal that is expected between Colm Keaveney and Michael Kitt for the Fianna Fáil seat there, now the constituency has been pared back to three seats. Turning this week to Galway West, what kind of scenario is plausible here?

Galway West remains a five-seat constituency, but unlike 2011 it now incorporates a large chunk of south Mayo. Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív is the King of Connemara and will, as ever, take the lion’s share of the vote here. South Mayo will also rally to his cause, further bolstering his vote. Although he will not like Insider saying so, he has the safest seat in the State, meaning only the other four are realistically up for grabs.

The main contenders will be a second Fianna Fáil candidate (city councillor Ollie Crowe or county councillor Martina Kinane ); incumbent Fine Gael TDs Brian Walsh and Sean Kyne, with possibly a third candidate; Sinn Féin Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; and Independents Dep Noel Grealish, Cllr Catherine Connolly, Sen Fidelma Healy-Eames, and possibly Cllr James Charity.

For this week insider will focus mainly on FG and FF, before turning to Sinn Féin and the Independents next week.

Walsh v Kyne v everybody else

The most recent opinion polls, conducted in October (Ipsos/MRBI ) and early November (Millward Brown ) show Sinn Féin on 24/26 per cent, Fine Gael (22/24 ), Independents (23 ), Fianna Fáil (20 ), and Labour (seven to nine ). An awful lot can change between now and polling day, but despite public pronouncements, all parties take opinion polls seriously.

Fianna Fáil knows its recovery has arrived at stagnation around its absolute core support, enough to comfortably take one seat in a five-seater (quota 16.67 per cent ), but with little prospect of taking a second. As Ollie Crowe said during May’s Local Election count, “Fianna Fáil are still in the sin bin.”

Fine Gael meanwhile, privately admits that holding two seats in 2016 will be difficult. The anxiety for the party, and its two TDs, is, which one will survive?

Dep Sean Kyne’s chances have been boosted significantly by the addition of south Mayo and he has been actively courting the regions voters, making a point of describing himself in correspondence as Galway West/South Mayo TD, even though the name of the constituency has remained Galway West.

He can leave nothing to chance though as he will be competing alongside Sen Ó Clochartaigh in Connemara for the scraps that fall from Éamon Ó Cuív’s table. He will also be dependent on a certain amount of the Galway city vote, given his base is in Moycullen. South Mayo is a cushion, but not enough to allow the Connemara man to get comfortable yet.

Dep Walsh will be similarly anxious. While he is back in favour with party top brass (that bromance with Enda Kenny was signalled by his reinstallation back into FG after he voted against the Abortion Bill ) he knows he will have to put in a hell of a fight to see off the political pincer movement by other candidates. There is the vote getting power of Cllr Connolly to his west; the wiley survivor Dep Grealish to his east; and a hardened campaigner in Cllr Crowe in Galway city (who, no matter how FF performs, will put in a good showing ). This does not mean he will lose his seat, but the abovementioned trio could leave Dep Walsh squeezed and sweating at the count centre.

In order to give themselves some hope, deputies Walsh and Kyne will argue that FG must only run two candidates in Galway West (one for Connemara, the other in the city/Oranmore ) instead of the typical blueshirt kamikaze strategy of running enough candidates to split the vote. If the party pays heed to this argument, Sen Hildegarde Naughton’s Dáil ambitions will be thwarted for another few years.

That, however, could be a blessing in disguise. Although FG has every chance of returning to power in 2016 as the lead governing party, it knows it will lose seats in the next General Election. If it takes a hit in Galway West and Sen Naughton is among the casualties, that could dampen any enthusiasm there is for her as a prospective TD. Perhaps it is better to hold fire for now, wait until the economic recovery is more fully visible and tangible to the public, rather than become the victim of any anger the public wish to vent on FG.

What could save, or at least would not harm the chances of Dep Kyne, and Dep Walsh in particular, is the sorry state of the Labour party and the ever decreasing chances Dep Derek Nolan has of keeping his Dáil seat. Soft Labour votes and others who once voted for the party may go towards FG in 2016 from those who can never vote Fianna Fáil; find the Shinners have still too much of a whiff of sulphur about them; or who think of themselves as liberal, but cannot stomach anything beyond the dead centre of the centre-Left. Given that Dep Walsh is a city based candidate he is more likely to take some of these, although Sen Fidelma Healy Eames and Cllr James Charity will certainly compete for this clutch of votes as well.

Fine Gael can certainly take one seat in 2016, but at this stage it is far too early to speculate as to who will be the victor. What Insider can say at this stage is that it will be the one who can see off Sinn Féin and the Independents.

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