To win in Oranmore, you have to go through Grealish first

Noel Grealish following his election victory in 2007.

Noel Grealish following his election victory in 2007.

“The only valid poll is on election day!” is the guff politicians huff and bluster with when the latest round of opinion polls turn out badly for them. Yet fear not reader, Insider can assure you all politicians, regardless of what they say publicly, take opinion poll findings very seriously.

The recent Sunday Business Post/Red C poll was grim for the Government with Fine Gael falling to 22 per cent - the exact same level of support as for its bête noire Sinn Féin - while Labour is on a miserable eight per cent. Fianna Fáil is languishing at 18 per cent, while Independents are at 30 per cent.

Insider has been examining Galway West in detail over the past few weeks and in this final instalment looks at the political bear-pit that will be Oranmore come Election 2016.

So far, Insider has concluded that Fianna Fáil will hold its seat through Éamon Ó Cuív; Fine Gael will also hold a seat (whether that be Brian Walsh or Seán Kyne is too early to call yet ); Labour will lose its seat; the Left will take at least one (Independent city councillor Catherine Connolly or Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh ); leaving two seats up for grabs. So who can win them?

In the current climate, two Left seats are not impossible to imagine, although there are those who doubt if Sen Ó Clochartaigh has what it takes to win. Could that then open the way for another Left candidate if the An Cheathrú Rua man falls at the final hurdle? Also it should be noted that SF could well run a second candidate and that s/he could be the victor. It just depends on who the party selects and what strategy it operates.

Fine Gael should not be written out either - if it gets a lucky break on the day - but at 10 points off the two quotas needed, that is a Herculean task and the party privately admits it will be very difficult. At the very least then, one seat remains and it is likely to go to an Oranmore based candidate.

Oranmore Independents

Before 2011, a general pattern of elections in Galway West saw Connemara elect one candidate, the city three, and Oranmore one. In 2011 that changed with two each for Connemara and the city, with Oranmore retaining Independent TD Noel Grealish.

In 2007 and 2011 Dep Grealish was elected without reaching the quota and he knows himself this is a status which makes him potentially vulnerable to a serious challenge - but can either Maree based Independent senator Fidelma Healy-Eames or Galway politic’s ‘new kid in town’, Athenry-Oranmore ward councillor James Charity be that challenger?

Dep Grealish is lucky in that, despite the PDs being consigned to the dustbin of history, Galway West, where the party was founded in 1985, retains an intense loyalty to any former adherents. Witness May’s local elections: the city re-elected ex-PDs Terry O’Flaherty, Donal Lyons, and Declan McDonnell; and elected two first timers, both of whom would be seen as Pro-Grealish, Independents Mike Cubbard and Noel Larkin. The county meanwhile, returned Dep Grealish’s right hand man in Oranmore, Cllr Jim Cuddy.

As Insider noted in the aftermath of the locals, this is ‘The Noel Grealish Party’. Basically he has lieutenants in every ward of the city and its neighbouring county ward. As for Connemara, there is always the sage advice former PD Minister Bobby Molloy can be expected to dispense. Dep Grealish has many loyal followers who will canvass night and day to ensure his re-election. Put it like this, to win in Oranmore, you have to go through Noel first.

James Charity - a dark horse?

Cllr James Charity.

With Independents now at 30 per cent in the polls, a surface reading gives the misleading impression that Dep Grealish has two quotas and will top the poll. That is not going to happen. That 30 per cent is for Independents in general and covers everybody on the Left and Right, as well the ‘single issue candidate’. In Galway West, that 30 per cent has to be shared between the four ‘Big Beasts’ - Connolly, Grealish, Healy-Eames, and Charity.

Cllr Connolly’s voters are not Dep Grealish’s voters. Furthermore, Cllr Connolly’s vote will mainly be the west side of the city and Connemara. Dep Grealish’s vote will be mostly the east side and Oranmore. He does not have to worry about Cllr Connolly. He can also expect transfers from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, but they might not have too many to spare in 2016, and Sen Healy-Eames and Cllr Charity will also be competing for such votes and can expect to take some of them.

The problem for Sen Healy-Eames is that she has been knocking at the Dáil door since 2002 and failed each time. That she could not make the breakthrough in 2011 - Fine Gael’s greatest ever triumph - not to mention those numerous colourful and controversial incidents along the way, give the impression that she will never get elected to the State’s lower house.

There are very few who give Sen Healy-Eames a real chance, so the question is, how much damage can she do to Dep Grealish? Looking over past election stats, the answer is ‘He still got elected every time’. Given Sen Healy-Eames’ vote is likely to be lower in 2016 than 2011, Dep Grealish may not have to fear her too much.

Cllr Charity though could be real danger. He was one of a number of new, first-time Independents elected to County Buildings who seemed to emerge from nowhere. He would also be pulling from the same general voter type as Dep Grealish (and Sen Healy-Eames ). So with the wind at the Independent’s back, could it happen that voters plumb for Grealish and Charity, splitting the vote, both men cancel each other out, and a weakened FG vote pick up their transfers allowing Walsh/Kyne keep the second seat?

Possibly. More likely though is that Dep Grealish will hold his own and that the battle for the fifth seat will be between FG, SF, and Charity. If SF fail, it’s FG v Charity. He will pull from the same pool as the Blueshirts, but can expect to draw transfers from a wider range of candidates. He may not be radical, but he is not of the establishment parties and that could count for much come 2016, allowing him to take the last seat from under FG’s nose.

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