Galway West could elect its first Sinn Féin TD in almost a century come the 2016 General Election, but it could be new city councillor Máiréad Farrell instead of current party standard bearer Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
The rise of Sinn Féin in the opinion polls may terrify the political and media mainstream, but in May’s local elections, Galway West, once the most anti-Republican of constituencies, returned three SF city councillors and two county councillors.
The result gave SF representatives, voting bases, and strategic positions across the constituency in time for 2016. Although no strategy has been formally announced yet, the party is likely to run a two ticket candidacy with a view to winning one seat. Furthermore, while Cllr Farrell has not declared an interest to running, at least not publicly, it is understood SF is increasingly coming to see her as a strong contender.
A ticket of Sen Ó Clochartaigh and Cllr Farrell makes most sense. Sen Ó Clochartaigh can cover Connemara and the city’s western hinterlands, while Cllr Farrell, who is originally from Oranmore, can cover that base and the city itself.
Geography and rival candidates favour Cllr Farrell. The Connemara vote will go disproportionately to Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív, leaving the An Cheathrú Rua based Sen Ó Clochartaigh fighting for remainders with Fine Gael TD Sean Kyne and for the area’s Left vote with Independent city councillor Catherine Connolly.
Furthermore he is likely to face pressure from a second FF Connemara candidate in the shape of either Bearna based John Connolly, or the Cheathrú Rua based Christina Nic Dhonnacadh.
Cllr Farrell will face a scrap in Oranmore from Independent TD Noel Grealish (likely to retain his seat ), Reform Alliance senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, and Independent county councillor James Charity. However the latter three will be competing for the centre/centre-right vote mostly.
Cllr Farrell’s support will mainly come from Left and protest voters. She will also be aided by weak tickets in the city. The imminent political demise of Labour’s Derek Nolan and dropping support for FG could create an opening that she (and FF’s Cllr Ollie Crowe ) would seek to exploit.
The challenge for Cllr Farrell will be to have enough first preferences to allow her compete for a seat on her own, as opposed to competing for it with Cllr Catherine Connolly, especially as the Left has a chance of two seats in 2016. At this juncture, Cllr Farrell looks better placed than Sen Ó Clochartaigh to win a seat for SF in Galway West.