With the New Year now firmly entrenched, Galway’s politicos - Insider included - have only one thing on their minds - June’s Local Elections.
The election posters are being organised, leaflets designed, and the fund raising is in full swing. For sitting councillors though, nerves are fraught and futures are uncertain. In five months the electorate will cast its judgment, and either return them to office, or turf them out in favour of new blood.
It is the nature of that threat, and the strength of new candidates, that the parties are concerning themselves with now.
In Galway City East, Labour’s Derek Nolan is already visible on the ground and campaigning hard. Nolan gained the respect of all parties when in 2004, aged only 21, he came from nowhere and narrowly missed out on election.
Friendly and personable, yet genuine and articulate, Mr Nolan is Labour’s best hope of gaining a seat in June. He can expect to benefit from discontent and anger with the Government parties, along with the fact that the extended Nolan family is well known and liked in the area.
Insider thinks his greatest appeal however, will be with those unhappy with the current council who want to see new faces and younger blood in City Hall.
However Mr Nolan will not have it easy. Galway City East is full of ‘heavy hitters’, and with four former mayors among six councillors seeking re-election - Cllr Declan McDonnell, Cllr Terry O’Flaherty, Cllr Tom Costello, and Cllr Brian Walsh - he will have to work hard to make a breakthrough.
There are two prominent new faces in Galway City West. Fianna Fáil’s Peter Keane is a native of the area and a solicitor by trade. If he is the only FF candidate in the now five seater ward, Keane should be certain of election.
He will have to box clever however, especially at a time when the majority Government party is deeply unpopular. Recent statements from Keane, claiming that 95 per cent of Claddagh voters were happy with the ending of universal medical cards for the over 70s left Insider gobsmacked!
Any candidate should know that you don’t rub salt into an open wound, especially when backed up by statistics that not even the most devout FFer would believe. This election is Keane’s to lose. If he learns from this early mistake, and concentrates on courting FF voters, family, and friends (with the FF logo as small as possible ), then he should be OK.
Given his former electoral outings, Labour’s Niall McNelis is arguably not a new face at all, but he is new to Galway City West where he now lives. The businessman will have a tough time in a ward with Cllr Catherine Connolly and Cllr Niall Ó Brolcháin.
His best hope is to win over Labour voters from Cllr Connolly and attract votes away from disaffected Green voters, unhappy with the party’s performance in Government.
Mr McNeilis has a proven ability to get his picture in the papers, and is generally a popular character with people from all parties and none, respected for the huge voluntary work he undertakes for charity.
That alone will not serve him sufficiently in Galway City West. He will need to project a coherent and thoughtful political message if he is to make inroads among the kind of voters he needs to attract - voters who think carefully about their vote and are impressed by substance and ideas.
In Galway City Central, Fianna Fáil’s Ollie Crowe is the new candidate drawing most attention - even though we don’t know if he will be on the ticket!
Mr Crowe is an altogether affable and personable man, arguably more popular in Bohermore than his brother, Cllr Michael J Crowe.
There is no doubt that Crowe would do well in his home area, but he may struggle to pick up votes west of the Corrib. FF votes are not as plentiful as they once were and will be hard to take from FF’s popular Cllr John Connolly.
That said, the Crowe family is well known throughout Galway, and the Crowe electoral machine well respected. Ollie Crowe could do well, but it is difficult to see two FF seats out of four in this ward, at a time when the party is so unpopular.
If Insider was a betting man, he would tip Labour’s Derek Nolan and Fianna Fáil’s Peter Keane for success. It is quite possible for Labour’s Niall McNeils and FF’s Ollie Crowe to snatch a seat, but a lot of work will have to go in between now and June for that to happen. Insider will watch a little longer before recommending any betting on these last two names