Back to the future with Fianna Fáil?

What the party's Galway West ticket says about FF in the city and Connemara

Two things strike Insider immediately about the recently selected Fianna Fáil Galway West ticket for Election 2016 of TD Éamon Ó Cuív, county councillor Mary Hoade, and former city councillor John Connolly - and what is says about the party is not positive.

The first thing that is noticeable is that the FF has condescended to get serious about gender quotas by doing what it has not done since 2002 - have a woman run for the Dáil. Mary Hoade is a long serving party member and a dedicated, hard working, county councillor and community representative. She certainly has the track record and presence in the eastern part of the constituency to justify her selection, but such a CV does not fully explain why she has been made a candidate.

First woman Dáil candidate in more than a decade

It is a sad fact that FF is still something of a 'lads club' and the presence of a woman on the ticket - the first in 13 years - is likely to have more to do with the fear of being slapped with a fine if the number of female candidates across the State falls to under 30 per cent; the embarrassing (for the party ) but more than justified criticisms by departed senator Averil Power; and TD Timmy Dooley's admission that the party is "male and stale". Proof of this comes from the fact that Cllr Hoade, with all her years of service and achievement in being constantly re-elected, came in third at the convention, with almost half the amount of votes secured by Mr Connolly, who lost his city council seat in 2009 and who has only recently made a serious attempt at a comeback, following a number of very quiet years. That was some endorsement from the boys for Cllr Hoade.

Mr Connolly though has pulled off quite a feat in getting onto the ticket, especially as he faced competition from NUI Galway's Eric Mortimer, who had the backing of former TD and Minister Frank Fahey. However Mr Connolly's enthusiasm; his deeply held loyalty to FF and its core values; his connections in both the city and Connemara areas; and the active support of city councillors Ollie and Michael J Crowe were enough to swing grassroots members solidly behind him. Mr Mortimer saw the way the wind was blowing and bowed out just ahead of the convention.

Mr Connolly has many qualities and certainly would be an industrious worker for the constituency and its people, but he faces a problem - he will be seen as FF re-hiring a candidate who did not make the cut in the 2009 locals. There will be those in that key segment of the electorate, the floating voter, who will ask, 'If he wasn't good enough then, why should we think he will be good enough now?' In fairness to Mr Connolly, he is well aware of this and knows it is a concern he must actively put to bed. He also knows that his, and/or Cllr Hoade's, chance of election are slim, but what is noticable is his refreshing undauntedness about this.

Election 2016 will be important for Mr Connolly as a way of re-establishing himself in the Galway political scene and laying the ground for a serious comeback at the 2019 Local Elections.

Slim chance of a second seat

That Dep Ó Cuív was re-selected and received the highest support among delegates was no surprise. The safest FF seat and safest Dáil seat in the State, the Cornamona man can be expected to be comfortably returned, but this creates more problems than it solves for FF.

Dep Ó Cuív's re-election means the party will have at least one seat out of five in Galway West, but in doing so he takes the lion's share of the party vote in the constituency. As one long time FF party member told Insider, this means "everyone else will be fighting for Éamon's scraps" - thus the remaining FF vote will be spread thinly among Mr Connolly and Cllr Hoade.

The fact that FF has continued to stagnate at around 19 per cent in the polls will also concern party strategists. As a five seater, Galway West has a quota of 16.67 per cent. FF is comfortably over the quota, but a long way short of two. Even if it were to rise by say, three or four points over the next 12 months - and that is Insider being very generous - it gives the party no more than an outside chance, one that would need Fine Gael and/or the Independent vote to falter, before FF could take advantage of it, and even then it would be almost 10 points off two quotas.

Dep Ó Cuív is safe. This leaves the remaining candidates fighting for the four remaining seats. Fine Gael will certainly hold one of these, essentially making Galway West a race for three seats, chiefly between the second FG candidate, the second FF candidate, Labour's Dep Derek Nolan, Sinn Féin's Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, and Independents Noel Grealish TD and Cllr Catherine Connolly.

FG will challenge robustly for a second seat, while Noel Grealish and Catherine Connolly will be formidable candidates. Dep Nolan is in danger, owing to the decline of the Labour vote. There are very mixed views on Sen Ó Clochartaigh and he will be hit by Dep Ó Cuív's command of the Connemara vote and FG's Dep Sean Kyne at the region's eastern end.

The Oranmore/Headford area is Cllr Hoade's stomping ground, but she must share this with sitting TD Noel Grealish, Independent senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, and Renua councillor James Charity. The crowded nature of the area, congested with big names in local politics, will make it a bear pit and right now, Dep Grealish is still considered the most likely to survive, with Cllr Charity expected to lay down a marker for future elections.

Election 2011 was an exception in that it saw Connemara elect two candidates - deputies Ó Cuív and Kyne. That could well happen again, meaning the city can only really elect two, not three TDs. Of the city based candidates, FG TD Brian Walsh and Cllr Catherine Connolly have the strongest chance of being returned. If the FG vote falls and Cllr Connolly does not perform as well as expected, this may give Dep Nolan some hope in sneaking back in. As things stand at the moment though, Walsh and Connolly seem the safer bets. For John Connolly, the main task will be, realistically, to maximise the FF vote in the city to such an extent he can confidently enter the next local elections with a chance of winning a seat, and have a solid argument as to why he should run in a future general election. Right now, that is the best Galway West FF can hope for from Election 2016.


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