With the scent of an election in the air, political anoraks in this column and elsewhere have been busy trying to foreshadow the outcome of the electoral contest taking place in Galway West at some stage over the next six months.
Most will apportion one seat to Fianna Fáil, another to Fine Gael, and a third to at least one to those contesting the election as Independents. However the identity of the candidates who will secure seats for those groupings is often indeterminate, as is the destination of the ultra-unpredictable ‘last seat’. Such analysis would probably be helped by reference to the demographics of the electoral area, and consideration of Galway West, not as a single constituency – but as a conglomerate of three.
Think of it this way: something in the region of 102,500 people are eligible to cast their vote in Galway West at the next general election. Of these, approximately 45,000 reside in the city; 30,000 are based in Connemara; 20,000 live in the Oranmore Electoral Area; and 7,500 have transferred to the constituency from south Mayo.
In 2011, Connemara returned two TDs; two TDs hailed from Galway city; and one was based in Oranmore. This roughly corresponds with the demographic spread, and the outcome of the next election is likely to conform to this formula as well. The only variable is the addition of south Mayo to the constituency, which does not contain enough votes to elect a TD in itself but is likely to absorb support from Connemara and the Oranmore area that would give a candidate based there a fighting opportunity.
Galway West can therefore be viewed as three sub-constituencies for the purpose of analysis, which should make it possible to make more accurate and informed predictions about the precise identity of the successful candidates. In that light, Connemara and south Mayo will elect two TDs; Galway city will elect two TDs; and one will emerge victorious from the highly competitive melting pot of the Oranmore Electoral Area, which contains Turloughmore, Claregalway, Annaghdown, Oranmore, and Clarenbridge.
In the city
In the city, the 45,000 voters based there are likely to be loosely divided between candidates ideologically aligned to the left and the right. This will see one of the two seats filled from these votes contested by the incumbent - Labour TD Derek Nolan - and the left-leaning independent, city councillor Catherine Connolly, who came agonisingly close to a seat last time out.
Many have been quick to write off Dep Nolan’s chances of re-election, given Labour’s collapse in opinion polls and the absence of Michael D Higgins from his campaign team. However if Labour’s current support level of 10 per cent holds in Galway West, it will put him in contention for a seat. Cllr Connolly – an impressive performer who draws support from diverse areas and social groups – has been cannibalising his left-leaning vote over the past four years, however. It is likely that she will have done enough to overhaul him and secure the liberal city seat as her own. Demographics dictate there must be a second city seat in Galway West and, particularly if Dep Nolan’s government-supporting transfers come into play, it will have to go to Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh.
In the wider Oranmore Electoral Area, there should be a fascinating contest among the incumbent Independent, Dep Noel Grealish, Fianna Fáil’s Mary Hoade, and ex-Independent, ex-Renua, now Independent again, James Charity.
Grealish has held the seat here since 2002 and has enjoyed solid support. For the first time, he will find that eroded somewhat by the presence of councillors Hoade and Charity. Cllr Hoade will test the loyalty of some of Grealish’s Fianna Fáil genepool voters in the north of the constituency, while Charity may tempt Grealish supporters to trade him in for a younger model.
It is likely to be a bloodbath, and, as ever, the candidate who emerges with the largest vote pile will be comfortably elected at the expense of the other two, thanks to their transfers. Cllr Hoade is unlikely to gather a sufficient portion of the Fianna Fáil vote from her running mate to win a seat, leaving Cllr Charity and Dep Grealish to duke it out for bragging rights in the Oranmore area.
Where will the last seat go?
In Connemara, Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív enjoys unshakeable support in the west of the county, and it would constitute a major surprise if he was not the first candidate elected when the people go to the polls. The 30,000 voters in Connemara, along with the influx of 7,500 from Mayo, should be sufficient to elect two deputies to the next Dáil. The battle for the second of these seats will be contested by Fine Gael’s John O’Mahony and Sean Kyne, both of whom are incumbent TDs.
Also in contention is Sinn Féin’s senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, who will benefit from votes collected elsewhere across the constituency for his party’s brand, regardless of the identity or location of its candidate. This is likely to be the last seat to be filled and should constitute one of the most interesting talking points. As though it were a microcosm of the entire General Election, it will be a measure of the combined anti-establishment vote versus the party seeking to be returned to government.
The contestants here will be scrapping over leftovers. Accumulated transfers from the Anti-Austerity Alliance and other protest votes will be measured against the combined might of Fine Gael’s three remaining candidates. Depending how those transfers fall, the destiny of the final seat will be decided. Given the formidability of the Fine Gael ticket – comprising four sitting Oireachtas members – the most likely outcome appears to be the retention of a second seat for the Blueshirts. Whether it is Dep John O’Mahony, Dep Seán Kyne, or Sen Hildegarde Naughton, equates to another question, best asked by Leo Moran: Will Galway bate Mayo?