Whether the date of the next General Election is November 20, as has been mooted recently, or comes during spring 2016, two predictions are already confidently being made - indeed they have become an article of faith for some, an incontrovertible truth for others - regarding the fate of two high profile candidates in Galway West.
The predictions are that Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív will hold his seat easily, and that Sinn Féin's Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has, despite the poll figures, no chance whatsoever of taking a seat. Those who hold these 'truths' to be self-evident would do well to remember that only one of the predictions is actually a safe bet.
Éamon Ó Cuív has the safest seat in the State and will be returned to the Dáil come polling day - he may even top the poll after the first count. There is no doubt about that. Essentially this makes the five seat Galway West constituency into a four seater. Of the remaining seats the general prediction is that one will go to Fine Gael and another to an Independent. The remaining two seats will then come down to a battle among a second Fine Gael candidate, an Independent, and Sen Ó Clochartaigh, with only the remotest chance of Labour and Fianna Fáil getting a significant look in.
With the majority of Connemara votes going to Dep Ó Cuív, and Fine Gael's Dep Seán Kyne likely to perform well in its eastern section, Sen Ó Clochartaigh, based in An Cheathrú Rua will be squeezed and left only to pick up the others' scraps; he will also be hampered by the presence of Independent city councillor Catherine Connolly, who can expect the lion's share of the Left vote in the constituency; and the lack of a running mate in SF Cllr Mairead Farrell to bring out the city vote means a huge resource is left untapped.
Insider sees much merit to this argument, but it has become such a fait accompli that other equally plausible and probable scenarios are not even being considered. This is not necessarily healthy and there are many who need to be reminded that until the votes start to come in, no prediction should be offered as a truth on its way to becoming fact. In that light, Insider will argue that Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh's chances should not be dismissed, indeed a good case can be made for how and why he can challenge for, and maybe even win, a seat.
Sinn Féin has never been better placed to win a Dáil seat in Galway West. Geographically all bases are covered - Cllr Tom Healy in Clifden; Sen Ó Clochartaigh in south Connemara; three councillors in the city, one in each ward; and Cllr Gabe Cronnolly in Athenry. Furthermore, despite recent polls showing a two per cent drop in support for Sinn Féin, the figures - 21 per cent in The Irish Times-Ipsos MRBI poll and 16 per cent in the Sunday Business Post-Red C poll - still put the party at on and over a quota. This, plus a massive and energetic campaign from the councillors and their teams, not to mention from Sen Ó Clochartaigh himself, has the potential to see him into the Dáil.
Factors in favour of Trevor
Of course poll figures give a good indication of State-wide support, but at the macro level they do not always break down quite as neatly and should be approached with a certain amount of caution. So what other factors can be considered in his favour?
What of the view that the party should have run Cllr Mairéad Farrell as its Galway West candidate instead of Sen Ó Clochartaigh, or at least as his running mate to shore up support in the city? At the moment Sen Ó Clochartaigh is better placed than Cllr Farrell to take a seat, although in the long term the party needs to recognise just what a talent it has in Cllr Farrell, who is a growing force in Galway politics and, medium/long-term, will be a serious contender for a Dáil seat.
As a senator, Ó Clochartaigh has a firmly established profile, a national presence, and name recognition throughout the constituency. As yet, Cllr Farrell does not, this gives him an advantage across Galway West. As such Cllr Farrell, at this early stage in her political career, is unlikely to pick up the additional votes in the city to compensate for the Connemara votes she would lose, given her lower profile in the region.
Furthermore, it should be noted that, like Fine Gael TD Seán Kyne, Sen Ó Clochartaigh is well liked and respected throughout Connemara, and both have the potential to draw votes from outside their immediate political party. Given the dominance of Dep Ó Cuív in the region this should give them enough of a base to ensure they are not just picking up the Cornamona man's scraps. Another factor is this. Connemara in 2011 elected two TDs - Ó Cuív and Kyne - it has the ability to do so again. However it will not elect three. As such, a major battle might be between Ó Clochartaigh and Kyne, and not between - as is widely assumed Ó Clochartaigh and Catherine Connolly for the 'Left' seat.
The potential Achilles heel to Sen Ó Clochartaigh's chances is the modest 3,808 first preferences he received in the 2011 General Election, rising to a combined total of 4,683 - well short of the 9,112 Dep Kyne received that saw him elected without reaching the quota. As such, Sen Ó Clochartaigh has to at least double his tally to even challenge for a seat, never mind win one.
In 2011, Sen Ó Clochartaigh's vote (including transfers ) broke down roughly to 2,000 in Connemara, 1,500 in the city, and about 300 in the eastern part of the constituency. Sinn Féin's brand - even despite the recent dip in the polls - is much stronger now than before, and, as mentioned, Sen Ó Clochartaigh's profile is also higher. Allowing for this, Sinn Féin can potentially be looking at a guaranteed 4,000 votes no matter who it runs. Also the addition of South Mayo will benefit Connemara candidates long before it benefits any city ones. If Sen Ó Clochartaigh can get 3,000-3,500 in Connemara, 2,000-2,500 in the city, and 500-1,000 elsewhere, he could be looking at 5,500-7,000. If Cllr Catherine Connolly is elected early, gets transfers from Labour's Dep Derek Nolan (not inconceivable given Sen Ó Clochartaigh was once a Labour member ), and he takes some transfers from Dep Ó Cuív, he might get enough to battle it out for the last seat. It will be difficult, but far from the impossibility many have already declared it to be.