Dep Brian Walsh’s departure from politics this week, and consequent withdrawal from Election 2016 is both a curse and a blessing for Galway West Fine Gael, and will be seen as an opportunity, perhaps even a salvation, by Labour and Fianna Fáil.
Dep Walsh was first elected to the Galway City Council in 2004 and became a TD at the 2011 General Election. Late on Tuesday night, he announced he was retiring from politics, owing to health problems which have seen him hospitalised on two occasions in recent times. While he is now recovering, his condition is liable to relapse or worsen unless, as he said in a statement, “considerable changes are made to my lifestyle”, and on medical advice he has stood down from politics, and will not seek re-election next year.
Fine Gael had selected four candidates to run in Galway West in 2016 - TDs Walsh, Seán Kyne, and John O’Mahoney, along with Sen Hildegarde Naughton. A statement from FG on Dep Walsh’s decision, indicated that the party would not seek to replace him on the ticket, but will leave it at three candidates. This decision, and Dep Walsh’s departure, are the aforementioned blessing and curse for FG.
With Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív enjoying the safest seat in the State, the five-seat Galway West is effectively a competition amongthe remaining candidates for four seats. Fine Gael is assured one of these, and owning to recent opinion polls, which place it between 28 and 30 per cent, the party is very close to the 32 per cent quota needed to take two seats in the constituency.
Dep Walsh was seen as the party standard bearer in Galway West, but with his departure, has the chance of two seats evaporated?
FG winning two seats was, and still is, far from assured, but it is the only party in Galway West with any realistic chance of achieving this. The party’s main hopes rest with Dep Seán Kyne, who, for some time has been quietly establishing himself as the leading FG politician in the constituency.
He has much going for him. Although he only scraped in the last time, FG, unlike in 2011, now finds itself in a situation where it must run three, not a vote splitting four, candidates. FG would seem to have the bases covered - Dep Kyne in Connemara, Sen Naughton in the city, and Dep O’Mahoney in south Mayo and the north of the constituency, with two from these three in a strong position to win seats.
Nothing in politics is that easy. Dep Kyne is the only Connemara based candidate whose election prospects are not obliterated by the existence of Dep Ó Cuív, and he can expect to command a solid vote in eastern Connemara. He will also poll well in areas of the city and its hinterland that straddle Connemara, and he can tap into the FG and ex-PD vote that is strong in Salthill/Knocknacarra. He is also well liked across the spectrum, another factor that will aid him when it comes to transfers.
Sen Naughton would expect to dominate Salthill/Knocknacarra and Oranmore, but, now ensconsed in the Seanad, her profile in Galway has lowered dramatically, while Dep Kyne’s has risen and consolidated. As such he might have the FG vote in the west of the city and Connemara all to himself. In Oranmore, Sen Naughton has to face the bearpit of Dep Noel Grealish, Sen Fidelma Healy-Eames, and Cllr James Charity, and Dep Grealish is the most likely winner there.
Sen Naughton can still take a seat, but she needs every transfer she can get from her FG colleagues, particularly Dep Kyne, and from every other centre-right candidate in the race. It is possible, but the same scenario could be argued for Dep O’Mahoney. FG can still win two, but perhaps the odds have been made more difficult.
The two who stand to benefit most from Dep Walsh’s absence are FF’s John Connolly and Labour’s Derek Nolan. Both men will hammer home a message to voters of ‘keep a seat in the city’. Mr Connolly certainly has the belief, but with FF stubbornly stuck at 20 per cent for the past four years, the party is only four per cent above the quota for one seat. Few outside the most die-hard FF circles see that changing.
Dep Nolan then has most to gain. Left councillor Catherine Connolly has a good chance of a seat, but Dep Nolan will not be challenging her much. He will build a campaign on ‘keep FF out, don’t let them win two’; ‘keep a seat in the city’; and ‘if you don’t want FF or SF in government, but want the safe pair of hands that is FG and Labour, vote Nolan’. It may stick in his throat that this is a message that will appeal, not to the left, but to centre and centre-right voters, but Dep Walsh’s departure is his best chance of retaining a seat.
Brian Walsh's statement in full: http://www.advertiser.ie/galway/article/80845/brian-walsh-not-standing-in-general-election-full-statement
Fine Gael Statement on Brian Walsh's retirement: http://www.advertiser.ie/galway/article/80846/fine-gael-statement-on-brian-walshs-decision-not-to-contest-general-election