The impact of Yes on Galway’s political landscape

Galway City Councillors and Mayor Donal Lyons supporting YesEquality Campaign ahead of last May's referendum. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy.

Galway City Councillors and Mayor Donal Lyons supporting YesEquality Campaign ahead of last May's referendum. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy.

From Monday November 16, same-sex marriage will be legal and Insider is looking forward to attending the weddings of her friends in the LGBT community. This follows on from May's referendum, where Insider voted a wholehearted Yes.

In the heat of the moment, there was much talk about a transformational shift in Irish politics and debate over which political party could harness the excitement about the vote. Not one to get herself carried away, Insider dismissed such grand talk at the time but does think there are four limited ways the political landscape has changed in Galway due to the referendum campaign.

Who benefits from Yes and No?

They say voting is addictive – once you vote for the first time, you keep coming back. The marriage referendum got many first-time voters on the register and had the largest turnout for a referenda in recent times. This high turnout was particularly true of working class and young voters - two groups often written off as non-voters by the established parties. They have now seen a positive impact from their vote instead of the perception of having to pick between “the best of a bad bunch” in a general election.

One of the biggest political shifts Insider foresees from the referendum is for working class and young voters to come out to vote again in large numbers in Election 2016. Insider would not expect this vote to be kind to the established parties and it could cause a shift to the left parties - Sinn Féin, AAA, PBP, and the Social Democrats. In practical terms, Insider believes this will cost the government parties a second seat in Galway West at the next election with just one Fine Gael TD returned.

While the No side lost convincingly, 38 per cent is still two full quotas. While the full 38 per cent will not leave their traditional parties because they campaigned for a Yes, committed social conservatives could rightly feel abandoned by the established parties with alternatives such as Renua also refusing to openly embrace them. In the absence of a Christian conservative party in Ireland, where will these votes go in Galway West?

While Fianna Fáil campaigned for a Yes vote, Dep Eamon Ó Cuív was never one to toe the party line and was notable by his absence during the campaign. His hometown of Cornamona was one of the few areas with a majority of No votes. Another clear message was sent to conservative voters during the Fianna Fáil selection convention as the only candidate Insider noticed campaigning for a Yes vote, Stephanie Murphy-Penn, was sidelined.

Also clearly angling for the No voter is former Fine Gael and now Independent senator Fidelma Healy-Eames. She initially flip-flopped saying in the Vincent Browne debate that she was “on the fence”, before publicly declaring her No vote, and she would hope to capture a significant amount of the conservative vote.

Independent TD Noel Grealish has the enviable political talent of appearing to be on all sides of a controversial issue and the marriage referendum was no exception! Insider would also expect him to do well from disaffected No voters.

Social Democrats' serious contender in Galway West

Insider recognises a well-organised campaign when she sees one and was impressed to get a knock on her door a few weeks ago from a canvasser for Yes Equality organiser turned Social Democrats general election candidate Niall Ó Tuathail. He has also had high-profile support in town recently from party leaders Catherine Murphy, Róisín Shortall, and Stephen Donnelly.

Niall impressed many seasoned political heads with his campaigning skills during the marriage referendum, and is building on a track record of getting Stephen Donnelly elected to the current Dáil over a five-week campaign in 2011. He is also starting to get stuck into local issues, being very vocal on the Aer Arann fiasco.

The bookies now have Niall in joint sixth to take one of the five seats in Galway West. If he can reassemble a fraction of the Galway Yes team and if the Social Democrats gain traction in the media, Insider would agree he could take a seat and is likely to play a role in Galway politics for the foreseeable future.

Galway East and socially liberal candidates

Galway East, home to No side spokesman, Independent seantor Rónán Mullen, has long been the bookies' favourite for the largest No vote in any social issue referendum. This reputation was turned on its head in the marriage referendum with a solid Yes vote.

As a result, the public views of Galway East’s politicians now look archaic. This was painfully evident on Vincent Browne’s People’s Debate where all four incumbent TDs went quiet when put on the spot and asked their position on the 8th Amendment. Insider has discussed the 8th Amendment with many politicians who privately have no problem with repeal but brush off a referendum in fear of alienating voters. With an opinion poll showing that a majority of farmers are now in favour of the repeal of the 8th Amendment, Insider expects them to do the maths on the impact for their vote and follow that up with some contrived public soul searching.

While it may take another election cycle for this shift to translate into a more liberal TD returned from Galway East, the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael stranglehold on the constituency is becoming wide open to challenge. With Sinn Féin now backing repeal of the 8th Amendment, Insider expects Anne Marie Roche to be the most likely beneficiary of this and she could well win a seat come 2016.


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