By the beginning of February, the 2016 General Election will have more then likely been declared, and by the end of that month it will more than likely have been held and, 'bar the shouting', be completed across the State, except in Galway West, which will, as usual, drag on much longer than anywhere else.
So, there is less than eight weeks to polling day, when 18 candidates will vie for five seats: TDs Seán Kyne and John O'Mahony and Sen Hildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael ); Dep Éamon Ó Cuív, Cllr Mary Hoade, and John Connolly (Fianna Fáil ); Dep Derek Nolan (Labour ); Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Féin ); Seona O'Fagan (Community and Post Office Candidates group ); Tommy Holohan (Anti-Austerity Alliance/Socialist Party ); Niall Ó Tuathail (Social Democrats ); Seamus Sheridan (Greens ); and Dep Noel Grealish, Sen Fidelma Healy-Eames, councillors Catherine Connolly, Mike Cubbard, and James Charity, and Tommy Roddy (Independents ).
Dep Ó Cúiv will retain his seat. Everyone agrees on that. So really it is 17 candidates fighting for four. Of these Dep Kyne is by far the strongest and looks very well placed to return to the Dáil by a much more substantial and greater margin than he did in 2011. Less clear cut is the Oranmore/Headford end of the constituency, but right now, Dep Grealish, despite the presence of the much respected Cllr Hoade and the ambitious Cllr Charity, as well as the spectre of Sen Healy-Eames, still seems to be in contention, and the level of support for Independents, though it has dipped of late, should be enough to see the Carnmore man return.
Insider has gone into the reasons behind the above scenarios before, so will not take up space on this again. This time Insider wishes to look at the other main contenders who will be fighting for the remaining two seats - and one in particular.
What effect will South Mayo have?
With Connemara set to elect two (Ó Cuív and Kyne ) and Oranmore/Headford likely (if by no means absolutely certain ) to return Dep Grealish, the city, which has almost 45 per cent of the vote, should return two - although O'Mahony, Kyne, Ó Clochartaigh, and Grealish are all likely to eat into that to some extent. Right now the main city contender is Cllr Catherine Connolly - arguably the strongest and most formidable of the Left candidates, who can also expect to gain a decent vote in Connemara (something which could hurt Ó Clochartaigh ). Opinion polls also show there is enough for two Fine Gael and/or Government seats which means the nearly invisible Sen Naughton, and Dep Nolan, despite dwindling Labour support, cannot be ruled out of contention. Of the other candidates, only the Soc Dem's O Tuathail and Cllr James Charity appear to have any real 'dark horse' prospects.
Overall, though, the city candidates make up a rather weak field in comparison to their county colleagues.
The real puzzle though is the as yet unknown effect of the addition of South Mayo and the enigmatic presence of Mayo TD, and now Galway West candidate, John O'Mahoney. However some informed inferences can be drawn from an examination of the region.
While South Mayo's addition makes Galway West more interesting and complicated, it is a very small area, maybe 5,000 votes or about 7.5 per cent - that is not even half of one quota (Galway West's quota is 16.67 per cent ). Secondly, despite Fine Gael dominance in Mayo, FF still have a decent following and Dep Ó Cuív, geographically the best placed of the rural candidates, can expect to take a good vote here.
Nonetheless Fine Gael can still expect to get a good chunk of the South Mayo vote, but it is likely to split between Seán Kyne, who can also pull votes from Connemara and the city, and Dep O'Mahony, who does not have the base or broad support Dep Kyne enjoys. South Mayo will help Fine Gael keep at least one seat and will aid (but not guarantee ) its chances of retaining a second, so could it be enough to help elect Dep O'Mahoney?
Challenges for O'Mahoney
Insider understands that private Fianna Fáil polling shows Dep O'Mahony is not making an impact with voters and will not take a seat. Many FGers do not dispute this, but others are adamant that South Mayo, the eastern half of Galway West, and enough city voters (particularly of the 'He won us the All-Irelands in 1998 and 2001, let's vote for him!' variety ) will do enough to see him home.
It is worth noting that Dep O'Mahony has been written off before, only to prevail. When he first ran in Mayo a published poll showed him on a very low number. That said, his electoral performance in Mayo has always been modest enough. For instance in 2011 he was the fourth of the FG candidates, outpolled by Michelle Mulherrin, despite arguably being better placed geographically.
Also, in assessing Dep O'Mahony's chances, it is wise not to over-concentrate on, or link his chances specifically to, the South Mayo votes. While he has the advantage of already representing the area in the Dáil, he does not actually live in that area. Insider understands the 2011 election tallies showed his FG colleagues, Dep Michael Ring, followed by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, were the biggest recipients by far in that area. Given that, and the previously outlined appeal of TDs Ó Cuív and Kyne, that may be ominous for Dep O'Mahony.
Dep O'Mahony will target Oranmore and Mayo, the strongest FG areas. In 2011 FG polled 35 per cent in Oranmore, 32 per cent in the city, and 25 per cent in Connemara. However, when Insider says Oranmore, he really means the rural areas within that ward. A lot of it is effectively city suburbs, including Oranmore itself, and this will be, in terms of majority FG votes, Sen Naughten territory. However the FG vote, while impressive in the context of Noel Grealish's 31 per cent vote share, was helped by Sen Healy-Eames who is contesting against FG this time - so some votes will split away from the blueshirts.
As such, Dep O'Mahony will need to poll well in Mayo (possible but not a given ) and Oranmore (ditto ). Furthermore he must stay ahead of Sen Naughton. However if Dep Kyne needs transfers at that point, which he probably will, he will gobble up a lot of them. The thing is though, who will be transfer back to, once elected? A case can be made for his vote going more heavily to Naughton or O'Mahoney over the other. Either scenario is plausible.
In 2011 FG' needed two quotas to take two seats. In 2016, the polls indicate it is close to two quotas, but totr FG's advantage is that it's candidates may only need to stay ahead of Dep Nolan. But are Naughten and O'Mahoney strong enough?
Dep O'Mahony is a high profile parachute candidate who has name recognition across the constituency and FG must be hoping he gets ‘a little bit here, a little bit there’. However he needs to be able to do this against a number of established politicians in those areas, including some from his own party. Are FG voters in Connemara going to opt for him over Dep Kyne for instance? Furthermore, voters often resent and reject candidates being 'parachuted' on top of them and opt to stick with the 'local boy/girl' instead.
Regardless of individual candidate prospects, to take the second seat FG need to poll well in the city. If Sen Naughton is not a contender then it raises the prospect that FG will underperform in the city, leaving Dep O'Mahony short, even if he does outpoll her. The other problem for him is that when it comes to transfers he is very isolated. Transfers from the weak field of city candidates are likely to go all over the place. This is why Labour's Dep Nolan might still sneak back into the Dáil on the back of FG and soft-Government transfers.
The upshot of all this is that FG can take two seats, but there is no guarantee that O'Mahony and Naughten are either strong enough or well placed enough to do it.