Fine Gael - short of winning two seats?

Sean Kyne looks set to hold on, but his running mates could struggle

Seán Kyne is on course to retain his seat in Election 2016, but will he be joined by any of his running mates? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Seán Kyne is on course to retain his seat in Election 2016, but will he be joined by any of his running mates? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

National opinion poll figures over the last month have seen Fine Gael come in between 28 to 32 per cent, which, if replicated on polling day in Galway West would ensure two seats.

Yet, national polls cannot take into account micro issues and local geographical factors, and this has led Galway political watchers to shy away from declaring two seats outright for FG, with Dep John O'Mahony, currently TD for Mayo, being an unknown quantity here; Sen Hildegarde Naughton's profile having seemingly nosedived since her 'elevation' to Seand Éireann; and the resignation of FG's standard bearer, Dep Brian Walsh, for health reasons, leaving the party bereft of a big name candidate in Galway city.

Dep Seán Kyne, who only narrowly made it into the Dáil in 2011, has since emerged as the pre-eminent FGer, and is widely seen as a near certainty for a seat. His constituency work and an ability to command cross party respect have been key to allowing him assert himself in Connemara, in spite of the utter dominance of Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív. The absence of Dep Walsh has freed up much of the FG and soft-FG votes in the city for Dep Kyne.

The overall view is that Dep Kyne will take a seat for FG, and while a second is achievable, though not guaranteed. If Sen Naughton or Dep O'Mahony cancel each other out/perform poorly, Labour's Derek Nolan, who could also profit from Dep Walsh's absence, can then take enough pro-Government votes in the city to hang on.

Our survey shows FG taking 25 per cent of the vote - a drop of six points from Election 2011. A drop is not unusual for a sitting government, and while the Galway West figure is below the national poll figures, it is strong enough for FG to challenge for a second seat.

Our survey confirms the increasingly widespread view of Dep Kyne's re-election prospects. He is the leading FG candidate, polling 10.5 per cent - a three per cent increase on 2011 - with his vote equally split between the city and Connemara, which will be invaluable to him. However he may not be quite the 'dead cert' he is increasingly being viewed as, with the main threat coming from inside his own ranks in the shape of Sen Naughton.

Sen Naughton, one of the major surprises of our survey, takes 7.5 per cent on the first count (the same figure Dep Kyne polled in 2011 ), closing the gap on him as the count progresses, reducing this three per cent lead to just one by the time she is eliminated. So, while she fails to win a seat here, she lasts until the final counts.

Given our survey showed 17 per cent of voters are still making up their mind, Sen Naughton still emerges stronger than anticipated, and, our survey shows she has the potential to be in the mix for the final seat. She has form here, being a surprise winner of a city council seat in 2009, and beating FG veteran John Mulholland in the process.

A concern though, is that the record of female candidates in Galway West is abysmal - Máire Geoghegan Quinn remains the exception - with Margaret Cox, Fidelma Healy-Eames, and Catherine Connolly, all being touted but missing out.

Sen Naughton's performance could potentially decide the outcome. Given how close she runs Dep Kyne in our survey, he will be concerned she does not overtake him, or come too close. 2011 saw the election of three Government TDs, but only by 17 votes, and with a groundswell of public support. As such, if Sen Naughton and Dep Kyne are returned, there will be little hope of Labour's Derek Nolan. To win three seats in a five seater requires 48 per cent, and Government support is well short of that, both in our survey and across opinion polls for some time. In this scenario, the way is opened for Independent left councillor Catherine Connolly to win a seat. The challenge for FG therefore is to keep its second candidate ahead of Labour at all stages.

The third Fine Gael candidate, John O'Mahony, polls seven per cent in our survey, but as the count progresses, Sen Naughton increases her lead over him. However, the accuracy of polling in later counts is unreliable so analysis must proceed with caution. It is also worth noting that the inclusion of South Mayo does not enhance Dep O'Mahony's chances as support splits evenly between him and FF's Dep Ó Cúiv. However, given he will draw a largely rural vote, his transfers may favour Dep Kyne over Sen Naughton, and could prove essential to the Connemara man keeping his seat.

Overall, our survey confirms the general view that FG is guaranteed a seat, and is in with a fighting chance of a second, but is vulnerable to its candidates falling short, which would allow Dep Nolan or Cllr Connolly win instead. In short, FG can take nothing for granted.

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