Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh stands on the brink of becoming the first Sinn Féin TD returned in Galway since 1922. If he pulls this off, it will be an achievement in a constituency long considered very hostile to Republicans and republicanism.
The Galway Advertiser's Galway West survey shows Sen Ó Clochartaigh with 12 per cent of first preferences - second only to Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív - and almost doubling his tally of 6.3 from the 2011 election. This, along with his combined vote, which rises to 14 per cent by the final count. While it is under the 16 to 19 per cent figures Sinn Féin is scoring in the national opinion polls, Sen Ó Clochartaigh here takes the third seat.
However, given his vote is only around two to four per cent off a quota, and coupled with the fact he is polling strongly, not only in Connemara, but also in Galway city (with modest support in Oranmore ), our survey illustrates that Sen Ó Clochartaigh will be among the main contenders for the final three seats in the constituency.
The strong showing by Sen Ó Clochartaigh comes as something of a surprise. It has widely been assumed that while Connemara has the ability to elect two candidates, it does not have sufficient numbers to return three. Furthermore, with Dep Ó Cuív as strong as ever, and Fine Gael's Dep Seán Kyne emerging as a major political presence, it was also assumed Sen Ó Clochartaigh would be squeezed out by both, and fail to pick up substantial support in his home base.
Analysis up to now also questioned Sinn Féin's electoral strategy. It was widely seen that the refusal to add Oranmore born, city based, Cllr Máiread Farrell to the ticket would result in a failure to maximise the potential vote that exists in both the city and Oranmore, and further leave the senator short.
Such analysis may need to be re-thought in light of this survey. There are a number of factors to explain this. The retirement of Fine Gael's Dep Brian Walsh has left the electoral field in Galway city wide open, with none of the city based candidates being major constituency figures, thus allowing voters more choice.
Also, SF had an excellent 2014 local election, with councillors returned in key areas across the constituency - Tom Hanley (Clifden ); Cathal O'Conchúir (Galway City West ); Anna Marley (Galway City Central ), Máiread Farrell (Galway City East ), and Gabe Cronnelly (Athenry/Oranmore ) - resulting in the party having bases and support at all key areas, and this is reflected in our survey, where Sen Ó Clochartaigh is picking up votes from across the region.
While this is encouraging for SF, it is also vital, as our survey reveals a warning. SF remains among the least transfer friendly parties, and this explains why our survey finds other candidates catching up on him as the counts progress, with Dep Kyne passing him out, taking the second seat, on the final transfer of Sen Naughton's votes - however given that Dep Kyne has running mates, and FG is coming from a stronger base, this was to be expected.
It should also be noted that SF can perform somewhat better in polls than at the actual elections, and there can be a problem in getting the vote out. What our survey does reveal is that Sen Ó Clochartaigh has real potential, but this will only translate to a seat provided SF maximise the support that now exists throughout all areas of Galway West. A seat is SF's to lose, but it can still be lost. Only a vigorous and determined campaign will prevent that.