According to the local pundits, the final seat in Galway West is looking like a straight battle between Sinn Féin and Labour. So will Connemara senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh take the seat held by city based TD Derek Nolan? Insider believes the outcome is too close to call but a look at the race raises some interesting questions.
Not running a city candidate could damage Sinn Fein’s chances of a seat. The city electorate are canny enough to know that Sen Ó Clochartaigh's first loyalty is to the Gaeltacht and Connemara. He will be hoping that, as in the 2014 local elections, Sinn Féin voters will come out to vote for the Sinn Féin brand as opposed to the candidate. General elections tend to be different. City voters are worried about the local A&E, transport, housing, and jobs and may opt for a more local candidate. This is where Nolan, the city’s sole TD, has the advantage. His focus on city issues and his local base are more appealing to these kinds of voters.
Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin have made it clear they will not serve in government with any other party except the extreme Left, so it’s possible SF will be powerless in the next Dáil. Nolan has been pushing the fact that Galway needs a TD in Government to deliver on investment and infrastructure for the region. Will this argument win out over dampened support for Labour? If Nolan’s message that he can work and deliver for Galway gets through to voters, it could severely limit Sinn Féin’s vote in Galway and its environs.
Sinn Féin has been good at highlighting public anger over the last five years. Its opponents accuse them of playing to the crowd. Its record in government in the North shows it has embraced austerity, job cuts, water, and property charges in direct contradiction to their position in the Republic. Sinn Féin has rejected these accusations of hypocrisy on the grounds that it is only a coalition partner in the North. Whether that voice of pragmatism in the North matches their fervent radicalism in the Republic is anyone’s guess.
Labour’s poll ratings remain at around nine per cent in the national polls - down to six in Monday's The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll and at seven in Tuesday's Red C poll for Paddy Power - below their historic 2011 performance. The party faces a challenge to convince enough voters to back it again at this election. Labour is not a getting any bounce for its role in fixing the economy and the junior coalition partner is getting the brunt of public anger as voters’ present day concerns, rather than Government accomplishments, inform their choice. Labour will be hoping that voters concerns about the need for a decent society, alongside a strong economy, will convince enough voters to keep it in Government, and keep the more conservative element of Fine Gael in check.
Gerry Adams’ 30 year leadership of Sinn Fein continues to be a problem for the party. Aside from Adams’ lack of economic smarts and poor debating skills, his IRA past continues to haunt him. From Jean McConville in the 1970s to the recent revelations from Maria Cahill, Adams’ past is littered with disturbing allegations. Adams still denies he was ever a member of the IRA , even when every policing, political, journalistic, and common sense voice says the opposite. The fact that a man who is widely considered to lie about his past wants to be in government may cause right minded people to think twice before voting for Sinn Fein.
While the peace process in the North has created a rehabilitated view of Sinn Féin, the recent report from the PSNI, that the IRA Army Council still calls the Sinn Féin shots (Insider asks you to excuse the pun ), caused genuine shock. The subsequent sight of Dep Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin representatives describing convicted tax evader Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy as a ‘good republican’ eroded the dedication of Sinn Féin’s newest recruits. Their intention to abolish the Special Criminal Court which convicted Murphy throws a real question over Sinn Féin’s priorities and adds credence to those who worry about the IRA’s continuing influence.
Despite all these questions, Sinn Féin’s popularity remains. They will threaten the Labour seat on February 26 by appealing to public anger and deflecting from the past. Labour will continue to claim it is a party that puts economy and society on an equal footing, and claim to be the true voice of the Left. Dep Nolan will also tell voters they need for a Galway TD at the heart of government.
The Labour seat in Galway West was carved from a rock by Michael D Higgins, and has been there since the 1980s. Michael D, who then endorsed and campaigned for Nolan as his successor, is still very much in the hearts and minds of Labour leaning voters. Whether that long held Labour tradition is replaced by Sinn Féin will be the closest fight of Galway West’s election. As is always the case on election day – only the voters will have the final say.