Take me to your leader

"Just who is Fianna Fáil's man in this town?"

Were Clint Eastwood to ride into town on a steed, canter across Eyre Square, before a final gallop up College Road to City Hall, stride in and demand of the first official he meets, "Just who is Fianna Fáil's man in this town?", what answer would he get?

The official, startled by the sight of the poncho clad Clint, would answer, "Well, Éamon Ó Cuív is". Clint, through a face full of stubble, hisses in anger through teeth clenched hard on already well chewed matchstick. "I didn't ask you about their main man in the county," he would say, words delivered slow, but with pointed menace, "I asked you who was Fianna Fáil's man in this town?"

By now the official is beginning to sweat. Clint's bared teeth, and that slight rustle under the poncho, near the hip - prompting unsettling images of Clint pulling his six shooter from the holster he surely has around his waist - means he has to think fast, but he also knowns Clint expects nothing less than full honesty. "Well," the official answers, "the truth is, nobody's really sure anymore..."

Clint, anger seething beneath the calm stubble'n'sweat soaked exterior, turns on his heel, another rustle under the poncho - the six shooter is replaced in the holster, the official standing stock still, dares to hope the worst is over - he exits the doors, and in that same menacing, under the breath, tone, says, "If Fianna Fáil stay out in the damp, they're liable to catch a cold aren't they?" before mounting his steed, and galloping off into a sunset which later appears on the Galway Advertiser Facebook page.

Insider thanks readers for indulging him in this Western theme, but he is making a serious point.

Ask who is the leading Fine Gael figure overall in Galway, and the answer is Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs Seán Kyne. The leading figure in the city though is former mayor and senator, now TD, Hildegarde Naughton - one of only two TDs elected from the city in February (but who, significantly draws a certain level of support from Galway West's eastern section ).

For Sinn Féin, Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh is the overall leading figure. In the city, the party's key figure is Cllr Mairead Farrell, who, like Dep Naughton, draws support from both the city and Oranmore. The ex-PD Independents are led by Carnmore based Dep Noel Grealish, but their central city figure is Cllr Declan McDonnell.

And as for Labour? Well, councillors Billy Cameron and Niall McNelis only have each other, and Labour's glory days of being the largest party in the city, with a nationally known and respected TD seem a very distant memory. As for the rest of the Left - or, rather, the real Left, as some might say, Independent TD Catherine Connolly dominates, and she crucially has both city and Connemara support.

The 'overmighty' Ó Cuív?


So what then of Fianna Fáil? Dep Éamon Ó Cuív dominates all aspects of Galway FF. He enjoys the safest seat in the State and ensures FF always has a win in Galway West, but that dominance comes at a price. Witness February's General Election, when FF in GW received 24.31 per cent of the vote, resulting in one seat, while FG received a lower number of votes - 24.03 per cent - but took two seats.

This is due, in part, to Dep Ó Cuív's massive 14.84 per cent share of the vote, while his running mates took modest tallies of 6.04 per cent and 3.43 per cent. FG, by contrast, spread its votes more evenly - Seán Kyne (9.55 ), Hildegarde Naughton (7.11 ), and John O'Mahony (7.37 ) - giving the three candidates a more equal chance. Worth noting is that O'Mahony lasted until the final (13th ) count, unlike FF's John Connolly (12th ) and Mary Hoade (eighth ).

As a result, it is more than a little difficult for FF's city representatives to assert themselves when in the presence of one of the towering figures of Galway politics.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that FF's three councillors in the city - while highly respected, hard working, and popular - are rather low key these days. Cllr Mike Crowe can still mix it, but he's not quite the colourful character of his "I'm sick of trees" and fighting the Galway Alliance Against War days, and it seems unlikely he will run for the Dáil again.

For a time, Cllr Ollie Crowe was seen as the heir apparent to Dep Ó Cuív, but he too has scaled back his ambitions for the time being, as has Cllr Peter Keane. This leaves FF's city based candidate from February, John Connolly, as the unofficial 'heir apparent' to the city seat once held by former TD Frank Fahey. Mr Connolly's only problem is that he is not an elected representative, so he does not carry authority. If he is serious about future political ambitions he will have to plan for a run in the 2019 locals - or hope his party leader pulls the plug on Enda Kenny's coalition so he can run in a general election while his name is still in Galway West voters' minds.

In essence, FF lacks a central presence/personality in the city, and if it is serious about taking two seats it needs to blood a candidate who can command the majority of his/her support in an area with a population of 75,000. However...

This town ain't big enough for the both of us

Good bad ugly

The whole thing may yet be academic. The report commissioned by the former, and very much unlamented, environment minister Alan Kelly into a proposed amalgamation of the Galway city and county councils, was published late last month. The report calls for our two local authorities to be merged into a new body, the Greater Galway Local Authority. City councillors are unanimous (for once ) in their opposition, while a majority of county councillors are also opposed.

There are many permutations as to what may happen if - more likely when - the councils are forced to amalgamate in 2019, but a distinct possibility is that the number of councillors in Galway will drop from its current 57 to 30 or 40, meaning there will be fewer councillors than there are now. As a result, the city will have fewer councillors than it has at present, resulting in the city not having the same clout as before - a fact already borne out in February, with the county areas of Galway West electing three TDs to the city's two - and both city TDs were helped to those seats by county votes.

By 2019, when Clint rides into the town on a steed, he may never need to ask, 'Who is Fianna Fáil (or any party's ) man in this town?" He will only have to ask who is the county's main man or leading lady.



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