Galway West - youth waiting in the wings for its chance

In the meantime, the incumbents look set to stay on

TDs Hildegarde Naughton and Catherine Connolly - looking set to return to the Dáil after the next election? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

TDs Hildegarde Naughton and Catherine Connolly - looking set to return to the Dáil after the next election? Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

So when is the next General Election? For 18 months after the 2016 poll we were told "There'll be an election in six months." The Government came perilously close to collapse just before Christmas, but now? It seems an election is further away, rather than coming down the tracks fast.

The view now tends towards an election taking place in the summer at the very, very, earliest, but most likely in 2019. Either way, the parties in Galway West are on a solid election footing with the candidates largely in place. Declared candidates are Éamon Ó Cúiv (Fianna Fáil ) to be joined by Cllr Peter Keane or John Connolly; Minister of State Seán Kyne and Dep Hildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael ); Cllr Mairead Farrell (Sinn Féin ); Cllr Niall McNelis (Labour ); Dep Catherine Connolly, Dep Noel Grealish, Cllr Mike Cubbard (Independents ); Niall Ó Tuathail (Social Democrats ), Joe Loughnane (People Before Profit ), Jessy Ní Cheallaigh (Solidarity ), and Pauline O'Reilly (Greens ).

Independent senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has yet to declare if he will run in Galway West; Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael traditionally run three candidates in Galway West and may yet do so - through the wisdom of such a move might need to be questioned; there is speculation Sen Alice-Mary Higgins could yet throw her hat in the ring; while a couple of fringe independents can be expected to materialise on the ballot paper.

This leaves Galway West with 13 declared candidates, and a final possible total of 15/17, seeking five seats on election day - or rather four. Dep Éamon Ó Cúiv has the safest seat in the State and can look forward to being returned to the Dáíl for the sixth election in a row, and being first to be elected again as he was in 2002, 2007, 2011, and 2016.

As such, every other candidate is competing for four seats. Another looking likely to return is Minister Kyne. Only a few years ago, no serious political pundit would suggest Connemara, with its smaller population than the city, could return two candidates. In 2011 it happened - Ó Cúiv in the west and Kyne in the east. In 2016, the Dynamic Duo did it again - both with increased percentages (14.84 per cent, up 2.54 for Ó Cúiv; 9.55 per cent for Kyne, up 2.05 ).

The principal is now firmly established that Connemara can return two candidates. Both men also draw substantial, and invaluable, support from the west of the city. In Dep Kyne's case, having a junior ministry and the higher profile it brings (as well as being in a position to dole out funding in the constituency ) places him in a very strong position to return to the Dáil next time out.

It used to be a truism in Galway West post the 2016 election, the most vulnerable seat in the constituency was Hildegarde Naughton's and that the other parties needed to take her out, if they wanted to win a seat. That view no longer holds. No one is writing off Dep Naughton anymore.

Despite backing Simon Coveney for the leadership; the decidedly mixed messages she was sending out from the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment; and having a junior minister for a running mate, she is seen as being a contender for a seat. Why?

While he lost the FG leadership race, Simon Coveney was the clear choice (65 per cent ) of the membership for leader, meaning Dep Naughton might be more in touch with FG grassroots than appears to outsiders. Also, Insider understands that Dep Naughton is privately more sympathetic to the pro-Choice view than she might let on publicly. This, coupled with her support for the Teach Solas LGBT Resource Centre, means she can draw support (and crucially transfers ) from voters who would not normally be inclined to Fine Gael. She has also managed to maintain herself in the public eye, both locally and nationally, and is certainly not one of the 'anonymous backbench TDs'.

In the seven stages of grief, Labour is still firmly stuck in the denial stage. Some party members are realistic. They know it will take two election cycles at least; a revitalised (ie, new ) front bench; and a firm move away from the centrist liberalism it now espouses, towards re-engagement with moderate socialism, before it can begin to be a serious force again in Irish politics. Others though? They do not think such questions need asking, never mind answering. They also are fond of deluding themselves that Catherine Connolly has no a hope of getting re-elected.

This is a pity, because Cllr Niall McNelis is a very strong candidate, with an important advantage in that his business community links and track record of community work means he can pull in votes from across the board, especially from those who would not vote Labour/liberal/left, etc. As such Cllr McNelis is 'right candidate, wrong time'. At best, he can hope to improve the party's 5.01 per cent result of 2016 and perhaps get a nomination to run for the Seanad.

With Labour on the floor and out for the count (and not even aware it is ), this should be an open goal for Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats. However with Sinn Féin's internal divisions and implosions, it seems Cllr Farrell will have to wait a while longer before she becomes the first SF TD elected in Galway since 1922.

The Social Democrats enjoy some of the most enthusiastic, driven, and committed memberships in Galway, and we can expect an energetic campaign with high visibility. Mr Ó Tuathail did well last time out, but he and Cllr McNelis will largely be drawing from the same pool of votes. If the Soc Dems are to have a future in Galway, they need to be polling ahead of Labour and the second Fianna Fáil candidate to be in with any chance of challenging for a seat.

All parties, on whatever section of the Left spectrum they fall, know the lion's share of the Left vote will go to Dep Catherine Connolly, who draws votes not just from the city, but also Connemara. This, along with her impressive Dáil and television performances, and her keeping close to her constituency, puts her in a good position to retain her seat. It is a mistake to write her off.

In Cllr Farrell, Mr Ó Tuathail, and also Cllr Mike Cubbard (who should increase his vote from last time out ), Galway West has three of the most talented and able young politicians it has seen in many years. Insider feels they face a not impossible, but certainly uphill, battle to win a seat at the next General Election. However, he would not rule out seeing them becoming TDs at some stage - they have time on their side.

In terms of the smaller parties, the Greens, People Before Profit, and Solidarity will be looking to increase their vote share, and take note of the areas where they are strongest, with a view to making headway in the local elections.


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