Can Oliver’s Army help Crowe survive ‘The Group of Death’?

Cllr John Connolly and Ollie Crowe are the Fianna Fáil candidates for Galway City Central, a ward which rivals Galway City East for competitiveness and which has been rightly dubbed ‘The Group of Death’. Only one of them will survive the Local Election on June 5.

The long, protracted, almost Byzantine saga of who will be Cllr Connolly’s running mate finally came to an end late last week when Ollie Crowe, brother of Cllr Michael J Crowe, was chosen over former Mayor Martin Quinn.

It had been widely speculated for some time that Mr Crowe would emerge victorious, despite the alleged lobbying for Mr Quinn from Galway West TD Frank Fahey, and fears of what some call “a take-‘Crowe’-ver of Galway city Fianna Fáil” by the Bohermore brothers.

Now Mr Crowe is on the ticket, what might the future hold for him?

Both he and Cllr Connolly face a tough task. The ward is a four-seater and home to some of the Galway City Council’s heavyweights. Fine Gael Mayor Padriag Conneely and Labour Cllr Billy Cameron are set to keep their seats. Though by no means a certainty, Labour Cllr Colette Connolly should hold on.

While Mike Joyce (Sinn Féin ), Maíread Ní Chroínín (Greens ) and Independents Mike Cubbard and Mike Geraghty are running here as well, many feel that, despite the disdain with which Fianna Fáil is currently held by the public, the party will secure one seat here.

This means only one survivor. Who will it be? Cllr Connolly or Mr Crowe?

The incompetence of the Cowen, Lenihan, Coughlan troika over the economy and their response to the recession has resulted in Fianna Fáil becoming politically toxic and Public Enemy No 1. There will be a fall in the FF vote in city central, hence some members are speaking of the party securing the last seat, rather than the top spot as Cllr Connolly did in 2004.

In elections geography and transfers are everything. Like it or not they can be even more important that what you stand for.

Cllr Connolly is located in the west of the ward - its most congested area, alongside Mayor Conneely, Cllr Cameron, Cllr Connolly, and Mike Geraghty (who ran in 2004 and would be well known in the area ). All will be ‘drinking from the same trough’ of votes and competing fiercely for every one.

Mr Crowe, on the other hand, is located in the east of the ward which is free of big names and he has virtually all of Bohermore, Lough Atalia, College Road, and the city centre to himself - Michael J’s old stomping ground.

Mr Crowe is from Bohermore and is even better known than his brother. Many feel his family connections in the area, his popularity, and lack of proximity to other big names in the ward, will see him emerge as the stronger of the two FF candidates and see him take the seat.

To this we must also add the Crowe secret weapon - the campaign team we must surely now call Oliver’s Army.

In 2004, a virtual unknown by the name of Michael J Crowe topped the poll in the old North and East Ward, beating off the likes of Cllr Tom Costello, Cllr Declan McDonnell, and the late Cllr Michael Leahy.

A major reason for his success was the team he had behind him who helped mastermind his election victory. That same team also helped Cllr Crowe put in a credible performance in the 2007 General Election, which saw the Bohermore man make the final count.

That team knows Bohermore and the city centre well and know how to sell help their man to the voters. They will be doing that for Ollie this summer as well as for Michael.

No doubt there are those in Fianna Fáil (both Cllr Connolly supporters and the anti-Crowe faction ) who are hearing the strains of Elvis Costello’s 1979 classic in their ears: “Oliver’s army is here to stay/Oliver’s army are on their way/And I would rather be anywhere else/But here today.”

Cllr Connolly’s supporters must be fearing for him. As well as being stranded in the most congested part of the ward, the recent boundary changes saw part of his heartland removed (some did suggest at the time he relocate to Galway City West ).

Is there any hope for Cllr Connolly? In order to win the seat, Mr Crowe will need an exceptional showing on the first count as Cllr Connolly is better placed for transfers. Ironically, being among the likes of Conneely, Cameron, and Geraghty could yield transfers for him. He, and they, are all high profile and in a local election, cross party transfers are more likely.

If the expected anti-Fianna Fáil mood is strong, then Mr Crowe may not benefit sufficiently from the ‘He’s the local lad’ factor in Bohermore.

While being a sitting councillor is no guarantee that he will be returned, should the above scenario come to pass it will benefit Cllr Connolly. Fianna Fáil is still likely to take a seat and if Mr Crowe falters, Cllr Connolly may benefit by being the known name with five years’ work to his credit (and in the current climate there may be a touch of the ‘better the divil ye know’ ).

Another point to bear in mind is that if Cllr Michael J Crowe gets into trouble in Galway City East - remember his heartland is gone into Galway City Central, Fianna Fáil are struggling in the polls, the ward has been reduced to a six seater, Labour are gaining strength, etc - Olivers Army will join the ‘Crowe Crew’ to focus on Galway City East at Ollie’s expense.

Taken altogether, it is hard to predict just who will take the seat. Both men have reasons to be confident, although at this point in time many are still convinced that Mr Crowe has the edge.

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