FF vulnerable while Labour exposed as Higgins bows out

Thu, Feb 3, 2011, 00:00

CONSTITUENCY PROFILE:UNLIKE THE Atlantic seaboard weather, there’s been an air of predictability about Galway West during the past two general election campaigns.

Not so this time, with expectations that Fianna Fáil will lose one of its two sitting TDs, and Labour unable to bank on anything as Michael D Higgins bows out in search of the party’s presidential nomination.

As fellow intellectual Heraclitus might say, “there is nothing permanent except change”.

Fianna Fáil’s Frank Fahey might subscribe to that maxim too. His strategy during previous elections has involved making dire forecasts about his future which then prove to be false.

Party leader Micheál Martin insisted yesterday that Fahey will run again, despite some local speculation to the contrary, alongside Minister for Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív, and city Mayor Mike Crowe in a three-candidate strategy.

Fine Gael has adopted a bold plan in running four nominees, but its internal poll of the constituency which influenced this decision was taken at a time when Higgins was still a possible rival. The treatment of party chairman and sitting TD Pádraig McCormack still rankles with some blueshirt loyalists. McCormack, who had to be persuaded to stand again in 2007, was outmanoeuvred in his bid for selection this time round.

The Fine Gael front runner may be Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, while city councillor Hildegarde Naughton could appeal to the middle-classes. Former mayor Councillor Brian Walsh is also running in the city, while county councillor Seán Kyne represents “suburban” Connemara.

There are no guarantees for Higgins’s Labour heir apparent, Derek Nolan, who is a councillor. Ironically, NUI Galway law lecturer and independent

Seanad candidate Donncha O’Connell is synonymous with the social justice issues that Higgins has pioneered.

The real threat to Nolan will come from dissident Labourites, principally councillor and barrister Catherine Connolly, who resigned in protest in 2006 when she was denied her wish to run alongside Higgins. Connolly subsequently polled just over 2,000 votes in 2007.

She would need to triple this vote, but could swing it with a solid city base and support from the iconoclastic Independent councillor Seosamh Ó Cuaig in Connemara. There should be two left-wing quotas in the constituency, according to Fianna Fáil sources. But Labour’s lack of team-building skills also cost it Ros na Rún producer and community activist Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, selected for Sinn Féin, who ran for Labour in the 2004 local elections and moved stables five years later.

Former PD and now Independent councillor Thomas Welby has his finger on the pulse out Oughterard way, while his former party colleague, sitting TD Noel Grealish (Ind) will have gained credit for gauging the public mood in pulling support from the Government last year. Green Party Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin has a high profile, but is likely to become a lightning rod for people’s anger.

Eamon Walsh, a founding member of Hope4Disability, is running on disability and health justice issues. Another candidate is 25-year-old Mike Cubbard, who stood in the local elections in 2009.

GALWAY WEST: 5 SEATS
OUTGOING TDs: Éamon Ó Cuív (FF); Frank Fahey (FF); Michael D Higgins (Lab); Padraig McCormack (FG); Noel Grealish (Ind)

2011 CANDIDATES:Éamon Ó Cuív (FF), Frank Fahey (FF), Mike Crowe (FF), Fidelma Healy-Eames (FG), Sean Kyne (FG), Hildegarde Naughton (FG), Brian Walsh (FG), Derek Nolan (Lab), Niall O Brolchain (Green), Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (SF), Catherine Connolly (Ind), Mike Cubbard (Ind), Noel Grealish (Ind), Eamon Walsh (Ind), Thomas Welby (Ind).

LOCAL ISSUES:HSE West’s staffing moratorium affecting beds at Galway University Hospital; infrastructure, including lack of
public transport, shortage of schools and the continuing impasse over the Galway outer bypass; water quality; impact of EU directives and the ban on turf cutting on certain blanket bogs

VERDICT:FF 1 ; FG 1; Lab 1; Ind 2