Tensions rise in Galway West Fine Gael bearpit as aspiring candidates cast an eye to next general election

Naughton nomination to Seanad a signal from Kenny of no way back for those defying the whip

“Kenny knows that iron discipline is required when you have a big majority and have to take tough decisions,’’ said a party source. Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

“Kenny knows that iron discipline is required when you have a big majority and have to take tough decisions,’’ said a party source. Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

Tue, Aug 6, 2013, 01:00

Taoiseach Enda Kenny set the cat among the pigeons in the five-seat Galway West constituency when he nominated Hildergarde Naughton to fill a Seanad vacancy just before the Oireachtas took a recess.

He was making it clear he regards the Oranmore-based councillor as a Fine Gael candidate in the next general election, endorsed by the leadership. It was a blunt signal to local Fine Gael Oireachtas representatives Brian Walsh TD and Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, who voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, that they would not be on the ticket next time. The message was also meant for others who defied the Fine Gael whip, including former minister of state and Dublin South East TD Lucinda Creighton.

“Kenny knows that iron discipline is required when you have a big majority and have to take tough decisions,’’ said a party source. “Otherwise there could be chaos, with backbenchers jumping ship in the knowledge that they could return before the next general election.’’

The five seats in Galway West are held by Walsh, Fine Gael’s Sean Kyne, Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív, Labour’s Derek Nolan and Independent Noel Grealish. They emerged in the 2011 general election from a crowded field. Competition within Fine Gael was particularly keen.

Long-serving TD Pádraic McCormack had been persuaded to run as Fine Gael continued to rebuild after the disastrous election of five years earlier. He was beaten at the selection convention and retired. Walsh received a nomination and was in fourth place with 5,425 votes on the first count. He went on to take the third seat.

Kyne had to battle it out with running mate Healy-Eames and Independent Catherine Connolly. He was just 54 votes ahead of Healy-Eames when she was eliminated on the 11th count. A share of Walsh’s surplus saw him take a seat, just 17 votes ahead of Connolly on the 13th count.

Naughton was also in the field last time, polling a creditable 3,606 first preferences and staking her claim, now confirmed by the Seanad nomination, to bid for a seat in the future. A Galway city based teacher and former mayor, she unseated high-profile party colleague John Mulholland on Galway city council in the 2009 local elections.

Walsh has appealed to the Taoiseach to continue to accommodate opponents of the abortion legislation within the party. “I spent 30 of my 40 years actively involved in Fine Gael,’’ he said. But party sources remain adamant that there will be no way back for anybody defying the party whip during the Government’s lifetime.

On her first day in the Seanad, it was suggested that Naughton, a classically trained soprano, might sing a duet with Fine Gael House leader and Kenny loyalist Maurice Cummins, who has a fine singing voice.

Cummins remarked that, whatever else, Naughton and himself would be singing from the same hymn sheet.