Storm damage, flooding, farming policy, wind turbines and fish farms might seem like potential local election issues in Galway county, but daily survival and disillusionment with the established parties are dominant themes.
That’s the view of a cross-party selection of some 74 candidates competing for 39 seats across a county that extends from the banks of the Shannon to the bens of Connemara.
Fine Gael controls the outgoing council, with 12 of 30 seats, while there are nine Independents, eight Fianna Fáíl and one Sinn Féin.
Given the consensus that loyalty in local elections is to “local” first and party second, one might hazard a guess that this balance might not change.
However there are nine extra seats to fill, as a result of the abolition of Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Tuam town councils and due also to a 10 per cent increase in population between 2006 and 2011.
There were 60 candidates five years ago, and the 74 nominees this time comprise 23 Independents, 19 Fine Gael, 19 Fianna Fáil, six Sinn Féin, five Labour, one Republican Sinn Féin, and one Fís Nua.
County secretary Michael Owens points out the most significant boundary change is the creation of the Athenry-Oranmore electoral area, involving seven seats, with the transfer of Athenry and environs from Loughrea to join Oranmore.
Sitting councillors were thrilled to have the day out last Friday with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar, both turning the symbolic sods for the M17/M18 Gort to Tuam motorway which promises 450 jobs.
Roads, further flooding, the property and water taxes are issues in the south of the county, but, as one weary candidate observed, “the people who moan most are the ones who aren’t even on the electoral register”.
Out west in Connemara, where competition is expected to be stiffest, people don't actually complain directly at all, according to outgoing Independent Seosamh Ó Cuaig, standing down after two terms on the local authority and three on Údarás na Gaeltachta. "Most people are far too polite," Ó Cuaig explains. "You are more likely to be asked were you drowned in that pothole coming up, or did you notice it at all?"
That said, the impact of the EU habitats directive on small-time economic activities, when exemptions are sought for big projects, along with potential loss of post offices and Garda stations, are concerns.
Broadband services have joined roads and footpaths as “hardy annuals” and there is a perception farming policies have anti-west/anti- small farmer bias.
The word is that former Progressive Democrat and now Independent Tom Welby will top the poll in Connemara, while Fianna Fáil's Seán Ó Tuarisg, who has a big island following, will be close behind.
Several Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates in north Connemara are said to be under pressure, while new faces include Labour candidate Joe Curran, a former Galway Gaeltacht project officer with a strong community background, from Kilkieran, and independent Ronan Garvey, a businessman from Leenane.
In the north of the county, the Barnaderg community, fighting to retain its post office, has invited all candidates to a public meeting tomorrow. In Tuam, Independent councillor Shaun Cunniffe supports residents opposed to a car park expansion, while Fianna Fáil says it is getting a good response to Nora Fahy, a community development manager from Williamstown.
Disenchantment with parties
In fact, Fianna Fáil is getting a good response everywhere, according to Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív, while rivals say there is disenchantment with all the major parties.
“Property tax and water charges are coming up, but we are also being asked when are we going to get the current administration out,” Ó Cuív says.
Sinn Féin is fielding six candidates, which some observers believe to be too few given its standing in the polls. However, the party says that it hopes to make the most of first preferences.
As in 2009, Independents are expected to do well overall.
Some 20 per cent of candidates are female. Islanders will be focusing on candidates likely to influence retention of their air service.