Galway City Council
The winners, the losers and the old reliables
• The winners
This election was fertile ground for new councillors in Galway City, with the 2009 – 2014 council set to be full of new, fresh faces.
Galway City West elected three new faces in the shape of Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton, Fianna Fáil’s Peter Keane, who swam against the national tide, and Labour’s Níall McNelis, who surfed a tidal wave of Labour support.
Although I predicted the election of Hildegarde Naughton, the defeat of John Mulholland is one of the shocks of this contest, particularly in light of Keane’s sterling performance for Fianna Fáil. I was also rather surprised that McNelis got elected - his previous run for FG could have discredited his Labour credentials but didn't.
All the indicators had been that FF would receive a serious bashing in Galway City West but Keane managed to beat all the odds and win a much-needed seat for his party there. The victory of Níall McNelis follows the national Labour trend, and also shows the strength of a campaign that started well before Christmas.
In Galway City Central, Ollie Crowe managed to beat the anti-Fianna Fáil sentiment to storm home with the third seat, but at the expense of his party colleague, John Connolly. Crowe’s campaign had targeted Connolly from day one and the win, while bucking the national trend, was not altogether surprising.
Galway City East held onto its stalwarts but elected one new face, Derek Nolan of Labour. Nolan ran a strong campaign in 2004, just missing out on the final seat, and used the intervening time to consolidate his support. He managed to outpoll party colleague Tom Costello, almost unseating him, but the party’s clever strategy of running a third candidate ensured that Costello’s transfers brought him ahead of sitting councillor Mary Leahy. Leahy was also targeted by the Crowe campaign, which reportedly told residents of Ballybane that she would move Travellers into their area.
• The losers
In Galway City West, an unexpected surge for Peter Keane and a very strong first preference vote for Hildegarde Naughton managed to see off both Níall Ó Brolcháin and John Mulholland.
While Ó Brolcháin had been acknowledged as vulnerable due to his party’s current unpopularity, the unseating of John Mulholland was completely unexpected.
Speaking on Sunday, a dejected Ó Brolcháin said his party, which has lost all but three council seats nationally, would have to re-examine its future in Government. His day job is with the Green Party, so it's a fair guess he won't be itching for a general election despite his comments.
Former Mayor Mulholland was just 20 first preferences behind Labour’s Níall McNelis. He has been a long-time councillor and there had been suggestions that he would not re-run this time, as he had clearly been growing frustrated with the petty politics of the 04 – 09 council. He didn't run a massive campaign and has been lacklustre in council meetings, not attending a fair amount of them.
Daniel Callanan, who ran in Galway City West after moving from his previous seat in Galway City East, was always an outside chance to win. Hoping to capitalise on an anti-government vote and an extra seat being added to GCW, Callanan was blown out of the water by a surprisingly strong vote for both Peter Keane and Val Hanley. Callanan's abrasive style of politics also wouldn't go down well in what he calls "the leafy suburbs". However, he is now threatening to blow the whistle on what he says is widespread wrongdoing within City Hall, so the most recent mayor, among others, would really want to watch out.
In Galway City Central, Bohermore stood behind local publican Ollie Crowe at the expense of John Connolly, one of Fianna Fáil’s great white hopes for future general elections in the Galway West constituency after he topped the poll in 2004, getting elected on the first count and unseating former Mayor Martin Quinn. The Crowe machine which had served sitting councillor Michael so well, saw off John Connolly, although he did come fourth on first preferences, losing out to Labour Councillor Colette Connolly on transfers.
In Galway City East, the biggest constituency, the only sitting councillor to lose out was Fianna Fáil’s Mary Leahy. This was Leahy’s first election as she was co-opted following the death of her father, Michael Leahy, and it was always going to be tight. Despite running a strong campaign, she just narrowly missed out on the sixth seat to Labour’s Tom Costello, and the failure of Michael Crowe to transfer adequately to her will no doubt be a bone of contention within the party.
Crowe now controls all three FF seats on the City Council and is looking like a very strong candidate for the next General Election - no doubt Frank Fahey is already looking over his shoulder.
• The old reliables
In Galway City West, the old reliables got a shake-up, although King of Knocknacarra, Donal Lyons and former Labour Mayor Catherine Connolly proved more durable than both John Mulholland and Níall Ó Brolcháin. Donal Lyons hasn’t put a foot wrong yet and even the demise of the PDs and the lack of any facilities in Knocknacarra hasn’t dented his popularity. Topping the poll yet again, he proved that posters are not the only way to get elected. Catherine Connolly was also a shoo-in, polling particularly well in her home turf of the Claddagh.
In Galway City Central, there was a surprise as Padraig Conneely failed to top the poll, garnering 19.6 per cent of the vote. This was just behind Labour’s Billy Cameron, with 20.6 per cent. Cameron’s 1,065 first preferences brought him in on the first count as he was over the quota. Both have performed well on the last council and their re-election was not surprising, even after a well-timed leak in relation to Cameron’s expenses claims last week. The source of the leak is thought to have been Conneely, so there will be scores to settle in the next council.
Labour’s Colette Connolly was in some danger, polling fewer first preferences than newcomer Ollie Crowe (777) and John Connolly (599), with just 541 first preferences. However, she took the fourth seat nonetheless, showing the strong left wing preferences in the area as she benefited from the transfers of the Greens’ Mairéad Ní Chroinín and Sinn Féin’s Anna Marley.
In Galway City East, former PD stalwarts Terry O’Flaherty and Declan McDonnell both came in just shy of the quota, proving that their popularity lies in personal votes and not in party loyalty.
Third in was Fianna Fáil’s Michael J Crowe, whose solid vote of 1,045 was proof that not everyone hates the main government party. His continued success and the election of his brother Ollie in his first election threaten to take over Fianna Fáil in the city.
Tom Costello of Labour had a battle on his hands to keep hold of his seat, after being outpolled by party colleague Derek Nolan, but was elected on the tenth count along with Michael Crowe.
Brian Walsh of Fine Gael, despite increasing his vote, should have done better, considering his party’s current popularity. Failing to bring in a second seat in this six seater – especially given that Barra Nevin polled 622 first preferences, impressive for a first-time candidate – will not go down well with head office, which could have rightly expected to gain at least one seat in Galway, and didn't.