And now, the end is near… With two days left to polling day, I figured it was time to put my money where its mouth is and make a few predictions for the week’s showdown.
Contrary to popular opinion, I believe Fianna Fáil will not suffer the predicted drubbing in the local elections, largely because FF has very few seats on Galway City Council anyway and what’s there is mostly a personal vote.
At the moment Fianna Fáil holds no seat in Galway City West, just one in Galway City Central, and two in Galway City East. Any reduction in that would be surprising, but it is possible that the party could lose a seat in Galway City East, purely due to the cut in that area’s seat allocation.
Changes in boundary have resulted in Galway City East losing one of its seven seats, while Galway City West gains one. Galway City Central remains the same.
Galway City West: 5 seats
Galway City West’s sitting councillors are four of the city’s highest profile politicians. King of Knocknacarra, Donal Lyons, who topped the poll last time out, with over 20 per cent of votes, should do the same again.
The other three sitting councillors – Green Cllr Niall O Brolcháin, Independent Cllr Catherine Connolly and Fine Gael’s John Mulholland – should also be safe. Connolly has performed very well and being an Independent should not dent her strong left-wing vote. Mulholland will probably improve on his 2004 performance as part of a Fine Gael bounce. O Brolcháin could suffer from the Greens’ bad press since they entered Government, but being in Government has its advantages and it has given him a much stronger voice since his last run out.
As for the new fifth seat, added to reflect the area’s growing population and the addition of Taylor’s Hill, it’s tough to call. Cllr Daniel Callanan’s high profile will be of help to him but his Sinn Féin roots could prove a no-no in Galway City West, where SF candidates have never done well.
Of the new candidates in that area, Independent AJ Cahill has some sound ideas and is being well received, particularly due to his business background and modern outlook. However, his lack of party machine and attraction of transfers could see him losing out to Hildegarde Naughton. Naughton is well known already from her voluntary work and her solid FG credentials see her in with a real chance of accompanying John Mulholland onto the council for Fine Gael. She should also transfer well from Donal Lyons.
Fianna Fáil’s two candidates in the area, former Mayor Val Hanley and newcomer Peter Keane, have been getting a tough time on the doors and their chances are limited by the FF backlash, as well as the difficulty of attracting transfers in an area with such large personalities. While Hanley has a long track record and Keane’s youthful enthusiasm would normally stand him in good stead, this is not their election to shine, given public sentiment.
Niall McNelis of the Labour Party has run a very high profile campaign, but his previous run for Fine Gael in Galway City East calls his leftwing credentials into question, so he may not transfer well from O Brolcháin and Connolly.
Sinn Féin’s candidate Tom Hanly has run a somewhat low-profile campaign, and the lack of party support will be a problem for him, despite his youth and solid policy ideas.
Mystery man Aidan McCabe’s campaign has been conducted below the radar, and his impact will be minimal.
Predictions: Lyons to top the poll, followed closely by Connolly and Mulholland. O Brolcháin and Naughton to take the last two seats, although Naughton could face a battle with AJ Cahill for the last seat.
Galway City Central: 4 seats
Galway City Central is another tough area for newcomers and unseating any of the incumbents is going to be a tough job
They say the worst enemies are always to be found within a party and that has proven true, with a behind-the-scenes war between 2004 poll-topper John Connolly and the Crowe machine.
Looking at the 2004 results, it’s arguable that not much will change apart from the order in which the candidates get elected. With Fianna Fáil’s current woes, John Connolly is unlikely to top the poll. That honour will probably go to Fine Gael’s Padraig Conneely, on the back of a strong performance as Mayor. Meanwhile, Colette Connolly and Billy Cameron’s strong records should see them both home and dry.
That leaves the last seat to a battle, probably between John Connolly and Ollie Crowe. Although Crowe is a first-time candidate, he has serious weight behind him in Bohermore and could pull in a lot of ‘old Galway’ votes, as well as his brother’s supporters. There’s a possibility that good vote management (unlikely) between these two could get both elected and shunt out a sitting councillor, but that possibility is remote as neither seems inclined to share and they have not been seen to divide the constituency.
Independent candidates Mike Geraghty and Mike Cubbard have both run decent grassroots campaigns but will find it very difficult to break into this very straight-laced constituency. The Greens’ Mairéad Ní Chroinín has not been very visible, while Sinn Féin’s Anna Marley is also running in Oranmore and probably won’t poll very well.
Predictions: Conneely to top the poll, followed by Cameron and Colette Connolly. Last seat a fight between John Connolly and Ollie Crowe, which Connolly should – just – win.
Galway City East 6 seats
Galway City East is geographically massive and home to a very diverse population. Although it’s geographically the largest, it has just lost one seat in the boundary changes. Luckily for the sitting councillors, Daniel Callanan decided to move with the times and is now running in Galway City West, which has gained a seat. This should leave them safe enough but for the threat from new candidates.
Mike Crowe, who topped the poll as an Independent in 2004, would have been better off remaining independent, given the current anti-Fianna Fáil sentiment. While Backroom doubts he will top the poll this time – anger over his joining FF and also the loss of Bohermore – he should be safe enough unless there is a total meltdown.
Fine Gael’s Brian Walsh came in second in 2004 and there’s no reason he wouldn’t top the poll this time round. Although he is not the most vocal councillor, being the only sitting FGer will do him the world of good. If he had a more prominent running mate, he could even bring someone in with him, but the three-candidate strategy has only succeeded in muddying the waters in a large constituency like Galway City East.
Former Progressive Democrats Declan McDonnell and Terry O’Flaherty should see no change in their vote following their party’s collapse. Both of their votes have always been intensely personal, and there is no reason for this to change. Both are good workers on the ground and well known.
Labour’s Tom Costello also has the advantage of being the only sitting Labour candidate. He should do better than last time round, following a high profile year as Mayor and with a Labour bounce. His most promising running mate is Derek Nolan, who just missed out on the last seat in 2004, and should be in with a real chance this time if Costello can transfer. In fact, it’s possible that Nolan would take some votes from Costello and the transfers could be working vice-versa.
The fact that Labour is also running Nuala Nolan and the presence of Green James Hope and SF’s Martin Concannon on the ballot mean there should be ample left wing transfers when they are eliminated, although Hope should poll fairly well given his good profile and effective campaign.
Fianna Fáil’s Mary Leahy has a real battle on her hands to keep her late father’s seat. Between anti-Fianna Fáil sentiment and the fact that this is her first election, she will have to work hard to hold her ground. Since she took the seat, there has also been a backlash against candidates with family members in politics. However, she has been a formidable worker on the ground and has been aware from day one of the commitment involved, so, unless Fianna Fáil suffers a meltdown, she should scrape in.
Of the new candidates, James Hope is the most visible, as mentioned above. Fianna Fáil’s Sheila Mangan would ordinarily do well but will probably fail to register – more FF candidates will be elected through personal than party votes in this election. Labour’s Nuala Nolan will catch some of the Labour boost but in reality is unlikely to get elected. While Fine Gael’s Frank G Fahy has run a decent campaign, it’s hard to see where there is room for him in the line-up, while Barra Nevin doesn’t appear to have the highest profile.
Sinn Féin has a strong vote in the area and Martin Concannon should poll well, but lack of a running mate or enough sitting left wing councillors could see him out of the running due to failure to attract transfers.
Predictions: Walsh to top the poll. O’Flaherty and McDonnell to stay where they are. Crowe safe but his vote will be down. Leahy, Costello and Derek Nolan too close to call for the last two spots.