Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The young and the restless

The votes are counted, the posters are being taken down, and there are a lot of elated and dejected candidates pondering their futures, in and out of the council.

As is the wont of Galway voters, Galway City’s ballot boxes threw up some surprises that we can only wonder at. Like elsewhere in the country, the Labour vote was up, resulting in a gain of two seats for Eamon Gilmore’s party, bringing that party to five councillors.

However, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael stayed put with three councillors each, counteracting national patterns. Fianna Fáil actually improved on its 2004 vote in Galway, with a 20.7 per cent share, a jump of 1.5 per cent.

Fine Gael’s vote improved by 4.3 per cent but did not result in any seat gains, while Labour’s vote jumped by 2.6 per cent. Since Galway was already a Labour stronghold, the percentage gain is not huge, but clever candidate selection has resulted in a gain of two seats. It must not be forgotten that Catherine Connolly still attracts a strong Labour vote, and the next five years could see her rejoining the party, if a Dáil nomination is forthcoming.

The main feature of this election is the youth of the new candidates – all three of the new candidates in Galway City West are under 40, with Hildegarde Naughton the youngest at 32 and both Peter Keane and Níall McNelis just 36. In Galway City East, Derek Nolan is only 26, and in Galway City Central Ollie Crowe is 33.

Young councillors join restless ones on Galway City Council 2009 – 2014, and the noises emanating from all sides over the weekend suggest that the battle may have been won but the war is not over; all sights are now set on a general election, a contest that could really get interesting, given the formation of the new council.

Looking at the new makeup of the council, there are at least three restless councillors who could be serious Dáil contenders.

Catherine Connolly’s solid performance in Galway City West, her excellent reputation among voters and her personal brand could prove irresistible in any forthcoming general election, given current anti-Government sentiment.

If Labour does not bring her back into the fold, there’s a danger she could cannibalise that party’s vote, as her main competitor for leftwing votes in the city, Níall Ó Brolcháin, is out of the picture. Within the fold, a good vote management strategy could see her accompany Michael D Higgins to Dublin, if the tide really turns against Fianna Fáil.

One Fianna Fáiler against whom the tide definitely has not turned is Michael Crowe. Crowe is now the head honcho among the Fianna Fáil councillors, with brother Ollie and solicitor Peter Keane supporting him all the way. With their respective performances last week, a concerted effort could pose a very serious threat to Frank Fahey, who has lost his allies on the council, Mary Leahy and John Connolly. In 2007, Fahey just held onto his seat, but a strengthened Crowe could see him off.

In Fine Gael, the picture gets even more complicated, with Padraig Conneely hot to trot. Fidelma Healy Eames has been working the ground solidly since her failed bid in 2007, and will not be best pleased to be shunted out of the way in Conneely’s favour. It remains to be seen where Hildegarde Naughton, who surely has Dáil ambitions, will align herself, but long-term, she and Healy Eames could be competing for the same votes, so perhaps she would be better served by settling into the Conneely camp. Meanwhile, sitting TD Padraic McCormack still holds considerable influence within the party (as seen during the European election campaign, with disputes between his camp and Healy Eames’ disturbing the flow).

Between the young and the restless, Galway City Council 2009 – 2014 will have all the makings of a good soap: glamorous young people, controversial personalities, regular cat fights and even family feuds.

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