Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Uncharted waters

That we are in uncharted political waters – local, national, and international – is, by now, accepted. A black man in the White House, the EU in stalemate, a puppet Prime Minister in Russia, Castro on his way out in Cuba… and Fianna Fáil trailing in the polls.

The Irish Times poll published earlier this month, had unprecedented results. It showed a huge surge for the Labour Party, at 24 per cent, which appeared to have overtaken Fianna Fáil, which is now at just 22 per cent. Fine Gael was coming out in the lead, at 32 per cent.

Good news for the Opposition parties, or so it would seem. But will the figures translate into votes when it counts?

Galway has never followed the crowd when it comes to national polls, and it’s hard to know now if even national polls are reliable, when the mood of the country changes with every bank-related utterance from either side of the House.

In 2004’s local elections, the Progressive Democrats beat both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to the top of the class, getting 22.63 per cent of the quota in Galway City, running six candidates and getting three elected. Fianna Fáil received 19.19 of the vote in Galway City, and seems to have completely messed up its strategy, fielding eight candidates and electing just two. Fine Gael, with 17.05 of the vote, won seats for three out of its seven candidates, while Labour, with 16.49 per cent, made the most of its vote and had four candidates elected. The Green Party had 7.27 per cent, and elected one candidate, from three. ‘Others’ – Sinn Féin and Independents – got 17.37, and elected just one councillor, Daniel Callanan.

In 2009, the situation couldn’t be more different. The Progressive Democrats no longer exist, although their three councillors, now Independents, look set to retain their seats. But it’s questionable whether they will command the largest percentage of the vote this time out.

For Fianna Fáil, mirroring the Irish Times poll might not be a bad thing – it would up their vote in Galway by three per cent. The essential thing here is vote management. The infighting has already begun in the Central ward, and Mike Crowe is not a man to give away votes in Galway City East.

For Fine Gael also, vote management should be a priority. Their strategy will to build on the Government’s unpopularity, but this could be difficult, as their only new candidate with much of a profile is Hildegarde Naughton. While Naughton is a strong candidate, Galway City West’s councillors are strong and will be hard to shift.

For Labour, the big winner in last week’s poll, the choices are different. With three out of the city’s 15 seats already (having lost Catherine Connolly since the last election), in terms of the national poll they are already punching above their weight. Gains will be hard to make in what’s already one of the party’s strongest constituencies, where a core Labour vote left the party upon Connolly’s defection.

The party’s best chance is Derek Nolan in Galway City East, especially if Daniel Callanan runs in the West as rumoured. If Nolan can capitalise on the swing, he’s in.

Because Galway already had a strong Labour base, and a comparatively weak FF and FG representation on the council, it’ll be hard to see how the poll is reflected here. No doubt some candidates who are already canvassing will have seen evidence of the swing already.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Great White

The great white

Tuam-based anti-Lisbon Treaty organisation Libertas appears to be gradually falling apart at the seams, with news in the past week that two of the signatories to the organisation’s bid for European political party status have disclaimed all knowledge of their part in the bid.

When Libertas burst onto the political scene early in 2008 it was seen as the great white hope for all those who worry about Ireland’s increasing reliance on and integration with Europe. Among the established Irish political parties, only Sinn Féin regularly and forcibly criticises Europe, while Labour and the Greens have been particularly quiet on this front since the Lisbon Treaty came on the agenda.

Once the Yes to Lisbon campaign limped, pathetically, into action, Libertas was cast in a different light. Suddenly the organisation and its charismatic founder, Declan Ganley, was a great white shark, out to destroy Ireland’s relationship with Europe and convince us that signing up to Lisbon would mean a return to foreign rule.

Since the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty referendum and the emergence of the greatest economic crisis of our generation, Libertas has begun to form plans for this year’s European elections, and has made links with politicians all over the European Union with the aim of becoming ‘the first pan-European political party’.

The progress of Libertas throughout Europe has been greeted with alarm by most national politicians, certainly by those who have taken time out from the economic morass to think about it.

However, since that time, the issue of Lisbon has become somewhat redundant (if you’ll pardon the pun). We are too worried about keeping our jobs, our homes and our lifestyles, to really think about the ideology behind a protectionist Europe and the EU Defence Forces. And the latest joke comparing Ireland to Iceland has shown us what side our bread is buttered on – there go we but for the protection offered by the Eurozone.

It seems that now the greatest danger to Libertas may not be the fact that its backers appear to be dropping like flies. The greatest danger for Ganley and Co may now lie in the organisation becoming irrelevant: a great white elephant.

All politics is local - Galway Independent, 4/02/09

All politics is local

All politics is local, and it’s at the local level the dirtiest games are played. Rivalries are intense and personal, grudges go back centuries, and party divisions becom fractures when they’re compounded by individual histories.

This year’s local elections will be different from past contests for many reasons, only some of which will be unique to Galway,

One of these reasons is the much-sung demise of the PDs, which has seriously dented the Government parties’ hold on Galway City and County. Within the city, the expected warring between former PDs and their council colleagues over party places hasn’t materialised, but six months is an eternity in politics, and anything is possible.

However, the county councillors have not taken the PDs’ demise so sanguinely, and both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have been eager to claim the likes of Jim Cuddy, Tom Welby, Michael ‘Mogie’ Maher and even PD leader Ciaran Cannon, whose perceived role in the party’s demise may not have tainted him forever.

Of course, referring to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael doesn’t mean the parties’ various representatives here on earth. It usually means head office. And while head office will be only delighted to add sitting, “safe” councillors to the bill, the party’s current crop may not be throwing out the welcome mat.

Already, councillors nationwide have had PD refugees foisted on them, but in Co. Galway a row appears to be brewing with the likely addition of Mogie Maher to the Fine Gael ticket in Loughrea.

Reports indicate Maher has had serious discussions with the Fine Gael hierarchy, but noises emanating from the camps of sitting FG councillors aren’t too welcoming.

Co-opted after Ciaran Cannon’s appointment to the Seanad in 2007, Maher hasn’t earned his stripes yet and, to be fair, hasn’t been in situ long enough to have made a real mark.