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Sunday 4 December 2016

War of the roses in City of Tribes

Brian McDonald and Michael Brennan

Published 14/01/2011 | 05:00

Galway city councillor Catherine Connolly, who will run as an independent, pictured on the banks of the River Corrib yesterday
Galway city councillor Catherine Connolly, who will run as an independent, pictured on the banks of the River Corrib yesterday

CATHERINE Connolly is the ex-Labour Party stalwart who could scupper its bid to hold its highest-profile Dail seat outside Dublin.

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She was supposed to be the designated successor to veteran Labour TD Michael D Higgins, who is now quitting the Dail to run in the presidential election.

But she quit the party after failing to be put on the ticket alongside Mr Higgins in the last general election -- and has never been invited back.

"I was very much part of the Labour Party when I was there but since 2006 I've been independent," she said.

The heart of the constituency is in Galway city but it also includes the whole of Connemara, the Aran Islands, and growing commuter towns like Claregalway and Headford.

At the time, Ms Connolly felt it was "crazy" that the party did not want to go for two Labour seats in Galway West.

"But Michael D and the group with him felt that there were just enough votes for his seat and no more. I believe they were too fearful and too careful and lost out on a great opportunity," she said.

Although Ms Connolly was Mr Higgins' director of elections at the 2002 General Election, she said their paths had not crossed since. Her focus now is on the public health system, which included a recent personal visit to inspect the wards closed in University College Hospital, Galway due to Budget cutbacks.

"We have 140 beds empty in the hospital while there's 120 people on trolleys. I think it's obscene because a public health service based on need is possible in all civilised countries," she said.

Ms Connolly stood against Mr Higgins in the last General Election, picking up 2,000 first-preference votes as an independent. Political pundits in the West are backing her to more than double that figure this time around.

Renowned Connemara vote-catcher, independent councillor Seosamh O Cuaig is also throwing his weight behind her.

Labour are pinning their hopes on Derek Nolan, a trainee solicitor elected to the city council for the first time in 2009. Although he has a low profile outside Galway city, Mr Higgins has been unstinting in his support for him.

"He is a very able candidate and the choice of the Labour party constituency council. With his background in law, I see him as a Labour Party spokesman in the next Dail," he said.

Fianna Fail was expected to suffer the last time out after a water-contamination crisis left Galway city without tap water for three months. But the party still managed to hold on to its two seats through minister Eamon O Cuiv and Frank Fahey.

One rival said it would take a "nuclear explosion" for Mr O'Cuiv to lose his seat.

But Mr Fahey will have to beware of the predicted anti-Government backlash.



Bypass

He is again campaigning on the basis that he will deliver the long-awaited Galway outer-city bypass to relieve traffic congestion in the city.

But his chances of being in Government are remote. He will be backed up by Fianna Fail's third candidate Michael Crowe.

Galway West is very much a constituency in flux with the retirements of Mr Higgins and also veteran Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack.

Fine Gael has gone for a four-candidate strategy (up from three) in a bid to win two seats.

Oranmore-based senator Fidelma Healy-Eames says voters are angry with the Government and want "accountability and integrity" instead.

Cllr Brian Walsh has a business background and is based in the East Ward of Galway city.

Cllr Hildegarde Naughton is a classically trained singer and primary school teacher. And Cllr Sean Kyne is a sweeper candidate in the Gaeltacht.

Former PD TD Noel Grealish broke away from the Government in September last year in a row over health cuts -- and it remains to be seen how that will play with voters.

He is expected to get a strong vote around his Claregalway base and cannot be ruled out due to his work rate.

Green Party senator Niall O Brolchain is hoping to garner votes from his Salthill-Knocknacarra base, which has around 14,000 of the constituency's votes. He is asking voters to pay €10 to "sponsor a poster".

But he is very much an outside shot given his party's current opinion-poll unpopularity.

The youngest candidate in the race is independent Mike Cubbard (25), an insurance worker and sports coach.

Constituency profile

Galway West

- Number of seats: 5

- Electorate: 87,197

- Voters per TD: 17,439

Potential candidates

FIANA FAIL

Eamon O Cuiv TD

Frank Fahey TD

Cllr Michael Crowe

FINE GAEL

Cllr Brian Walsh

Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames

Cllr Sean Kyne

Cllr Hildegarde Naughton

LABOUR

Cllr Derek Nolan

SINN FEIN

To be confirmed

GREEN PARTY

Senator Niall O Brolchain

INDEPENDENTS

Noel Grealish TD

Cllr Catherine Connolly

Mike Cubbard

Last time

- Fianna Fail Minister Eamon O Cuiv topped the poll with 9,645 votes.

- Fine Gael’s Padraic McCormack postponed his retirement and held on to his seat, alongside Labour veteran Michael D Higgins and then PD TD Noel Grealish.

- Fianna Fail’s Frank Fahey also held on, despite predictions that Green Party Cllr Niall O Brolchain would make a breakthrough.

Irish Independent

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