Perhaps now the whispering campaign will stop. For the past month or more, Fine Gael and Labour sources locally have been hinting that Independent Galway City Councillor Catherine Connolly’s general election campaign has been muted; nay, non-existent.
“Nobody mentions Catherine on the doorsteps,” confided a Derek Nolan Labour Party canvasser last week. Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Connolly lost out on the fifth seat in Galway West in 2011, just pipped to the post by Séan Kyne, who won a handful more votes following a five-day count that involved several recounts.
And she remains one of the big threats to the Coalition parties’ chances of retaining three seats in this constituency that now includes South Mayo.
On Monday, at the official launch of her campaign, Connolly, a barrister, showed why.
A polished orator, strong on social justice issues, Connolly gave a rousing speech to the crowd of 50 or 60 supporters.
The strong winds from Storm Henry kept a further 15 or 20 away from the Park House Hotel where poet and activist, Sarah Clancy, officially launched Connolly’s campaign.
The event was minimalist; no bells and whistles and careful choreography like those of the established parties and their well-oiled machines.
A few bright coloured balloons hung from the walls, Sellotaped next to horizontal glossy ‘good luck’ banners that you’d buy in the €2 shop.
Her face adorned some posters with the catch phrase ‘Guth na nDaoine’ (voice of the people) and ‘For the Common Good’.
Anyone familiar with Connolly’s fiery contributions at City Council and HSE Regional Health Forum meetings knows she does anger well.
But, in a room packed with supporters, friends and family, Connolly showed a vulnerable side. She admitted she was nervous making her bilingual speech and was close to tears when she mentioned her late father and late sister, Annette.
Often branded as having a negative outlook, she used the speech to dispel the notion that she’s anti-everything. “Am I anti-business? Absolutely not. I am pro-business. Small businesses are the backbone of the country,” she said, after spending the day with business owners who feel abandoned by Government policies.
Connolly said she had been “demonised” for opposing the Galway City Outer Bypass.
However, the original route was “rejected by Europe” and the new planned bypass has been “rejected by the people”, she said.
There is widespread anger in Barna, and parts of the city including Newcastle and Bushypark, she said, against plans for a new road. The time invested in the “cul de sac” of a bypass meant that decision makers had ignored alternative, more sustainable solutions to Galway’s traffic woes.
Tackling the city’s housing crisis, where 5,000 households, which equates to 15,000 people, are on the Council’s social housing waiting list, is another issue central to her campaign.
But it was in the area of health where Connolly came into her own. Speaking about the health service, Connolly’s passion for – or obsession with – a properly resourced public system comes to the fore.
“Health drives me to be a politician . . . Once my passion for public health leaves me I will be finished as a politician,” she declared.
Ms Clancy described Connolly as a “pragmatic revolutionary”, who had “enough integrity to win the five seats”.
But later-on, it was another revolutionary, Connemara-based Independent Galway County Councillor Seósamh Ó Cuaig, who brought pragmatism – and realism – to proceedings when sounding a note of caution: “The time for poetry is over . . . for the next three weeks the battle for votes is on the streets and house to house.”
Connolly fell short by 17 votes last time, he said, adding: Don’t let it happen again. “We just need a few more canvassers and we can take this seat,” he said.
This is last-chance saloon for Connolly in terms of taking a Dáil seat. She knows it. Ó Cuaig knows it. Her supporters – and political foes – know it.
But contrary to the whispers, there’s life in this revolutionary yet!
TALLIES: Half of boxes open in City West
With half of the boxes in Galway City West tallied, the state of play in the six-seater is:
Donal Lyons (Ind) 23%
Pauline O’Reilly (Greens) 14.75%
Niall McNelis (Lab) 11.89%
John Connolly (FF) 9.86%
Pearce Flannery (FG) 9.48%
Peter Keane (FF) 7.3%
John Crowley (Soc Dems) 6.3%
Clodagh Higgins (FG) 5.9%
Salthill and Taylor’s Hill boxes being tallied now
Left and right find middle ground
There is a tired old cliché about people singing from ‘the same hymn sheet’ – but despite their diverse political backgrounds, it could certainly be applied in the case of Galway city’s two new TDs.
Because Fine Gael’s Deputy Hildegarde Naughten and independent TD Catherine Connolly hold common ground when it comes to a lot of issues relating to Galway city.
For example, in the aftermath of the general election they both agreed that University Hospital Galway should be moved to a greenfield site at Merlin Park. They also articulated this view on the first day of the new Dail last week.
And, separately, they were both in favour of the provision of dedicated bus lanes throughout Galway city with the acceptance that there will be no outer bypass for at least another decade. Deputy Connolly believes that the current proposal is simply “a cul-de-sac” and should never have been progressed.
Left-leaning Independent TD Catherine Connolly and right-leaning Fine Gael TD, Hildegarde Naughton, both believe UHG is at saturation point and are committed to the development of a new public hospital at the larger, more accessible site east of the city.
This, along with the promotion of public transport initiatives to help end traffic chaos in the city, is one of the common policy objectives the two new women TDs share.
They are only the second and third women TDs ever in Galway West, following in the footsteps of former Fianna Fáil minister, Máire Geoghegan Quinn.
Fianna Fail attempts to woo Grealish again
Pressure is mounting on Galway West TD Noel Grealish to join Fianna Fail as the party attempts to be part of the next government.
The Fianna Fail organisation in the constituency are now convinced that Grealish may provide the party with the answer to winning a second seat in Galway West. And the organisation are disappointed that veteran TD Eamon O Cuiv has not delivered a second seat in the last two general elections. If Fianna Fail assume power, it is very unlikely that the Cornamona man will have a place at the front bench.
The party organisation in Galway West are now anxious that Grealish becomes part of their fabric and particularly as he is a proven vote-winner.
Grealish is part of an unofficial grouping in the Dail who are currently engaged with the two major parties with a view to forming a minority government.
The fact that the Carnmore man has been a TD since 2002, it is likely that he could be part of the front bench in the next government if he agrees to become part of the support that Fianna Fail require.
It was revealed last week that he had been approached by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to join up but he was not to be drawn on the issue.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.