FIANNA FÁIL’S Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte felt a slight chill when party leader Micheál Martin told Galway Bay FM last week that former TD Colm Keaveney would be on the party ticket at the next general election. A former Labour Party chairman, Keaveney joined FF in 2013 after a series of rows with Eamon Gilmore over austerity but was beaten for FF’s single seat by Rabbitte at last year’s general election.
Keaveney has so far not indicated if he will stand again and Martin’s statement signals that there have been talks behind the scenes to assure him not only of support at convention but also in the subsequent election. Keaveney did not receive the required level of promised resources in 2016 allowing Rabbitte to best him by 6,928 first preference votes to 5,436. But the boundary revision, as well as Rabbitte’s weak performance as front bench spokesperson on children and youth affairs, has changed things.
In simple demographic terms, Keaveney’s north-western part of the constituency has gained 4,547 votes from Galway West while Rabbitte’s south-eastern base has lost 8,650 votes to Roscommon-Galway. As well, Keaveney’s extra catchment area includes a spillover from the more urban Galway City electorate. These are serious calculations and they challenge the ostensible reason for Martin and HQ’s enthusiasm for Keaveney to run again. The rationale is that FF could feasibly challenge for two seats out of three as Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney is vulnerable. Canney’s ministerial spell is now over as he had to share time with Kevin “Boxer” Moran and it was not marked by a stellar performance. While the Independent TD made a lot of electoral noise about re-opening garda stations, there has been no Stepaside equivalent in Galway East and the comparison with Independent Alliance leader Shane Ross has not been lost on locals.
However, the 2016 general election saw FF on 27% of the first preference vote and FG, with sitting TD, Ciaran Cannon, on 30% with Independents, Labour and Sinn Féin taking the balance. A second FF seat is attainable but the likelihood is that a successful Keaveney campaign would take out Rabbitte instead.