Naughten steps out…but who will step in?

Denis Naughten’s unexpected announcement that he is to bring his political career to an end will lead to an intense battle for the Dáil seat he has held for over a quarter of a century.

As matters stand, Fine Gael are slight favourites to benefit electorally from Naughten’s decision to opt out of politics. However, several candidates are already reassessing their prospects in the wake of the surprise announcement.

In reality, it is impossible to definitively gauge the local implications of Naughten’s exit from the political scene until the outcome of the latest constituency boundaries’ review is known later this year.

If the current Roscommon-Galway constituency were to remain in place, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would both see Naughten’s absence from the ballot paper as a boost to their respective bids to regain a Dáil seat here.

Given that many thousands of Denis Naughten’s votes in recent years were of a Fine Gael ‘hue’ – the now Independent TD parted from Fine Gael in 2011 due to the Roscommon Hospital controversy – Senator Aisling Dolan would appear to be well placed to benefit from the exit of the sitting TD.

That said, much will depend on the make-up of constituencies post the boundaries’ review. A Roscommon-Galway link-up as per the current arrangement would see Senator Dolan and others vying for Naughten’s substantial vote base in Mid and South Roscommon (and East Galway).

However, the prospects of individual candidates – as ever – can be closely linked to the geographical make-up of the constituency at election time. Sources locally are not ruling out a Roscommon-Leitrim configuration, or even a return to Roscommon-Longford, either of which would alter any current predictions as to which candidates are best placed to be successful in the next general election.

Presently, the Roscommon-Galway constituency is served by three TDs – Michael Fitzmaurice, Claire Kerrane and Deputy Naughten.

There is growing speculation that Deputy Fitzmaurice (Independent) might run in the next European elections. Were he to follow Naughten’s lead by opting out of the next general election it would certainly further shake up the political scene locally.

While Fine Gael has invested a lot in promoting Senator Dolan as a prospective future TD, there is some speculation locally that Cllr. John Naughten – Denis’s brother – could have his sights set on his own Dáil run.

On the Fianna Fáil side, Cllr. John Keogh might fancy his chances in the wake of the Denis Naughten announcement, again subject to the existing Roscommon-Galway constituency remaining largely unchanged. Senator Eugene Murphy will be determined to lead the FF comeback charge, but expect Cllr. Keogh and probably Cllr. Paschal Fitzmaurice to also go before the party’s selection convention. Fianna Fáil sources suggest that Cllr. Orla Leyden is unlikely to seek a nomination.

On the Sinn Féin front, should the Roscommon-Galway constituency remain intact, the party which has had so much momentum in opinion polls in recent months could well run Ballinasloe Are councillor Dermot Connolly along with sitting TD Claire Kerrane.

Denis Naughton era ends: How might it affect these ten?