Newcomer Kerrane in driving seat as eyes already turning to next election

While Claire Kerrane’s historic breakthrough for Sinn Féin in Roscommon/Galway in 2020 may have surprised many people, the first-time TD is now in a commanding position within the constituency and extremely well placed to retain the seat at the next election.    

  Sinn Féin’s current dominance in national opinion polls (the party was on a remarkable 34% in the recent Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes Poll) supports that view, but Kerrane isn’t just surfing on a general SF tide. She will have wide appeal across the constituency and will pick up votes all over the place. Sinn Féin may even run two candidates, to maximise the vote.

  Quite apart from the surge in support for Sinn Féin nationally, the Roscommon TD has impressed with a

confident command of her brief (she is the party’s Social Protection, Community & Rural Affairs spokesperson) and is articulate and focussed in her ever-increasing media outings.

  Kerrane looks very likely to retain the seat and could be swept in first or second next time around.

 FF & FG to target Independents?

Such is the Kerrane/SF momentum, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are well aware that if either party are to get back into the winner’s enclosure in Roscommon/Galway, it will almost certainly have to be at the expense of one of the other sitting TDs (i.e. Michael Fitzmaurice and Denis Naughten). Quite a tall order…

  There are, mind you, a few imponderables. Will the constituency actually be Roscommon-Galway? (Yet another review of constituencies cannot be ruled out). Will Michael Fitzmaurice run? How many candidates will FF and FG have on the ballot paper, and who will they be?

  The rumour mill, albeit not entirely convincingly, has it that Deputy Fitzmaurice may not run again. There is some speculation that he could turn his attention to the European elections. However, for now, the expectation is that Fitzmaurice will run; certainly FF & FG will be planning for another ‘blitz with Fitz’.

  Both Fitzmaurice and Denis Naughten can realistically expect to lose some ground to Kerrane, and also to a smarting Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. But neither will be easily unseated.

  If Fitzmaurice runs – and assuming no change in the constituency make-up – he’ll be fancied to retain the seat.

  FF and FG have ground to make up on Naughten, but both parties see him as the sitting TD who might be  vulnerable, the one to particularly target.

  Still, the parties will have their work cut out. Naughten is a wily, experienced politician with a very strong electoral record. His 30% plus vote share in 2016 was quite spectacular, but it did of course have a lot to do with a ‘hospital bounce’, with Naughten topping the poll in style post-the Roscommon A&E controversy. Naughten inevitably suffered slippage four years on, in the 2020 election. Although he remains very vocal on health issues, the ‘hospital bounce’ is unlikely to weather the passing years. FF & FG will certainly be hoping to further close the gap on Naughten and to recover long-lost ground. Time will tell.

  (Indeed a ‘battle royale’ is inevitable in Ballinasloe and surrounding areas with Naughten, Fine Gael’s Senator Aisling Dolan and other candidates all chasing down votes).

  Speaking of Dolan, it won’t have gone unnoticed by all prospective candidates that she recently opened an office in Roscommon Town, reflecting her party’s huge push to further build her profile. After a quite impressive ‘debut’ in 2020, Dolan needs to grow the FG vote in Roscommon if she is to be in the shake-up.

Incumbents in driving seat for now?

It remains to be seen how many candidates FF & FG run. On the FF side, Senator Eugene Murphy has already made it clear that he is intent on winning back the seat he lost in 2020. An experienced politician who seems to relish life in the ‘electoral trenches’, Murphy will – as ever – be up for the challenge, and that includes FF’s never-dull selection soap opera. Who is to say how many candidates will be fluttering their eyes before grassroots/the ever-interfering HQ brigade?

  Murphy/FF will take some heart from a recent poll rise for the party, but, as with FG, they face quite a challenge in trying to break through the Kerrane/Independents’ defence. The dream outcome for FF is to somehow command a vote share that reflects the party’s strength at Council level (of course ‘personal’/cross-party appeal is a factor in local elections).

  As stated above, familiar mid-term imponderables make it difficult to give a confident view this far from the next election. Suffice to say that if an election were to take place in the morning, Claire Kerrane looks to be the best placed candidate of all, with Michael Fitzmaurice (particularly) and Denis Naughten fancying their chances. As for the rest, it is all to play for.