And They’re Off

It’s a cold night for putting up posters, but that is what the party’s faithful have to do to get their candidate over the line. I doubt a General Election candidate will be elected unless their face is on a poster, although numerous local election candidates manage to do so.

As I write, and as you read this, posters are being put up on poles and walls throughout the land. They look spick and span now, but a couple of weeks of February weather should take its toll.

We have 23 days to go before the polls open – Friday, February 26 writes David Flynn. The choice as appears could be a Fine Gael led government or one led by Sinn Fein. Although it is unlikely that SF will lead a government at the moment, they are still in strong contention to become the second largest party.

Fianna Fail are languishing at 17% in the most recent RED C poll – exactly the percentage they got five years ago in the last General Election, so they need a lot of luck.

Doors will be knocked daily and nightly and leaflets will fill letterboxes.   It’s an exciting time for anyone interested in viewing it all, but for the candidates, its nerve wracking. So spare a thought for those candidates, because few enjoy the experience, particularly as it gets near the end. It’s exciting for us, but not for them.

Government 2016 – Nobody Wants to Go in With Anyone – Though They All Have Choices

The only clear opponents in the General Election are Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, and neither will go in with the other after the election results are in. Fianna Fail have ruled out those two, and while Micheal Martin would be hopeful of that, his party would choose to go in with either (preferably Sinn Fein, if Gerry stepped aside for Mary Lou), and either of the two parties would go in with Fianna Fail.

As today went by, politicians (except Enda Kenny) were distancing themselves from the possibility of being in government with Independent Michael Lowry. Lowry was a former Fine Gael Minister, and the rest is history.

Labour. Well…..what can you say about Labour? They’ll be so depleted after it’s all over, that their few numbers could come in handy for the bigger parties wanting power.

Choice is available to everyone, writes David Flynn. Fianna Fail could opt to go in with either Fine Gael or Sinn Fein, but they will look to see what is in the rest of the mix first, ie Renua, Social Democrats and Shane’s Ross’s Independent Alliance, and some other Independents. FF will first look to see if there are any Independents elected from their gene pool, ie ex-FF. Fine Gael will look at all of those options too, but not Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein will do likewise, but not with Fine Gael.

The only thing that will save the leaderships of Micheal Martin and Joan Burton is if they are able to negotiate a position in the next government.   Remember that’s what saved Albert Reynolds in 1992, after he led Fianna Fail to a defeat of nine seats in that years November election. He negotiated with Dick Spring’s Labour and they made a government that lasted two years.

Enda Kenny and Gerry Adams leaderships are safe for the foreseeable future.

At this remove, (RTE’s Micheal Lehane tweeted earlier today that there are rumours the election will be on Thursday, February 25th) it is hard to see who will be in with who. But as said earlier they all have choices. However my early prediction is Fine Gael/Labour/Renua and Shane Ross and a handful of his Independents to lead after this election.

Betting on for February 26th

Enda Kenny did decide last Autumn not to hold the General Election on November 20th, which was the preferred date of his advisors, and most of the national media. Time has moved on fast, and now we are near the end of January 2016.

At this time, the Labour party percentage continues to stall in single figures, but they are holding their party conference this weekend in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Joan Burton will figure heavily in the media over the weekend, as did Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week, and Michael Martin of Fianna Fail the week before.  Rumour has it that Kenny will go to Aras an Uachtarain a day or two after Labour leaves Mullingar to ask President Higgins to dissolve the Dail to facilitate a General Election. The expected date is Friday, February 26th.

He will probably look at Fine Gael’s secret poll figures, and if have plunged down into the twenties (they are currently on 31%), he could hold off for a week or two.  But all bets are on February 26th, writes David Flynn.

As soon as the election is called, the media coverage goes into lockdown, and all the parties, and Independents are supposed to get an equal slice of the coverage. Therefore if a party conference was to take place during an election campaign, the leader of the party couldn’t expect the blanket coverage that they would get if it wasn’t election time. On the surface, it would appear that Sinn Fein are the party being left out of that loop, because they aren’t holding their conference until April. However they might be as well off, because at the end of the day, the real folk impressed with the party talk at conferences, are the party folk themselves.

War at FF Longford Convention

Party Morale Low Also in Westmeath and Roscommon

It was one of the biggest crowds that Fianna Fail could hope to get at a gathering of their members. More than 350 people turned out on an Autumn night to pick a candidate for the next General Election for Longford FF, but they needn’t have bothered – because headquarters had already picked Connie Gerety-Quinn to run alongside sitting TD, Robert Troy, writes David Flynn.

Connie Gerety-Quinn beat two other candidates, Pat O’Rourke and Cllr. Seamus Butler, leading to blue murder due to a dictat coming down from Dublin headquarters of FF, via Deputy Sean Fleming, who chaired the meeting.

The dictat was that a woman must be chosen for the Longford/Westmeath constituency. Westmeath had a convention in September, and Mullingar’s Deputy Robert Troy was chosen for FF. However Athlone, South Westmeath was left without a choice of a candidate, due to Troy being the representative for Co. Westmeath. There was bitterness at that convention, but nothing like what ensued at the Longford one.

There was no vote allowed, as headquarters had chosen Ms. Gerety-Quinn before the meeting at the Longford Arms Hotel took place. There was much criticism at the meeting, due to the new FF candidate telling newscaster, Ann Norris on Shannonside Radio back in July, that she wouldn’t be part of a gender dictat.

The convention heard criticism of headquarters, Party President Michael Martin, and especially of the gender quota that requires each party to ensure that 30% of their candidates are female. Before the Longford convention, FF had only reached around 29% and now they are over the quota, but only just – at 30.2% according to Dr. Adrian Kavanagh, who runs the brilliant Irish political blog

The meeting broke up with huge bitterness and recriminations, and it is not clear at this stage if any of the other candidates will run as an Independent, or even if they will support and canvass with Ms. Gerety-Quinn. However one thing is clear, Connie Gerety- Quinn is a FF Dail candidate for Longford/Westmeath along with Deputy Robert Troy.

There was already bitterness in the Athlone camp of FF with them not having a candidate of their own. Now with the terrible bitterness in Longford, and troubles going on with FF Roscommon-East Galway, the soldiers of destiny are in shambles mode in the midlands with being around 20% in the polls, and the election being less than 16 weeks away.


Independent Calls for End of Non-Party

Independents or Non-Party? Cllr. Michael O'Brien and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan MEP
Independents or Non-Party? Cllr. Michael O’Brien and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan MEP

The term Non-Party according to the Cambridge online dictionary means not involving or related to a political party. However earlier this month, an Independent councillor strongly objected to the term, and called for it to be replaced by Independent on election ballot papers.

South Westmeath’s Cllr. Michael O’Brien told Athlone Municipal District that he introduces himself to people as an Independent and not as non-party.

“The word Independent should go alongside our name, and it will mean that legation needs to be introduced, so a letter should be sent from the municipal district to the Minister for the Environment,” said the Moate based councillor. “At a time when equality is a buzz word, I would ask for equality of members on the ballot paper, and to be given that equality.”

Independent, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran said that he supported the motion, but that Deputy Finian McGrath was unsuccessful about getting the legislation changed in the Dail because of the party in power.

“From now on though, moving forward, non-party should be taken off the ballot paper, and I found that it is not law to have non-party on the ballot paper, so we can get it removed,” said Boxer.

Fianna Fail’s Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke moved the debate onwards by saying that he supported the motion, but would like to see written on the ballot paper – ‘Independent, formerly Fianna Fail’.

Boxer and O’Brien are both former Fianna Fail members.

“You might be Independent yourself, some day,” said O’Brien to O’Rourke.

However Boxer said he took offence with the O’Rourke remark and said that it was unfair, and that he fought for four years to get rid of the “stigma of having Fianna Fail on my name.”

“That is an awful remark, and I ask for it to be withdrawn, and I got a hell of a lot better vote than Cllr. O’Rourke got,” said Boxer.

There was no withdrawal coming, but the council members didn’t put an objection to the motion, so the request will go forward to the government.

Athlone FF/FG Alliance Elect former GAA Chairman as Mayor

Cllr. Tom Farrell (FG) was elected Mayor of the Athlone Municipal District for 2015/16 on Tuesday evening, showing the FF/FG alliance in the town, for its second year is still intact.  The new Mayor is a former Westmeath County Board GAA Chairman.

Mayor Farrell is part of the alliance which includes the new Deputy Mayor, Cllr. John Dolan, also of Fine Gael, and Fianna Fail’s Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke and Cllr. Frankie Keena.   Keena’s term as Mayor came to an end this week.   Dolan proposed Farrell, and O’Rourke seconded.  The Deputy Mayor was proposed by Keena while O’Rourke seconded.

Also on the seven member council team is Cllr. Paul Hogan of Sinn Fein and Independents, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Cllr. Michael O’Brien. However it’s unlikely that the last three will get a Mayoral post before 2019.

Each of the four in the FF/FG alliance will have a year as Mayor/Deputy Mayor, but there is still the 5th and final year of the council to be decided. It’ll be a year up for grabs, and only one of the four, who will already have been Mayor, can become Mayor in time for the Local Elections 2019.

Another High Profile FF Independent on the Way?

Happier FF Times - Deputy Robert Troy, Senator Averil Power and Cllr. Aengus O'Rourke
Happier FF Times – Deputy Robert Troy, Senator Averil Power and Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke

More woes for Fianna Fail appear on the horizon with the declaration from by-election candidate, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke that he will consider all his options, following news that the party won’t be running a candidate in his South Westmeath neck of the woods.

While he has told Shannonside FM radio that he is not intending to leave Fianna Fail, his “consider all options,” comment can’t be forgotten easily by the party.

Many personnel difficulties have been happening in Fianna Fail since just before the Local Elections last year. But the most high profile has been by-election candidates, David McGuinness (Dublin West) who resigned from the party and will run as an Independent, and Ivan Connaughton (Roscommon-South Leitrim) who has refused to run again while Micheal Martin is leader! Then Senator Averil Power unexpectedly resigns over issues, including the party leader’s management of the party’s work on the Marriage Equality Referendum.

Longford/Westmeath has one Fianna Fail TD, Robert Troy from Ballynacargy in North Westmeath. In previous decades, the area was overseen by Fianna Fail big names, Albert Reynolds and Mary O’Rourke.

Reynolds’s successor, Peter Kelly and O’Rourke lost their seats in the Fianna Fail earthquake of 2011. However Robert Troy was successfully elected as a first time TD.

In the intervening years, Athlone Fine Gael TD, Nicky McFadden tragically died of motor neuron disease. A by-election was held on the same day as the Local Elections in 2014, and Aengus O’Rourke, Sinn Fein’s Cllr. Paul Hogan and Independent, and ex FF politician, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran were beaten by Nicky’s sister, Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden.

Over the past six months it was rumoured that Fianna Fail was only going to run one candidate in Westmeath, and one in Longford in the next General Election.

Knowing that Deputy Troy would have to be the Westmeath candidate, lobbying from South Westmeath FF went on to headquarters to have a second candidate for the county. However their efforts have proven fruitless and the news came through last weekend that Westmeath will have just one candidate.

O’Rourke and another local councillor, Frankie Keena have both expressed interest in challenging at convention. Keena is the current Mayor of Athlone, and has been a long time councillor. He was co-opted to Athlone UDC following the death of the popular Senator Sean Fallon in 1995. O’Rourke was elected to Athlone Town Council for the first time in 2009, and is the son of former Minister Mary O’Rourke.

O’Rourke has finally broken his silence on the issue of Fianna Fail not giving South Westmeath a candidate.

“Effectively what this decision says is, we have one seat already and we just want to hold on to that seat at the next GE, let’s circle the wagons and aim low,” he said.  “My approach in life, business and politics is to be optimistic, be progressive, work hard, take risks and aim high.

“I am very disappointed for the party in Westmeath. I think a one candidate strategy for Westmeath lacks ambition, it’s a negative decision.

“The Fianna Fail party locally quite rightly had their eye on a second seat for Fianna Fail in this constituency – that prospect is now gone. Instead, we have literally conceded a seat to Sinn Fein and we might even have gifted Fine Gael a second seat!

“On a personal level, I am very disappointed for the Fianna Fail organisation in South Westmeath and Athlone who have been of great support to me. I have yet to fully consider all my options, I will be discussing my options with Fianna Fail locally, my family and supporters over the coming weeks,” said Cllr. O’Rourke

Mayor Keena told the ‘Westmeath Independent’ newspaper that he imagined candidates from other parties and Independents in the area must be clapping their hands at the news that Fianna Fail wouldn’t be running a candidate in this area.

There are reasons for both arguments. It is true that Co. Longford, the Mullingar area and the Athlone area are three separate areas and each area has a population of 30,000 give or take, and votes rarely cross between those areas, although Willie Penrose of Labour managed to do well from all three areas last time.

Fianna Fail also have a point with the two candidate strategy because of the huge competition they will face from the other parties and Independents. The party scored just 19% at this weekend’s Red C poll, despite the recent by-election success in Carlow-Kilkenny, and it is not likely to rise much further before the General Election.

O’Rourke will probably stay on board in Fianna Fail, and the longer away the General Election is, the bigger the chance he has of being added. More and more Independents and small party candidates will continue to announce they will run. Robert Troy will be comfortably elected much more so than last time, but he will still need transfers, many of which are less likely to come from South Westmeath with no Fianna Fail candidate on board. It is also believed that South Westmeath Fianna Fail members intend to support their Longford candidate rather than Troy. Troy is safe, but in any election, anything can happen. In North Westmeath, Penrose will be strong, and so will the Fine Gael candidate there, not to mention many other high profile candidates, like FG TDs, James Bannon and Gabrielle McFadden.  Also popular candidates, Cllr. Paul Hogan of Sinn Fein and Athlone Independent, Cllr.Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran will poll highly.

However everything would need to sort out soon in Fianna Fail, because the party doesn’t need another of their high-profile members heading into the Independent arena.

“Not Just about Parish Pump,” – Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice talks to irishsmokefill

The newest Dail Eireann member rules himself and his new grouping as being just about parish pump politics, and said that there is also problems inside the Dublin pale that needs to be dealt with.
“There are also problems inside the pale, and some changes don’t cost money, and there is ferociously bad laws brought in that stopped people from getting work, which is stifling parts of Ireland. If some things are tweaked, it would make Ireland a better place,” said Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice to irishsmokefill.
Fitzmaurice TD was elected in October 2014 in the Roscommon/South Leitrim by-election, which occurred because Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan became an MEP. Ming supported Fitzmaurice who had become a councillor in Galway in the previous May local election.
The Dail’s newest Deputy says he is proposing a different type of politics to what has been done before in Ireland.
“There is a group of us that talk regularly, and I am only a few months in the door, some would say not even a wet weekend, but I hope that we are all the kind of people that have the country’s heart in front of them, and not their own small square, or being worried about getting elected again,” said the TD, who will be facing Roscommon/Galway next time out. “It is a huge task, and the whole political system has to change to bring this around, and I call it a train journey, and I have just started from the first station, and people will get on and off along the way, but hopefully we will get to the destination.”
He said that new politics has to happen because of broadband problems, infrastructure, and rural crime and that there are all different facets of rural life attacked for the past fifteen or so years.
“People say, what’s your policies, but the problems of our country should be the policies of the country, and today the people are left strapped for cash because of the likes of the USC, and one time we had good jobs, but parents now cannot send their kids to college, and is that the Ireland we want?” he asked. “When I was growing up, my family scrapped to get one of us to college, and nowadays, in fairness for unemployed people there is a system there, but there are people who can’t send their kids to college,” said Deputy Fitzmaurice. “With mortgages and childcare, they are screwed, and we have been shafted from Europe. I don’t believe the debt is ours, and we have played into the hands of the vultures.”
He said the new political alliance he is attempting to put together, isn’t just about Shane Ross and himself, and that there are other good TDs involved.
“It’s about us all together as a family putting ideas together, and yes I am talking to people in different parts of the country, and I believe we will have a common platform down the road,” said the Galway based TD.
However he said if a snap election was called before summer, the new alliance would not be ready.
“We are where we are, I’m only a few months in politics, and I am anticipating an election next March,” said Deputy Fitzmaurice. “I can be pretty blunt and sometimes people mightn’t like what I say, but I’m not populist, I call it as it is, but I’m willing to learn and listen and debate with others, and I’m willing to work with people from parties.”

Eddie Hobbs talks to irishsmokefill

Eddie Hobbs is a financial advisor, tv celebrity and best-selling author. He is currently involved in the new Lucinda Creighton political party – a project which appears to be provisionally titled ‘Reboot Ireland’

“There needs to be a fundamental rethink about how we should really grow the domestic Irish economy at grassroots level, and that conversation hasn’t even begun, and so long as it hasn’t begun, you are going to get the likes of the Ulster bank closing bank branches, and you’ll get post offices closing, and eventually villages and towns closing, and only then will we look back and say why was it so obvious and we failed to see it,” said Eddie Hobbs, who was one of the main speakers at an Ulster Branch closure protest march in Athlone. “We have to get the domestic Irish economy firing and I don’t mean in urban areas, where you can close a few pubs, and a few bank branches, where it wouldn’t have much of an impact, but in a rural area, it would have a devastating impact and it’s permanent.”

Eddie Hobbs said that the 1922 constitution stated that Irish people own their own national resources, and De Valera in the 1937 constitution passed the ownership to the state.

“What needs to happen is Article 10 of the Constitution needs to be changed, so that the natural resources are returned to the Irish people,” he said to irishsmokefill.

Eddie Hobbs said at the start of the banking crisis in late 2008, that he believed there was a lack of leadership in this country. He still believes this today.

“I regard it as a crony democracy, which is rotten from the top, and the real story in Ireland is of insiders and outsiders,” he said. “The birth of Irish Water shows that nothing has changed.  That’s a super quango.”

On the subject of setting up a new political party with Lucinda Creighton, Eddie Hobbs called it a “herculean challenge,” and said that the incumbents have set up the structures in such a way that it is almost impossible to set up a party. However his grouping is continuing the struggle.

“We have policies to formulate and publish and a huge job in fundraising which is not our biggest problem,” he said. “We need over €1 million euros, which we’ll get. The tailwind is there for a real new reform, not for another FF or FG lite. We need to see a new broom, and I hope to be involved as much as I can in public meetings.”

Gender Quotas – For and Against – With Mary Lou McDonald and Mary O’Rourke

Political parties are required to ensure at least thirty percent of their candidates in the next General Election are women; and any party that fails to reach the target will have its state funding cut by 50 per cent. Parties will also be required to have 40 per cent or more female candidates after a further seven years.

Deputy Leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou McDonald and former Fianna Fail Minister, Mary O’Rourke give their views to irishmokefill

Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald – For

“I probably take a very pragmatic view of quotas, and I would love to live in a world where something like that is not necessary, but the reality of the situation is that women, who are over 50% of the population in this country are hugely unrepresented in public life and political life, and I think we have to ask ourselves what can we do about that,” said the Sinn Fein Deputy Leader. “I think you have to start at the start, and if you believe as I believe, that it is a big problem in our democratic structure that women are so absent, you then have to say what are we going to do to correct that!”

Deputy McDonald said to irishsmokefill that she believes the 30% quota is fair, but she sees the difficulty with the quota system is that if you want an increased number of women to run for election, you also need an equal number of women elected that run.

“It’s not about giving weaker candidates an easier passage, because you have to be able to give the commitment and put up with the personal intrusion,” she said.

She admits that she “juggles” her home and work life.

“I juggle, don’t be under any illusions otherwise, and I think that fundamentally the culture of Irish politics is male, and if you are a young girl looking at the political scene what you see is that politics is largely male,” said Deputy McDonald.

She said that to solve the quest for balanced democratic representation, two things need to happen.

“The system needs to change and adapt to facilitate women, and women need to step up to the mark, to insist on us having our place and taking our place, so it makes a demand on women to get involved and to support each other,” said Mary Lou McDonald.


Mary O'Rourke
Mary O’Rourke

Mary O’Rourke – Against

The former Fianna Fail minister thinks that quotas in Irish politics are unfair to both women and men.

“They single women out because it says that candidates are being put forward just because they are a woman,” said Mary O’Rourke.  “People should be voted on for their merit rather than their sex, and of course I agree with more women going forward, but not when it is unfair.”

She highlighted an incident which happened in Carlow political circles where two men were told to step aside, because a woman was to run.

O’Rourke told irishsmokefill that she believes that gender quotas are illegal.

“I’m quite sure they will be challenged in the courts, and I think it’s unconstitutional, and I’ve heard people say that,” she said.

The former Minister of Education said that she has acted as an encouragement to women who want to enter politics.

“I gave a seminar here in Athlone for Fianna Fail women, and saw a huge interest among women in getting involved in politics, but they will experience a huge intrusion in their lives,” she said. “I’ve always found Dail Eireann a friendly place, but it doesn’t have family friendly hours, particularly if you live outside Dublin, and all women have to juggle a lot, but I don’t see why they should get special treatment, and Gender Quotas is a discriminatory action, and I think it’s discriminatory against men and women.”

She said that parties should set up committees whereby women would be coached, and get advice about going forward for election.

“The best advice I can give to women interested in politics is to go to meetings, and work your way up,” said Mary O’Rourke.