Friday 9 December 2016

'AK 47' explodes with relief as he bags final seat by the skin of his teeth

Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30

Labour Party deputy leader Alan Kelly celebrates with supporters at the count centre in Thurles after he won the last seat in the Tipperary constituency. Photo: Frank McGrath
Labour Party deputy leader Alan Kelly celebrates with supporters at the count centre in Thurles after he won the last seat in the Tipperary constituency. Photo: Frank McGrath

In the end, a humble bag of chips proved the perfect antidote for Alan Kelly's frayed nerves.

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It had been a high-octane 48 hours for the hard man of the Labour Party, who had garnered the moniker 'AK 47' for his ability to shoot from the hip during his colourful time in government.

Yesterday, he made it back to the Dáil - but only just.

It was skin of the teeth stuff for the Tipperary TD, who had a nail-biting wait until finally bagging the fifth and final seat in the redrawn Tipperary constituency.

When he arrived at the Presentation School in Thurles shortly after 2pm, his mood seemed decidedly downbeat.

Gone was the brash and strident image he had carved out during his period in power.

At times during the ebb and flow of the day's drama, it seemed he would become another casualty of what has been a nightmare election for Labour.

Kelly was known to be especially worried as to what would be the fallout following the amalgamation of the old Tipperary North and Tipperary South constituencies.

But then, shortly after 3pm, the returning officer delivered his fate.

It led to a dam-burst of pent-up relief as the party's deputy leader suddenly found his voice.

He let out a guttural roar.

With veins protruding from his neck, and his face bright red, he stabbed the air ferociously with his fists.

His supporters hoisted him high in the air as he shouted out his sheer relief at being re-elected.

Then seemingly close to tears, he became almost overwhelmed with the whole emotion of the moment.

Eventually, after 10 minutes of whooping and hollering, the fanfare died down.

Much interest will focus on Deputy Kelly's tactics and approach, particularly if his party is destined for a significant period of time in opposition.

Sources close to his campaign - confirmed by various comments he has made over the past year - confirm he harbours strong leadership ambitions.

Party leader Joan Burton has not signalled her intentions regarding her longer term leadership plans, but last night one of Kelly's supporters maintained "he has age on his side".

But as of now the deputy leader is keeping his cards close to his chest.

He said he had "mixed emotions" about his re-election to the Dáil.

"My return to the Dáil is bittersweet in the sense that it's been a terrible day for my party. It's been so emotional seeing friends and colleagues lose their seats," he said.

But then his eye narrowed, and with a steely gaze he said solemnly: "Labour will bounce back.

"The rebuilding of the party starts tomorrow.

"It's going to be a big project and I'm certainly going to step up to the plate and ensure that I play my part in that."

A short time later, Kelly made a beeline for the exit, flanked by some of his advisers.

Exuding a palpable aura of relief, his first stop was Borza's takeaway in the town, where he clearly relished his bag of chips, complete with generous helpings of salt and vinegar.

He then crossed the street to Michael Hickey's pub, and savoured a few drinks with his family and close supporters.

He will now return to the new Dáil - one among a tiny cluster of Labour TDs.

Sobering times lie ahead.

Irish Independent

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