Friday 9 December 2016

Politics shows no mercy as tearful Ó Ríordáin falls in 'Group of Death'

Published 02/03/2016 | 02:30

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin reacts after he lost his seat in the Dublin Bay North constituency at the RDS count centre yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin reacts after he lost his seat in the Dublin Bay North constituency at the RDS count centre yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney

A 'Group of Death' like Dublin Bay North was always going to leave a lot of blood and tears on the floor of the RDS. But dealing with defeat can often be easier than clinging to hope.

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It took 15 counts for Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to finally concede after a bizarre few days where he went from an outsider in one of country's toughest constituencies to the potential saviour of the Labour Party and back again.

He collected 5,675 first preferences in an election where many of his colleagues appeared to struggle to get their friends and family to vote for them.

In the time it took to open a few dozen ballot boxes his name was being whispered as the one that might be the man to help rebuild the party.

Over the past three days the party has been deprived of ministers, junior ministers and a batch of new and enthusiastic TDs who were swept into Leinster House by the 'Gilmore Gale'. As a result there was a lot of logic to the idea that he could be the new face of Labour.

It is only a matter of time before Joan Burton steps aside as leader of a very depleted parliamentary party, and then what?

The oldest party in the State is somewhat at risk of going completely stale. They have an age problem and a serious lack of representation in Dublin, where they need to rebuild their base.

Mr Ó Ríordáin's battle to continue as a TD gave them hope of counter-balancing the country perspectives of Alan Kelly and Brendan Howlin.

He isn't afraid to speak his mind, fight his corner and be a bit arrogant when necessary.

In the RDS yesterday he thanked his team who had taken on "challenges and causes that maybe weren't popular - things like drugs reform, Travellers' rights, working to try to change and fix the direct provision system".

They are real Labour issues that have been largely overlooked by a series of governments.

When the leadership of the party becomes vacant there's a real likelihood that the contest will come down to Tipperary man Mr Kelly (40) and Mr Howlin (59) from Wexford.

With Ged Nash also gone in Louth, Mr Ó Ríordáin (39) could have offered an alternative to the membership.

He would be a break from the past that is represented by Mr Howlin.

And he would be a less divisive figure both within the party and in the eyes of the general public than Mr Kelly.

Their personalities are not that different - both fighters who will speak their mind even if it's not politically correct, but Mr Ó Ríordáin is a little bit more refined when he needs to be. There would be plenty of fighting talk, but less "power is a drug".

He also proved his leadership credentials in the lead-up to the election by winning the TG4 'debate', even if it wasn't a head-to-head.

But the party's toxicity caught up with him in the end as transfers went in all directions but his. "Just like in football, there's always another match," he said. "In politics, there's always another election."

That next election might come pretty soon, so time is limited for the Labour Party to rediscover its purpose.

Mr Ó Ríordáin reckoned yesterday was the "first day of the comeback", but really how much fight is left in the depleted ranks?

Irish Independent

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