Saturday 1 October 2016

Outspoken senator quietly confident of making a comeback

Published 02/02/2016 | 02:30

Thomas Byrne beside the Boyne in Slane. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Thomas Byrne beside the Boyne in Slane. Photo: Gerry Mooney

In 2011, Thomas Byrne was one of the leading lights of Fianna Fáil's 'Ógra Generation'.

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Then aged 33, he was the party's youngest TD, known for his strident views and not being afraid to share them.

But his growing profile wasn't enough to save him from the armageddon that hit his party in the 2011 General Election.

Now, after five years in the Seanad, Mr Byrne is quietly confident of making a comeback.

"We're out canvassing every night. The response is very, very positive," he explains.

He says big issues in the three-seater Meath East are the economy, jobs, childcare and housing.

This isn't the father of three's only recent trip around the doors.

He was nearly re-elected in a March 2013 by-election, securing a third of the vote - not far behind Fine Gael winner Helen McEntee, who held on to her late father Shane McEntee's seat.

His unsuccessful run for Europe in 2014 notwithstanding, the by-election showing suggests Mr Byrne is in with good chance of taking a Dáil seat.

He is bullish in defending his party in the face of criticism of its role in the crash, insisting that Fianna Fáil "laid the foundation stone for economic recovery" while complaining that ministers from the current Coalition don't acknowledge that.

He has also not been shy when it comes to speaking out about controversies that have hit his own party.

He was one of the first to question former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's continued membership of Fianna Fáil after the Mahon Tribunal published its report in 2012.

Asked about the perception that he is outspoken, Mr Byrne says: "I try to speak my mind."

Now aged 38, Byrne is in with a good chance of taking a seat in a constituency where Fianna Fáil has traditionally enjoyed strong support.

Meath East is supposedly home to the mythical 'Ashbourne Annie' voter - stay-at-home mothers in Dublin's commuter belt - being targeted by Labour Party strategists.

Sitting Labour TD Dominic Hannigan didn't appreciate the term created by what he called "overpaid media gurus". He topped the poll in 2011 but faces a battle this time.

Fine Gael TDs Regina Doherty and Deputy McEntee have a strong chance of hanging on, but all sitting TDs face a credible bid from Sinn Féin's Darren O'Rourke, who can't be ruled out.

Prediction: one Fianna Fáil seat, two Fine Gael.

Irish Independent

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