Sunday 30 April 2017

Fiach Kelly: O'Keeffe keeps home fires burning as battle with FF rival heats up

Fiach Kelly

O'Keeffe's team is primed to try and steal every last vote from under Michael Ahern's nose

'THERE'S no rogue like an old rogue," says Fianna Fail canvasser Jim Hogan as Ned O'Keeffe immediately starts gossiping as he enters Pat Shortt's bar in Castlemartyr, Co Cork.

Ned talks in a thick, machine gun Cork accent, firing out short bursts of sentences, often stopping for a chuckle. "We're on the up ... could be a shock here ... Martin's giving us a boost."

But Ned's not here for himself. His son Kevin, a county councillor, is taking on the O'Keeffe and Fianna Fail mantle in Cork East.

Ned -- famously outspoken during his career -- dropped a bombshell at the constituency selection convention last month when he announced he wouldn't be running again.

But, given Ned's form, it was perhaps less of a surprise when he said Kevin didn't have a chance of winning the seat -- even though his tune had changed by yesterday.

"Well, it came as a bit of a shock to some of my team when he came out with that," said Kevin, who both looks and sounds like his father.

Ned last week predicted there could soon be an army coup in Ireland, and he insisted yesterday it was still a possibility, but he's here to talk about Kevin.

"I'm on the way out ... he's the new man ... fighting for the last seat."

Kevin has a big team out for a wet Tuesday afternoon, with a dozen canvassers -- all men -- having sandwiches and soup in the bar at lunchtime.

A leaflet dropped by Michael Ahern, the other FF TD in the constituency, is being scrutinised, and Ned is not happy with the constituency projects listed on the leaflet.

Ahern and the O'Keeffes have a long-running rivalry, with no love lost between the two sides.

The Fine Gael and Labour teams in Cork East have the constituency divvied up between each other, hoping to maximise their vote. Different posters are put up in different towns, but there are no such niceties between Kevin and Michael Ahern.

"Oh God, he would have been a strong rival of ours going back to the 1980s," said Kevin.

And how's the relationship now? "We kind of say hello to each other."

There is little chance of FF holding its two seats here, and the O'Keeffe team of canvassers is primed to try and steal every last vote from under Ahern's nose.

Leaving the pub, owned by comedian Pat Shortt, Kevin heads off to canvass the rural areas between Castlemartyr and Midleton. Ned heads off to another area.

"Oh, Ned O'Keeffe's son -- the famous Kevin O'Keeffe," said Pauline O'Shea in Loughedarra when Kevin asked for the number one. "If you got back to basics. If you said you were going to cut your wages, even a little bit, or the number of seats in the Dail."

Kevin says the perception of politics is a major issue. He tells people about how Ned was always outspoken against the Government and how, if elected, he'll help change the Oireachtas.

"I don't think so, I'm sorry," said mother-of-two Deirdre next door to Ms O'Shea. "I'm very disappointed in the whole lot of you. I think you're all awful, appalling."

Garda Joe O'Connor has a similar message. "I voted Fianna Fail, but not this time."

"Vote number one O'Keeffe then," said Kevin.

But there are a good few people who say they'll vote for him, not least Connie Hickey and his workers at East Cork Precast, which makes concrete products.

"He has a bit of common sense," says Mr Hickey. "There are too many brains up there."

Irish Independent

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