News Elections

Saturday 22 July 2017

It's the last days of Drumcondra Mafia after poll massacre

The days of winning seats by sheer hard work on the ground are coming to an end, as lonely St Lukes becomes a symbol of the past, writes Celia Larkin

AS the old cliche says: "The people have spoken." I'd say the people have roared, in agony, in disgust, in fear. Fianna Fail have been slaughtered and they've only themselves to blame. Their option? Face it, accept it, learn from it, move on.

Can a party come back from such a hammering? Of course it can. Except it will be a very different party. It is no longer a majority party, no longer a party most likely to be in government. It needs to adopt a completely different mind-set. The political landscape of Ireland has changed completely. Civil war politics is gone for ever. And that must surely be a good thing. We have grown up as an electorate. The parties can no longer expect votes as a given from their loyal members and supporters. Loyalty works both ways. It's a lesson Fianna Fail has learned the hard way. It's one all parties should take heed of.

My late father called it a swagger. It is arrogance, an inflated belief in one's own importance. But governments are only there because the people gave them the seats, and as we have seen in this election, the people can also take them away.

We're facing the probability of a government with a massive majority. Its members would do well to put a note on their fridge reminding them that they own the tent but not the ground it's pitched on. That ground belongs to the Irish people. Politics is a tough job. It's cruel, it's demanding, it accepts no excuses. The people who stand for election in whatever party are to be admired for their courage in putting themselves before the electorate, in most cases setting themselves up for rejection. However, for those who actually get elected it is a great honour to represent your constituency. Participate in the running of your country whether in government or opposition. Cherish the position, and respect the people who put you there. It doesn't belong to you. It's only on loan.

For as long as I can remember, there has been a Fianna Fail seat in Dublin Central. The first general election I canvassed in Central was June 1981.

It was a beautiful summer and the Ahern team had quietly run rings around George Colley.

Word in the media was that the young whippersnapper Bertie Ahern would lose his seat. Ahern had been elected in 1977 in Dublin Finglas but had been moved to Dublin Central following the redrawing of the constituency boundaries. But Ahern had learned how to use the PR system and understood parish pump politics more than any other Fianna Failer on the block. He was elected along with George Colley on the first count, topping the poll for the first time in his political career.

After that first election in Central, it became the norm for Ahern to top the poll and run the constituency like a military machine. His capacity for constituency work and door-knocking became the stuff of legend. But despite all the negative talk on constituency work the real winners during his tenure in Dublin Central were the constituents he helped. And there were many.

It's funny to think that Fianna Fail won't have a seat there now.

Strange to think of the Drumcondra Mafia not controlling things around there anymore. Dispiriting for the permanent understudy, Cyprian Brady, who never got to take the starring role.

The days of winning seats by sheer hard work on the ground is coming to an end. While there is no doubt that political reform is required, and candidates should be elected on policy issues, in the absence of wide-spread structured citizen advice centres, less fortunate sections of the community, will be the losers. St Lukes, that red-bricked detached house on the corner of Drumcondra Road and Cian Park is inextricably linked with Bertie Ahern and the Fianna Fail organisation. It's not the first time there was a Fianna Fail house in Dublin Central.

Way back at the time of that first election in '81, Fianna Fail owned a property in Amien Street. That particular house was sold by the organisation due to lack of funds for its upkeep. One wonders will the same fate befall St Lukes in the months and years ahead now there is no longer a recognised figurehead to champion the fundraising for its maintenance.

Traffic tended to stop outside that house because of a traffic light, and heads always turned in curiosity from within the haulted buses and cars.

It was instantly recognised, much publicised, the centre of power from 1997 to 2007.

It played host to confidential meetings on the lead-in to the peace process. On many occasions, it served as centre of negotiations to ward off industrial and political disputes. It was an informal venue during state visits, welcoming the Clintons and Blairs. It may be an unassuming solid little Victorian house but St Lukes has history soaked into its walls.

Of course, technically, the house is available to all members of the organisation in Dublin Central, North West and North Central. But like any great court, can it survive when the king is gone? Especially when the chosen understudy is no longer standing. Dublin Central was always a personality politician's constituency: Charles Haughey, George Colley, Tony Gregory and Bertie Ahern.

Now, however, all the big guns are gone. No nationally recognised names figure in the constituency.

No one to highlight the cause of the North inner city. Just another urban constituency where Fianna Fail met catastrophe.

And a lonely house stands on the corner of Drumcondra Road and Cian Park silent and dusty in the setting sun. Like a symbol of the past.

Sunday Independent

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