'It was a real test for our marriage'
Former Lord Mayor Royston Brady faced insomnia, huge bills, unemployment and a stormy marriage after he ran unsuccessfully for the European elections as a Fianna Fail candidate. But now life has never been better. He talks to Barry Egan about the Brady bunch, the burden of debt and Bertie
Published 27/01/2008 | 00:00
MICHELLE Brady was coming back from mass last Sunday in Malahide when she caught the end of the Marian Finucane show on the car radio: someone was calling her husband yesterday's man. When she got home, Royston was upstairs changing baby Ethan's nappy and hadn't heard the item. The one-time blue-eyed boy of Fianna Fail was more amused, it turned out, by being used in the new Tayto crisps ad in that day's Sunday Times.
"Yesterday's man?" he says now. "It is a pretty bold statement to make when I am just 35 years of age. Things change fast in life and in politics. I'm in business at the moment with my company, Alpha Recruitment, and I'm doing very well and answering to nobody but myself," he says slowly.
"Look, nobody knows what is around the corner." Or perhaps he does. Despite the rumour, he says he hasn't been contacted by the Mahon Tribunal, nor does he expect to be. He doesn't believe his former guru Bertie Ahern's evidence to the Tribunal, he says.
I ask him has he ever met property developer Tom Gilmartin. "I've never met the man, no. I don't know anything about him. I could believe some of he what he is saying about trying to get business done in the early Nineties in Ireland. Palms obviously had to be greased."
It has taken me more than two years to get Royston to sit down to do this interview. "For feck's sake," he half-laughs, "don't feckin' hang me." (Royston Matthew Brady is Dub through and through -- his dad Richard was from Sheriff Street, his mother, Doreen Lynch, from Clanbrassil Street.) He doesn't want his career sacrificed in the tragicomic play we call Irish politics. There are things he wants to say about the not too distant past, but he is careful when he speaks. He isn't your archetypal, weasel-faced, paranoid, delusional, schizoid, conspiracy theorist nut-job.
A member of Ogra Fianna Fail since the age of 11, the dapper, six-foot former Lord Mayor of Dublin is calm and collected in his Louis Copeland suit and frock coat. Secrecy, duplicity, betrayal and worse, he smiles, are the stock in trade of his former cronies in the Drumcondra Mafia, all caught in a maze of interlocking plots. The arts of cunning and deceit are required for survival, he adds with a laugh and the bite of a choccie biscuit in the Gresham Hotel. He wasn't laughing after the European elections in late summer 2004, where he ran, unsuccessfully, as a Fianna Fail candidate, and was left with huge debts that, he says, FF were supposed to have paid. Things, he alleges, turned unsavoury after he was interviewed on the one o' clock news on RTE in March or April -- Royston can't remember precisely -- of 2005 about the outstanding money owed. He claims he received a sinister phone call directly after from someone high up in Fianna Fail ordering him to go to a hotel on the south side of Dublin.
En route to the meeting place -- the Berkeley Court Hotel -- he had been interviewed live on radio by Gerry Ryan about the election debts. Ryan had suggested on air that the listeners have a whip round for Royston. The powerful FF individual who Royston was on his way to meet was obviously not happy at Royston giving another interview. When Royston got to the Berkeley Court, the person wasn't there. Royston was finally rung on his mobile and told to go to the Herbert Park Hotel.
Royston won't name the individual. He alleges, however, that at that meeting in the Herbert Park Hotel he was "basically threatened". He claims that this powerful figure in Fianna Fail told him, he says, "in no uncertain terms not to be talking to journalists, not to be talking to media outlets. Do not talk to anybody else -- or else I would find it very hard to get work in this town. It is a small town".
"When I got into my car I was a bit shook from it. These are powerful individuals. I remember being shaken when I got into my car afterwards."
In hindsight, he says he was forced into speaking out publicly. "I had to defend myself. I was the one getting the bills. I was told throughout the European election campaign that I was not to worry about the bills."
Told by whom?
"They know who they are," he says firmly.
The meeting in the Herbert Park concluded with Royston being told in the plainest terms that if he stopped running his mouth off to the media all the bills would be paid. When Royston asked the individual how this was going to happen, he was told that they had "a car -- a Mini Cooper -- that they were ready to raffle".
His silence bought his way out of the financial problems he was in. Terrorised into submission or not, "I never ever received any more bills or solicitors' letters after that," Royston says. "All suppliers were paid. It was as simple as that."
It wasn't as simple as that, however. It never is in Irish politics. That turbulent period in his life after the election -- "Royston waxed overconfident and fell like Icarus", to quote one headline -- almost tore his marriage asunder. The man who had been touted as a young Bertie Ahern with a glittering political career ahead of him was falling apart in private and his marriage to Michelle McConalogue with it.
"I had a lot of sleepless nights because of a lot of solicitors' letters. Myself and Michelle went through a storm ourselves," he says of his wife. "I had been slaughtered in the media which accused me of basically telling lies about my dad's taxi being kidnapped and that I did it to get votes. It is quite ridiculous to suggest that."
"We were married a year and that was a real test. I have to say now, looking back, that it will stand to us. I always take positives from negatives. You have to do that. I checked with Michelle first before doing this interview and she said: 'Look at all we've been through together.'
"Michelle was really there for me and that's what made it easier to deal with anything that came our way," adds Royston, who now runs his own highly successful company, Alpha Recruitment. "Not getting elected to go to Europe was probably the best thing that happened after all, because we weren't married that long and I think it could have had a very negative impact on our marriage."
He can remember Michelle saying to him that day: forget politics, go and start your own business. "And that's exactly what I did."
"Thankfully, now, all of that is well behind us now and we couldn't be happier with everything we've got."
Chief among everything the Brady bunch have got would be 16-month-old Ethan (the name is not unusual in a family with eldest to youngest -- Cyprian, Howard, Simon, Naomi, Ruth, Perpetua, Royston Fulton and Felicity).
Whatever about conspiracy theories, Royston is the archetypal New Dad, even to the extent that he enjoys changing Ethan's nappies. The former politician, who spent a few years dealing with the doo-doo that people slung at him ...
Most notably, perhaps, that he had fabricated a story -- to get sympathy from the electorate -- that his father's taxi was hijacked by loyalist paramilitaries for use in the Dublin bombings of 1974. ("He more or less had to beg for his life and explain to them that he had eight kids under the age of 11," he told Hot Press in 2004. "But they took the car off him, tied him up and left him up the mountains.") The future of Fianna Fail, as Royston was once touted, and not just by himself, was being called a conniving con artist on the make.
"The reason I had remembered my dad telling, on more than one occasion, about what happened to him," he says now, "was because it seemed to have a profound affect on him. He was so sure that they were going to shoot him when he stopped the car up the Dublin Mountains, that he asked them for a pen and paper so he could write a note to my mum. I suppose to say goodbye."
He says his dad gave up driving the taxi shortly after that because he lost his nerve, but he still managed to support his family of eight kids and his wife.
To be called a liar by the national media was one thing, but when his older brother Cyprian, whom Royston had idolised as a young kid -- cast further doubt on the claims it must have been worse. "Gardai have no record of such a hijacking," wrote the Irish Times. "Cyprian Brady, a Fianna Fail senator who runs the Taoiseach's constituency office, has told relatives of those bereaved by the bomb that his brother's claims were also news to him."
"Throughout that whole controversy, I never doubted that the story about my dad being taken at gunpoint was true, but a few times I wondered if I had recalled it correctly," says Royston. "It was proven to be true a week after the election, when a copy of the front of the Irish Times from the morning the bombings took place was found. On that front page there was a report about what had happened to my dad while he was driving his taxi that day."
"I knew I was right because I had heard the story so many times from my dad. I knew he lost his livelihood. The one disappointing thing was his eldest son (Cyprian) knew it too, but never bothered coming out or backing me up. That's life."
He decided to let his younger brother -- you -- swing in the wind?
"For the want of a better description, yes, absolutely. It suited him politically, but that's OK. He never apologised, no. We don't talk."
Even at Christmas?
"Nope. If you asked him the same question he would probably smooth it over because that is the political answer. I don't take lies. I have my own family now. I have a child. The way I see it is you can only offer an olive branch so many times. There was no contact, not even when Ethan was born," he alleges of his older brother.
"The day of Ethan's christening he came out to the house. It was at the time of the election. I said to my mother ask Cyprian to come to the house. He's my brother for Christ's sakes. This political thing is only a sideshow. My dad used to say it: we're only passing through. He had come out to the house and we shook hands and I haven't seen him since. Was he politically motivated to come and see me? Every family has its problems."
It wasn't always like that, of course. Royston can remember the best summer holidays "that any family could have" in a caravan in Rush. His dad had a band, The Midas Touch, which played seven nights a week in Murrays in Lusk, a cabaret venue, and Royston and his brothers and sisters and mother, Doreen used to pop along to watch him belt out Neil Diamond and Elvis numbers. He can also remember fondly his dad bringing him to meet a guy who was sitting in an office down in Amiens Street. Royston was 11 at the time. "There was queues out the door to see this guy sitting behind the desk with scraggly hair." Bertie Ahern must have seen the ambition in the young kid's eyes even then -- in 1999, the kid became the youngest member of Dublin City Council at the age of 26. "That was my first introduction to politics," Royston says, adding that the only other time before that he met a politician was when Charles Haughey came to Royston's -- and CJ's -- school, St Joseph's in Fairview. "Both times I remember thinking at the time that I wanted to go into politics."
ROYSTON pours the tea today in the Gresham Hotel, where we are having lunch. He actually met his wife in this very establishment on O'Connell Street. From Carndonagh, Co Donegal, Michelle McConalogue was the marketing and sales director and he a lowly trainee. "I was always attracted to her but she would never have noticed it," he says of the woman who is slightly older than his 35 years.
It was only when he went to America to work for Hilton Hotels and returned eight years later that the relationship grew into something more in early 1999. Royston was then general manager in the Royal Marine Hotel (which was owned by the Gresham) in Dun Laoghaire and was in regular communication with Michelle because she worked in head office in O'Connell Street. They met up after work to discuss a problem and their relationship began slowly from there. They were engaged on July 23, 2003, in San Donato, a couple of hours' journey outside Rome. He describes Michelle as "strong and opinionated, but with a soft inner shell." He says Michelle would describe his personality as "stubborn". That obstinate side of his nature was evidence, in hindsight, when they were married on December 27, 2003 in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. His bride-to-be wasn't too keen on inviting all his political friends in Drumcondra.
In any event, his then mentor Bertie Ahern attended with his then girlfriend Celia Larkin at his wedding along with, he jokes, "half the stars of the Tribunal. It was a decision I made to bring them. I look back now and I think I did it because my dad knew them. You know -- Des Richardson, Joe Burke, all these guys. I had grown up in that circle. Michelle wasn't too keen on it. And I have to say if there was one time I should have listened to her, it was back then."
I imagine Royston listens to his wife -- "she wears the trousers" -- more these days. He is out of politics two years and is in no rush to go back. He has swapped talking grass-roots politics in Fagans with Bertie and the political mob for discussing wheat grass and healthy living near the beach in Malahide with Michelle, or the occasional pint in his local Gibney's.
"There is a lot to be said for closing your front door in the evening and spending time with Michelle and Ethan," he says. "While I do miss public life on occasion, it's nice to have your own space. It's a demanding job and politicians do give up their privacy the minute they get elected." Pressed, he says he will go back into politics one day. (He obviously hasn't lost his interest in politics. His favourite book is Spin Cycle: Inside The Clinton Administration by Howard Kurtz.) It is possibly what his late father would have wanted.
What does he think his dad, looking down from heaven, would make of all the carry-on now?
"He was always a very straight talker and hadn't got much time for lies, he would think more of you if you just told him the truth, no matter what the circumstances. He always said that there would be certain individuals that would be the ruination of Ahern, and, looking at what's going on now, he was spot on."
Royston says without hesitation that the lowest point in his life was on the evening of November 12, 1996 when he was called to the phone of the Hilton Hotel in New York, where he was working, and told his dad had died suddenly. He had only talked to him two nights previous. "Ironically," he says, "the last conversation I had with my dad involved Bertie. He adds that he has letters that Ahern wrote to his dad over the years...
"Bertie Ahern is so linked into me and my dad," he says. "My father was the first person to introduce me to Bertie and the last conversation I had with my father was about Bertie. That's hard to forget."
How and ever, Royston's views on Ahern, who has been hounded by the Tribunal, are to say the least contentious, if not downright disloyal to the man behind the desk in Amiens Street who started him in politics when he was 11.
"I have always admired Bertie and I still do, but he is not telling the whole truth. You don't spend as long as I have spent down around Drumcondra and hanging around with him and not know what it is going on. It's becoming very sad to watch it unfold because he's now not only damaging his own legacy but its damaging to politics as a profession.
Bertie is dragging his whole family situation into it; about his marriage; 'I was going through a bad time.' I don't swallow any of that. I was there when all of this was happening. I was standing at the bar counters in 1994, in 1992, in 1991. I was in Kennedys with him when Celia was sitting in the chair. It wasn't the way he is trying to portray it."
And how was it?
"I am clearly living in two different worlds, obviously. Bertie would give JK Rowling a run for her money with the total fantasy stuff that he is coming out with. He did that interview with Brian Dobson and the public fell for it. You get away with that once. I don't think he will win a second Oscar for squeezing out a tear."
Do you believe he is telling the truth?
"No, I don't believe the stories that Bertie is telling at the moment, and I think the more spinning of stories that happens, the less that peoplebelieve. It's hilarious. No-one seems to remember any of the details. When you are dealing with 40 or 50 grand surely someone remembers something.? Not Bertie, obviously."
Royston Brady's all-time favourite film is Braveheart. And you'd have to admire the former Drumcondra Mafia member's bravery at breaking the code of silence, omerta.