'It's a big hullabaloo over nothing, I have no clue who is behind it'
Majella O'Sullivan meets Jackie Healy-Rae on the way to the bog as the controversy unfolded yesterday
Published 29/06/2011 | 05:00
JACKIE Healy-Rae walked out of the pub run by his son Danny yesterday with a job to do.
It was 1pm -- the middle of the day -- and presumably he had just eaten his dinner, as he once claimed the ordinary, plain people of Ireland were wont to do.
He was on his way to the bog, he said. He had a day's work ahead of him. It was in a state and needed some attention.
The sun was shining on the sleepy village of Kilgarvan, Co Kerry, and in between showers it was the ideal day to get the job done.
He may have retired from politics, but Jackie -- who turned 80 in March -- has still plenty to do to occupy his time.
And there wasn't a soul on the village street to delay the former TD from his task except a reporter and a photographer.
As usual, Mr Healy-Rae had time to greet his visitors and was happy to answer questions on the latest controversy to engulf his family.
Dressed in a navy shirt and slacks with his trademark tartan cap, he protested he wasn't really "dressed for photographs" as he was headed to the bog but nevertheless obliged our photographer whom he knew of old.
He was quick to launch a staunch defence of his family, denying any involvement in the controversy where 3,636 calls were made from Leinster House in support of his son Michael when he was a contestant on the reality TV show 'Celebrities go Wild'.
"I know nothing in the world about it and that's the honest truth," he said, adding that he had "no clue" as to who might have been behind the phone calls.
However, he said he and his sons Danny and Michael -- who were mayor and deputy mayor of Kerry County Council at the time -- would have supported some of the people who had been elected to the Seanad so it was likely that Michael would have had his supporters within the houses of the Oireachtas.
"Apart from that I have no clue in the wild empty world," Mr Healy-Rae insisted. "It's a big hullabaloo over nothing. As Michael himself said, it's not that someone stole the money. It all went to charity."
The retired TD had been following the saga on the radio and heard his son defend his position on Radio Kerry that morning.
He hadn't his own mobile phone switched on and all calls went straight to his message minder. His home phone had been hopping all morning -- a reminder of the life he retired from earlier this year.
One of the most recognisable characters in Irish politics, Jackie Healy-Rae has never been far from controversy and created a new political dynasty in a county notorious for dynasties.
His son Michael successfully won his father's Dail seat in South Kerry in February and his place on the county council was taken by Jackie's grandson, Johnny, who now sits alongside his father Danny in the council chamber.
Even his entry into national politics was a coup for the veteran who was first elected to Kerry County Council in 1974.
Having been denied a place on the Fianna Fail ticket in 1997 at the age of 66, Jackie decided to run as an Independent, and pulled off a feat that amazed his opponents.
He vowed at the time he'd "take the whip from no man", and was true to his word never returning to the Fianna Fail fold.
He was re-elected in the 2002 and 2007 elections and yielded massive power by supporting successive Fianna Fail governments in return for certain favours for his Kerry South constituency.
He claims credit for the new Castleisland bypass which opened last year and also funding for a new hospital for Kenmare.
In the dying days of the last Government he was accused of holding the country to ransom when he pledged his support for the Finance Bill on the condition that he got certain concessions in return.
The move was deemed "gombeenism" everywhere except in his own constituency where there was even a grudging respect for his ability to outwit his opponents.
There was also public outrage when it emerged that Mr Healy-Rae got to choose three appointments to state boards and there is still mounting pressure on his son Michael to resign from the Citizens Information Board.
His barrister daughter Rosemary was reappointed to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal but Jackie has always insisted "anything that girl got she got on her own steam".
Closer to home, controversy has also extended to the next generation.
Michael appointed brother Danny as his parliamentary assistant following the 2011 elections.
Danny Healy-Rae made headlines earlier this year when he was involved in a land dispute with his neighbour over a right of way on their land in Kilgarvan.
The row resulted in an altercation that led to Mr Healy-Rae being hospitalised. The matter was settled at the circuit court recently.
With all that's happening at home yesterday with the latest controversy, Jackie must have welcomed a day on the bog in Kilgarvan away from the madness.