Saturday 1 October 2016

'Lenihan hasn't a hope down here' - locals rally behind FF duo ahead of election bid

Published 26/08/2015 | 02:30

Councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice chatting with Michael Shiel in Benny's Deli on Main Street, Castlerea, Co Roscommon yesterday Photo: David Walsh
Councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice chatting with Michael Shiel in Benny's Deli on Main Street, Castlerea, Co Roscommon yesterday Photo: David Walsh
Councillor Eugene Murphy with his 12-year-old son Rian Photo: David Walsh

As news of Conor Lenihan's bid for re-election emerged, feathers were certainly ruffled in the Roscommon East Galway constituency in which he plans to run.

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If Lenihan goes ahead with his candidacy, he would be going up against two Fianna Fáil councillors on the ground in Roscommon who have both expressed their intention to run - Paschal Fitzmaurice in Castlerea and Eugene Murphy in Strokestown.

Yesterday both men were inundated with calls of support from locals who made it clear they were not in favour of a former Dublin TD being parachuted into their patch.

In Castlerea, Mr Fitzmaurice was busy taking calls and answering texts throughout the day. "I must have had 40 phonecalls by lunchtime. It's mostly people making sure I'm still going to run. I've assured them I am," he said.

On the streets of Castlerea, the popular councillor was stopped repeatedly by locals, eager to encourage him to put his name on the ticket. One such man was local deli owner Benny O'Carroll.

"Paschal is so busy on the ground. You know he's someone you can go to. Any suggestion of Conor Lenihan being put in is a big no-no in this area," he said.

The story was similar in nearby Strokestown where Eugene Murphy has been a councillor for almost 30 years. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing, people telling me I have got to go and I can't back down. And I've told them I will be going and I'd be very confident without being bullish," he said.

"There has been a huge shift in Irish politics that maybe not everyone in Fianna Fáil and Irish politics has learned - that people want local representation.

"They know you will fight for issues that matter to the people."

That mood was evident on the ground.

Joe Murray, who owns the Percy French Hotel with his wife Edel, had a stark message for the former TD.

"Let him stay above in Dublin where he was all his life. He hasn't a hope down here, he'll only embarrass himself further," he added.

Local man Padraig Kelly was equally irate.

"He has to be forced out. Eugene has always been our man and Conor Lenihan won't get in here, we'll make sure of that," he said.

As for campaigning against the force of the Lenihan team, both councillors insisted they had no issue taking on their possible rival.

"Let him come. We'll fight a good battle. Anyone has a right to come to convention but my feeling is Roscommon East Galway people will make their feelings known and they want the councillors they have on the ground," said Mr Murphy.

His party colleague agreed. "If I'm being perfectly honest with you, when I heard about it initially quite a lot of people...I won't say laughter, but there were people who thought it was a joke initially.

"But I have to say very clearly, if Conor Lenihan wants to go forward with his candidacy I won't have any problem with him doing that. The bottom line here is the convention and that's where it will all be done and dusted," added Mr Fitzmaurice.

A councillor for the past six years, Mr Fitzmaurice says he has been inundated with support from senior members of the party locally.

"People tell me they want someone who knows the local issues and I've been working on them every day for six years. I have quite a number of senior members supporting me, they would say Conor Lenihan doesn't live in the county, he knows nothing about the county and he has no real links to the county other than the fact that his father was from South Roscommon," he added.

Confusion also surrounds just how the Roscommon East Galway constituency was chosen as a possible stomping ground for the former TD and junior minister.

While Mr Lenihan stated that he had been approached by senior Fianna Fáil figures from within the locality, a raft of councillors and party organisers including the mayor of the county, Paddy Kilduff, publicly insisted yesterday that they did not make the initial contact.

"I've had phonecalls from senior members of the party who have told me they had received text messages from Conor Lenihan looking for a meeting and looking for support," added Mr Fitzmaurice.

As the dust settled on the news yesterday both councillors were back to the grindstone.

"This job never ends and anyone coming into this area better realise that," said Mr Murphy.

Irish Independent

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