Wednesday 28 September 2016

Louth is shaping up for a battle of the brothers

Published 03/10/2015 | 02:30

Renua Ireland's Michael O'Dowd canvassing alongside his campaign manager Thomas Clare (standing) with local barber Brendan O'Rourke in Dunleer, Co Louth Photo: Steve Humphreys
Renua Ireland's Michael O'Dowd canvassing alongside his campaign manager Thomas Clare (standing) with local barber Brendan O'Rourke in Dunleer, Co Louth Photo: Steve Humphreys

Michael O'Dowd's campaign manager was turning on the charm. "Will you give him the number one vote instead of his brother?" Thomas asked with a smile.

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The candidate intervened worriedly. "No, no, it's fine," he assured the woman. "It's not a personalised campaign at all. You have to choose between the policies of Renua and Fine Gael, not between me and Fergus…"

Thomas sighed theatrically. "Ah, Michael, will you just go home now?" he joked, rolling his eyes heavenwards.

Political siblings aren't particularly unusual in Leinster House, but siblings running for rival parties in the same constituency are less commonplace.

However, Louth will see precisely such a tussle in the forthcoming general election, when Renua's newest recruit Michael O'Dowd contests this five-seat constituency, running against his brother, Fine Gael TD and former junior minister Fergus.

Michael, a former three-term Fine Gael councillor since 1999, lost his council seat in last year's local elections.

He supported Lucinda Creighton's stance on the abortion bill which saw her quit Fine Gael, and he had also become disillusioned with disability cuts made by the party. Michael has a son with Down Syndrome.

And so he's hitting the Dáil campaign trail, doing his first canvass in Dunleer yesterday, along with his whirlwind campaign manager, Thomas Clare.

"I was talking to your brother about the road. It's sinking again," one elderly chap informed Michael, who promptly jotted down his number and promised to call and look at it.

"I'm running for Lucinda's party," Michael explained to passers-by, wisely understanding that at this point, 'Lucinda' has a greater recognition factor than 'Renua'. Most people were interested and took a leaflet.

Michael strolled around, happy to linger and discuss policy, while Thomas zipped about, corralling everyone he knows (which is everyone in Dunleer) to meet the candidate. One man stopped in the middle of the busy road to make a point.

"Mind yourself - you can't vote when you're dead," called out an anxious Thomas.

In Beechwood Drive estate, he knocked on the door of a pensioner. She was happy to chat, but Michael was unlikely to get her vote.

"Lucinda was against abortion. I think it should be available for anyone who wants it in this country. It shouldn't be laid on the queen's carpet," she declared.

But she wished Michael the best all the same.

"Good luck, and may the best man win," she said kindly.

At another door, another elderly lady finished a chat with the candidate.

"Nice talking to you Fergus," she said.

Thomas sighed again. "See what we're up against?"

So how did his brother take the news that Michael would be running against him? He looked a bit uncomfortable.

"He would have been aware of my strong disappointment in the expulsion of members over a matter of principle," he said.

Fergus had tried to talk him out of quitting the party.

"But he respected my point of view. He hasn't talked to his brother since news of his candidacy broke last week, but he's aware that the rivalry will spark interest.

"I know there's a soap-opera there, but I hope people will vote for policies, rather than for one brother or the other. That would be mad.

"I'm not running against my brother - I'm running against Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the rest," he insisted.

In fairness, Michael looks uncannily like his older brother, which might cause confusion in the polling-booths.

"His name will be first on the ballot - I'll give him that advantage," he laughed.

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Irish Independent

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