Monday 24 October 2016

Niamh Horan: 'Alan Kelly suffered because he was rough, and ready for battle'

Power takes many forms as 4,000 Labour members found out to their detriment

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Niamh Horan and Alan Kelly Photo: Tony Gavin
Niamh Horan and Alan Kelly Photo: Tony Gavin

Alan Kelly is crying into his pillow. That was the general consensus this weekend as Brendan Howlin took over as leader of the Labour Party - given that the Tipperary man had been denied the chance to run in the contest.

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But by 8.30pm on Friday, the TD had put paid to the idea that he was reaching for the Kleenex.

A photograph in his local pub showed seven pints on the bar, each with a little less alcohol as he went along: "The seven stages of leadership," he quipped underneath.

A bit of light humour in what must have been an incredibly difficult night.

It was typical of the man I met last January. Funny, charismatic and a straight-talker.

Read More: Alan Kelly: 'Power is a drug . . . it suits me'

Beforehand, I had asked those in political and media circles what Kelly was like on a personal level. And his reputation preceded him.

'Incredibly ambitious', 'a young man in a hurry', 'a politician who isn't afraid to say it like it is'. Many tipped him for party leader.

So it was no surprise when, over tea in his local cafe, he expressed the desire to take over from Joan Burton and one day become Taoiseach.

I know little about politics. But on a human level it made sense.

Read More: How Alan Kelly’s world fell apart

It would be strange if a man, having dedicated most of his life to a career he is passionate about, didn't want to make it to the top.

Fulfil personal ambitions, whilst making positive changes along the way? What's not to like about that?

He had brought thousands of jobs to the local area, cars honked and people stopped at an exhaustive rate to shake his hand on the street and thank him for his work. And he loved it.

Power in itself isn't a bad thing.

When managed, it can fuel enthusiasm and give people the courage to take risks and handle stress under pressure.

So why weren't other politicians brave enough to even acknowledge its existence in their world?

As Eoghan Harris said to me this weekend: "The Labour lords look down on Alan Kelly because he has no airs or graces. Politics is about power. And any political observer knows that power is a turn on, a life force, an aphrodisiac.

"If Bill Clinton or Boris Johnson said power was an aphrodisiac all the PC groupies would just nod their heads and say 'how true'. But because Kelly told this truth in a popular paper, it spooked the snobs in Labour who prefer twee papers."

He said: "In some sense, therefore, Kelly suffered because he was not a snob, was rough and ready for battle - and the last thing Labour wants is a leader who might frighten Fine Gael."

If the posturing after the piece was to be believed, none of our Dail representatives are attracted to influence or clout and the feeling it brings.

Nope. That type of character can only be found in a fictional Netflix series.

Give me a break.

Kelly's biggest problem was that he was honest... something I thought we wanted more of from politicians. They are so used to putting on a face, presenting spin and hiding behind PRs, that the interview was a welcome change.

His sense of personal ambition also rubbed people up the wrong way.

In America it's lionised, in Ireland it's is a dirty word.

What was wrong with Kelly appearing on The Late Late Show to declare his intentions? Why should anyone feel shy about their desire to get on in life, to succeed and to win?

Why is a quality so celebrated on the sports field often seen as a threat to others when it comes to our career?

Perhaps his party colleagues felt the subtext was that he was going to trample on others or take a piece of their pie. But if he puts himself out there, then he faces the possibility of public failure and that is the risk he takes.

It is why so few among us are willing to put their heads above the parapet, and why fortune favours the risk takers.

I am not in a position to give an opinion on Kelly's politics. But I do know for the few hours we met, he came across as a very likeable guy.

In this job you get to meet a lot of men in power. And whether I come away with a positive feeling or not is down to a very basic rule of thumb: do they give me the time to answer my questions on an equal footing?

That's why the only man who left me feeling cold on the election trail was Leo Varadkar.

A man who, when asked about the most important health and political issues for women today, laughed his way through my list of questions.

But that didn't make headlines or hamper anyone's opinion; which makes me think I know even less about politics now - and nothing about the people who vote in these representatives.

If there is anything I have learned about Kelly himself however, it is that he has thick skin, he is driven and he'll be back.

He will quietly work away and watch how Labour performs under a new leader. Four years is a long time and even longer if you're Howlin, wearing the crown.

The one thing I still can't quite get my head around is that Kelly wasn't afforded the chance to run for the leadership.

The small print of party rules is a cop-out. The fairest thing to do would have been to put it to the floor.

As Joe Kemmy, a stalwart of the party from the '80s, put it on RTE Radio One yesterday - a situation was engineered where a small cartel of people were able to come together to deny the people a chance to vote. It was, he says, in effect, a one man, one woman, one vote situation.

Why did those in a position of power, such as Jan O'Sullivan, not let the 4,000 people supporting their party have their say?

Seeing as we are on the subject of power, is that not the force at work in its darkest form?

Sunday Independent

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