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Friday 29 August 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Potential broker Lowry gives FG food for thought

Fionnan Sheahan

Published 21/02/2011 | 05:00

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Michael Lowry shakes hands with event organiser John Joe Patterson while canvassing at the Hot Rod Track near Dunkerrin, North Tipperary

INSIDE Thurles Shopping Centre, there's little sign of anybody sharing John Gormley's concerns about electing Independents such as Michael Lowry.

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In fact, the Tipperary North TD's primary concern is ensuring those who are committed to voting for him don't get poached in the final week of the campaign. "I would estimate I'd lose votes because there is a concerted effort to take my vote," he says.

The former Fine Gael minister gets a warm reception from young and old alike.

"We'll give it to the man who is going to do something for us," a shopper says.

Mr Lowry is up against Fine Gael's Noel Coonan, Fianna Fail's Maire Hoctor and Labour Party MEP Alan Kelly for the three seats in the traditional barometer constituency. Sinn Fein's Seamus Morris will also be a player.

Mr Lowry is still the boss in his Thurles heartland -- a quarter century after first being elected a Fine Gael TD and 15 years after revelations of payments from Ben Dunne brought his ministerial career and membership of the party to an end.

He had up to 1,000 supporters attending an election fundraiser and rally on Saturday night outside the town.

In the last general election campaign, Mr Lowry became very ill from exhaustion. He's taking it handier this time and is getting advice from the most unlikely of sources.

In the coffee shop as he drinks tea and eats a Kit-Kat, in walks Mona Hanafin, the mother of Fianna Fail deputy leader Mary Hanafin, and promptly berates him -- about his diet.

"I was talking to your canvassers. You're not eating enough, I hear. You're only picking. One good meal every day and you don't have to worry about the rest of it," she says.

After supporting the outgoing Fianna Fail-led government, Mr Lowry is regarded as an Independent who can do business -- the kind that may play a role if his former party can form a government without Labour.

He dismisses Green Party suggestions about Independents being unstable and fires a shot back.

"In terms of stability, there's a huge contradiction in how I dealt with national affairs and how the Greens were. From day one, I felt the Greens didn't have the aptitude or know-how to deal with government and they showed a huge level of political immaturity," he says.

Looking at his old party, Mr Lowry says there is a huge gulf emerging with Labour. "I would expect next week Fine Gael are going to climb higher," he says.

"The Labour attitude to me seems to be they are for nothing and against everything; that's been exposed in the debates."

Mr Lowry expects 15 to 20 Independents to be elected and says they are "going to be a powerful influence" either in opposition -- or government.

Given his record in recent years of teaming up with Jackie Healy-Rae, he is spoken of as a potential dealmaker for Independents.

"I was reliable and stable in my support. And it's that kind of individual that you need if you're looking at Independents for support," he says.

Next door to the shopping centre is the former Erin Foods factory, which closed down three years ago. The site is owned by millionaire businessman Richard Quirke, who is developing a controversial casino project outside the town, with Mr Lowry's backing.

The veteran TD denies the price of him supporting a Fine Gael government will be a change in the gambling laws to allow the casino to proceed -- but he does admit he will lobby for the project.

"I would put forward an argument and I would reason and make logical points in support of it," he says.

"In this instance, I think, for Independents, there is only one priority at this stage and that is what are the best policies and what are the best proposals to (get) our economy moving again? My attitude would be nothing is more important than addressing the huge financial issues that have to be addressed."

After his damaging departure from the party, a link-up will be contentious among a section of Fine Gael and certainly won't go down well with the local organisation.

Party figures will also be concerned about Mr Lowry being associated with the Moriarty Tribunal due to report any time now.

"Nothing new has emerged in the tribunal. For me, it has been a constant in my life. It has put enormous pressure on me. I have dealt with it," he says.

Mr Lowry is still close friends with Phil Hogan and has also a good relationship with Enda Kenny and his circle.

He is happy to pay tribute to the "dedicated and committed people that have served the party" as Fine Gael prepares to return to power.

But does he have regrets and wonder what might have been had he not had to resign in the wake of the Dunnes payment scandal?

"I am delighted for them and I'm delighted that they have their opportunity. And on a personal level, needless to say: if only. But that's life . . ."

Irish Independent

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