Monday 26 September 2016

Nomination wars can take much of the gloss off the party

Published 31/10/2015 | 02:30

'Fine Gael stalwart John Perry is fighting a rearguard action to get on the ticket national organisers say is already full'
'Fine Gael stalwart John Perry is fighting a rearguard action to get on the ticket national organisers say is already full'

Sporting memory men and women among you will recall that Denmark won soccer's European Championships in 1992 without even qualifying. Thanks to extraordinary politics of the day, the Danes got a late call-up because the country known as Yugoslavia fell asunder, even though their footballers had actually qualified for the finals.

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Those of you who prefer politics to sport may struggle to see any relevance to contemporary Ireland's political doings. But trust me, there is, and it is the reality that everything is possible if you can only get to the competition.

Thus, many seasoned politicians know the election was by far the easier part of things. Getting the nomination from one of the main parties was the real bugbear.

As we are in the height of the nomination season, we are seeing real evidence of this. This time the pressure on parties to have at least one-third women on the national slate has compounded that already conflict-ridden procedure of candidate selection.

In Sligo/Leitrim, never forgetting chunks of contiguous Cavan and Donegal, Fine Gael stalwart John Perry is fighting a rearguard action to get on the ticket national organisers say is already full. The Fianna Fáil wars in Longford/Westmeath are even more complex and vehement.

It is the kind of invidious business where parties always try to at least nominally insulate their leader from the fallout. But these rows can have a lasting impact on the affected parties - and leave an imprint on national politics.

The best example here happened in Kerry in 1997. One Jackie Healy-Rae would recall in detail his meeting with Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern in February of that year.

Healy-Rae detailed a lifetime of links to the party which left him loath to stand as an Independent as he appealed to Ahern to add him to ticket. The party leader insisted such an appalling thing would never happen. "It'll all be sorted out," Ahern assured, as he squired Healy-Rae out of his office.

The next time the two men met, Healy-Rae was an Independent TD, and Ahern was the supplicant, seeking the Kerryman's support for his minority government. The redoubtable Healy-Rae has since gone to the great parliament in the sky - but he has bequeathed his county and the nation a formidable dynasty.

Such breakaways do not always happen. And when they do, they do not always do major damage to the larger party. For various reasons, there have been instances of the scorned party person not catching the public imagination, and the party using its resources to marginalise them.

The more sanguine party organisers know that courting activists' popularity, while trying also to be effective and successful, is often too much of a stretch. Most social organisations have an inbuilt dislike of 'Dublin' and 'HQ'.

Politics work best when a candidate has do-or-die supporter loyalty.

For the rest of us, it can add grist to the mill and sharpen our interest in, and enjoyment of, the contest. And back in 1992, Denmark did not play sparkling football - but they got there.

Irish Independent

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