Twenty-two years on from the time he first took up his seat in Dail Eireann, John Browne is still riding high in Irish politics.Friday's dinner in the Riverside Park to mark the oft-postponed 21st anniversary of his arrival as a player on the national stage was a great Fianna Fáil occasion.
Twenty-two years on from the time he first took up his seat in Dail Eireann, John Browne is still riding high in Irish politics.
Friday's dinner in the Riverside Park to mark the oft-postponed 21st anniversary of his arrival as a player on the national stage was a great Fianna Fáil occasion.
Looking almost as fresh as the day in 1982 when he reached his first quota, he was among friends, hundreds and hundreds of friends. 'I left them still singing Boolavogue,' he chuckles at the thought of it, declining to mention exactly what hour of the morning he slipped out of the hotel.
In some ways, of course, young John had it easy when he first shaped to challenge for a place in Leinster House. His uncle Sean, first elected in 1957, handed on a very efficient political machine when ill health obliged him to make way for the young whippersnapper. Men such as Paddy Leary, Dinny Doyle, John Doyle and John Canavan, all now deceased, to name but a few, were pillars of the party in Enniscorthy, all Sean Browne men.
The nephew, who cut his teeth by taking a seat on the Urban Council in the local elections of 1979, quickly realised that he needed his own machine, his own Browne mafia. So characters such as John Murphy of Summerhill, Jim Ryan of the Shannon and Frank Hughes in Cherryorchard became his genial henchmen 'I'm the only one to have stood the test of time,' again he laughs. 'They have all gone on to more lucrative professions, or at least Michael D'Arcy is on a big pension.' D'Arcy topped the poll that year, by the way.
John Browne has had the honour of being first past the post himself in both 1987 and 2000, suggesting that he is only now hitting his prime as a vote-getter. While his party elsewhere in the country is struggling to attract fresh blood, he sees rejuvenation as a constant process and he has made every effort to ensure that the grassroots do not wither. He reckons that seven of the current crop of cumann chairpersons or secretaries in the Enniscorthy/Buncoldy are newly elected to their posts, for instance.
'I have always been bringing in new officers,' he says. 'You cannot stand still in this game.' He has also built up a corps of workers who are ready to canvass, shin up poles and drive whenever an an election is called, even if they never darken the door of a cumann meeting between times.
A politician is only as good as his next quota, seems to be his guiding principle. While many of those who turned up for dinner on Friday night were keen to look back to 1982, the man himself was looking forward to the next election day. The function put ?10,000 plus in the coffers to continue fighting the good fight.
He turned down the opportunity to run for the European Parliament and still aspires to be a Cabinet Minister at home in Ireland. He reckons that if Wexford Fianna Fail can deliver three seats for Bertie, then he will probably make the cut.
Now 56 years of age he has served under three Taoisaigh -Charles Haughey ('probably the brightest politician I ever met'), Albert Reynolds ('get it done and worry about it afterwards') and Bertie Ahern ('very cautious and steady as he goes'). The Browne allegiance is more to party than to leader.
He has found politics tough on family life and gives wife Judy the credit for raising their children 'It is seven days a week, 18 hours per day.'
'Keep it country' is his catchphrase, so he stays in touch with the fundamentals as a selector with the Rapparees junior hurling team. Chairing Council of Europe committees or giving abuse to referees in Boolabawn, it's all the same to John Browne.