independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Why the future's not rosy for Citizen Royston

As he slips off the political radar, and away from the Mansion House, Willie Dillon assesses Royston Brady's options

Jumble up the letters in the name Royston and you get the words No Story. For the man who has been hardly out of the headlines for the past 12 months, a less appropriate anagram would be hard to imagine.

Brady was a one-man news phenomenon for two seemingly contradictory reasons. As Lord Mayor of Dublin, he had difficulty keeping his mouth shut. And as a candidate in the European elections, he displayed an infuriating reluctance to open it.

He was a Fianna Fail golden boy whose election posters depicted him with a glittering halo of stars around his head, somewhat in the style of the Virgin Mary.

But instead of being divinely assumed into the European Parliament, with the blessing of Fianna Fail's faithful electoral flock, the gods ordained that he should remain among us as an ordinary mortal.

As of last Monday evening, the boy-king Royston is officially out of a job. At the weekend, he and his wife quietly moved out of the Mansion House and slipped away on holidays. Whether or not he has truly walked away from politics may not be clear for some time.

If his Fianna Fail colleagues on the new-look Dublin City Council were embarrassed when he failed to turn up on Monday to formally pass on the chains of office to his successor, Cllr Michael Conaghan, they were careful not to show it.

That job was done efficiently and with all appropriate dignity by the outgoing Deputy Mayor, Cllr Deirdre Heney.

Because he ran for Europe, Royston didn't seek re-election to the council. His supporters claimed this week that because he was no longer a council member, he wasn't entitled to participate in the hand-over ceremony.

But it seems unlikely that council officials would have shown the outgoing office holder the door had he wanted to take part. Indeed, there are many within his own party who felt strongly that he should have been there.

Most of his former council colleagues saw his absence as, not just bad manners, but highly symbolic; a final defiant, couldn't-care-less gesture from a man who sometimes seemed ill-suited to the constraints and conventions of political life. His failure to show up was a not-so-subtle message that he has finally had it with this politics lark.

Supporters say the last three weeks have been extremely difficult for Royston on a personal level. They say he and his family were particularly hurt by suggestions that he made up the story of his father's taxi being hijacked by the Dublin-Monaghan bombers.

If any single issue killed off his European chances, it was the story linking his late father Ray to the bombings. In the absence of any firm evidence, and his failure to assist the Barron Enquiry, it was widely assumed that he had manufactured the story in the hope of attracting a sympathy vote.

The polls were closed a full week before it emerged that his strange tale was not in fact fabricated. It transpired that on the very day of the bombings in May 1974, the Irish Times reported on its front page that two Dublin taxis had been hijacked the previous day, one belonging to Mr Brady.

Royston Brady was disbelieved, in all probability, because he was publicly perceived as the boy who cried wolf. He had become renowned as a man given to dramatic, over-the-top statements. He had enraged his own council colleagues by calling them clowns, and singling one out as "a waste of space". He accused Justice Minister Michael McDowell of being a bully giving the two fingers to Dublin.

His persistent dodging of media interviews during the election campaign possibly stemmed from his embarrassing experience last February on RTE radio's Under The Whip programme. Normally, the informal political quiz show should have been a bit of a giggle. But it turned into a joke, with Royston as the butt.

As a prospective European candidate, the Lord Mayor was asked to name the 10 new EU accession states. He appeared unable to think of even one. Presenter Kay Sheehy threw the drowning man a lifeline by listing Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This prompted him to correctly name Poland. He then had a stab at Croatia - wrong - before struggling to get just one more of the 10, the Czech Republic.

After that, the word clown seemed a more apt description of himself than his fellow councillors. But a close colleague, speaking this week, says this image is totally unfair. "Anyone who knows him will tell you that he's not a buffoon, he's not a fool, he's not a twit, he's not a mindless idiot. He's as clever a guy as you and I, and given the opportunity, he would show that. But the media has a need for mythical characters."

The fact that Royston became something of a mythical European candidate was largely his own fault. His campaign workers emphatically deny that he avoided media interviews. But in truth, the media saw far less of him than any other major-league contender.

His decision to play hard to get did nothing but reinforce the view that this man had nothing sensible to say - on Europe or anything else. But whatever about his skill in addressing the issues, he retained the ability to laugh at himself.

Famously doorstepped by Today FM's Matt Cooper, Royston refused to be interviewed. "No way, Matt, I know you're only goin' to ask me tricky questions like the likelihood of a constitutional treaty for Europe or where Brussels is."

According to one a Labour Party veteran: "He was one of these guys who was probably pushed forward too far too quickly and didn't serve his apprenticeship. Suddenly he thought he could do all sorts of things, but he turned out to have feet of clay."

He believes Royston may never return to the political fray. "I think he will find it hard to recover from the damage of the last couple of weeks. He is, maybe unfairly, now regarded as a sort of joke figure in politics."

Brady never gave the impression of being overburdened with political vision. But as Lord Mayor, he brought colour to an office which is not renowned for its flamboyance or spontaneity. The Mansion House has been occupied over the years by many dull and strangely anonymous people. However, Brady was the first First Citizen for a long time that most Dubliners could actually name.

His successor wisely doesn't intend to try and copy him. "I'm not a high-profile person," says Cllr Conaghan. "Different people have different skills and attributes. I try to work at things steadily and persistently."

But back to the anagrams. Jumble up the name Royston a second time and you get the words Not Rosy - surely an accurate description of his political future. He is currently looking for a real job. A return to hotel management, his former profession, is likely.

A text message, widely circulated at the European election count, cruelly poked fun at the way his campaign spectacularly disintegrated. There was always going to be only one Fianna Fail winner, and it ended up being dependable Eoin Ryan.

"Carlsberg don't do running mates," said the text. "But if they did, it would be Royston Brady."

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