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Friday 19 January 2018

Tensions in the political 'house that Jackie built' as brothers differ

Danny and Michael Healy-Rae Photo: Eamonn Keogh
Danny and Michael Healy-Rae Photo: Eamonn Keogh
John Downing

John Downing

One of Michael Healy-Rae's early political memories is of canvassing near Rathmore with the loudspeaker on the car roof belting out the Tulla Ceili Band.

"The cows went mad - they were dancing in the fields," the new Independent Kerry TD recalled.

Unlike his celebrated late father, Jackie, and his more established brother, Michael, the "other Healy-Rae" does not wear a cap. He does sport a bushy beard and he dislikes discussing his age.

"Danny looks every inch a farmer. A countryman's countryman," is the summation by author, Dónal Hickey, who has published two books on the Kerry phenomenon which has morphed into a major political dynasty. He has been in representative politics since 2003 when he was co-opted to his father's seat on Kerry Co Council, a seat he has held in three successive elections with an ever-increasing vote. On February 11, minutes from close of nominations, he added his name to that of his brother, Michael, and the pair went on create another family record.

Michael, a TD since 2011, had the nation's biggest vote at over 20,000, while Danny had almost 10,000. They became the first brothers elected for the same constituency on the same day. They exemplify "the political house that Jackie built" - now in its third generation, with two of Danny's children on Kerry Co Council. Like the others in his clan, he is no stranger to controversy. Last week he landed his first national row as a TD when he questioned the science behind man-made climate change. "I don't think mankind had any hand, act or part in it ... I believe God above is in charge of the weather and that we here can't do anything about it."

There were plenty of others during his sojourn on Kerry Co Council. For example in 2007 he questioned the validity of the "Kerry slug" as a reason for delaying the Macroom-Ballyvourney bypass on the main Cork-Kerry road. "How did they know he was the Kerry slug? Was he wearing the Kerry jersey?" he asked. Snoots instantly castigated him on climate change. But others took a more considered view, seeing it as helpful in generating debate.

"Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I had different views about the climate-change issue. If he does not believe it, in some ways one could accept that, as he has a completely different world view - a different world, almost - to what I see," Green Party leader Eamon Ryan remarked.

But away from that controversy, a more intriguing issue was in playing. In the business of government-making the two Healy-Raes' votes were a valuable commodity. Divergence was the order of the day here. Michael was keen to explore options, but Danny went on Kerry Radio to rule out returning Kenny and Fine Gael to power "against voters' wishes".

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Michael, considered to be "a polished and planed chip off the old block" hung in on government talks. But eventually he abstained in the vote to elect Taoiseach.

Some close to the process believe any offers of preferment for the clan depended on being able to deliver both votes. The brothers have notably insisted on respecting each other's right to differ.

But observing this fraternal dynamic is another of the intriguing Dáil prospects.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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