Thursday 18 January 2018

Dogged John tells Fine Gael: 'I've done nothing wrong, this is not going to go away'

Perry still believes in Enda, says Lise Hand

John Perry in his office in Sligo Photo: Donal Hackett
John Perry in his office in Sligo Photo: Donal Hackett
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

In July, when the Taoiseach organised an awayday in Lissadell for the final Cabinet meeting before the summer break, the security around the historic house was tighter than a camel's posterior in a sand storm.

Helicopters circled, police horses hovered. The various gates into the gaff were guarded, with all arrivals carefully scrutinised and ticked off a list. And there was nobody on the list save for accredited media and the exalted poobahs who sit around the Cabinet table.

Certainly, local Fine Gael TD John Perry wasn't on it, but within a couple of hours he was making himself conspicuous in Lissadell's courtyard. "Who let him in?" muttered one political staffer.

The real question was - who could've kept him out? This was John Perry turf, and the Sligo TD is the stubborn sort, akin to a determined dog with his teeth clamped to one's trouser leg until he gets his way. And now it's Enda Kenny whose trouser leg is in peril. For if Fine Gael party strategists thought John would go quietly after failing to win a nomination at the selection convention last week, they're mistaken.

"They might have thought that John Perry would go off into retirement. That's not my style," he declared over a cup of coffee in the town yesterday.

He frequently refers to himself in the third person - a device beloved of Roman emperors and Minister Alan Kelly - so it's unfortunate that he found himself the third person when the votes were counted at the convention in Drumshanbo almost two weeks ago. A directive issued by the executive council decreed that only two candidates could be selected - one from Sligo and one from Leitrim, with sitting TD Tony McLoughlin and former deputy Gerry Reynolds getting the nod.

Since then, John has made increasing vocal appeals to be added to the ticket, but so far to no avail. The morning after the convention, John left a message on the Taoiseach's phone, and Enda rang him back.

So had he received assurances from his boss? "I still don't doubt his word," said John, referring to his leader's previous assertion to the parliamentary party that no TD would be deselected to satisfy gender quota requirements. (John was beaten by two men, but still).

But had Enda assured him he'd be added to the ticket? "No, he didn't say that," said John, who then went to meet the boss the following week.

Did he get the thumbs-up then? Not quite. "He said, 'this decision isn't over yet'," explained John.

He insisted he trusts Enda to do right by him. He's been a loyalist through thick and thin, claiming he was "the first politician on 'Morning Ireland' to defend him when the heave was on".

But he's less enamoured with the party brass. "I'd be very disappointed with the general secretary Tom Curran," he reckoned. And so he's determined to fight his corner at the next parliamentary party meeting on November 4.

Moreover, he's indignant over suggestions that he had pushed for a two-candidate strategy before the convention.

"I never did that," he insisted. "This is the largest constituency in the country, and it's a four-seater now, we can win three seats."

But would he accept that some of his own personal travails may have contributed to his defeat? For controversies have swirled about him - most notably in 2014, when Danske Bank registered a court judgment against the then Junior Minister for Small Business and his wife for the repayment of a €2.47m loan. (He subsequently lost his ministry in the reshuffle).

"That was a big challenge," he admitted. "But the debts are being honoured fully at no cost to the taxpayer - and that's all the more reason I need my job to meet those ongoing obligations," he explained.

"Nobody stands in for you under the guillotine when anything goes wrong," he added.

And these ongoing obligations are another reason why John Perry is determined to hang onto the seat he's held since 1997 - he needs the money. "Retirement isn't an option, I'll be working for a time yet."

Politics can be a cruel business. John claimed he knew nothing about the two-person directive until the very end of the convention when it was read out to him, and also his wife Marie, his 16-year old son Jude and his supporters in the room. "Everyone was devastated."

So will he consider running as an Independent candidate if his pleas fall on deaf Fine Gael ears? He shakes his head.

"I'm not contemplating not being added. That would be an escape clause for the party, and I'm not giving them an escape clause.

"I've done nothing wrong, I've my family and my reputation and political career to fight for.

"This is not going to go away," vows Dogged John.

Irish Independent

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