Wednesday 11 December 2019

Kelly feeling the love on home turf after criticism of the 'naysayers'

Labour Party deputy leader Alan Kelly embraces a supporter at his campaign launch in Nenagh on Saturday. Photo: Liam Burke
Labour Party deputy leader Alan Kelly embraces a supporter at his campaign launch in Nenagh on Saturday. Photo: Liam Burke

Niall O'Connor

A real sense of trepidation rippled through the Kelly camp in the hours leading up to the launch of his election campaign in the Scout's Hall in Nenagh on Saturday night.

A day earlier, the Labour Party minister had delivered one of the worst media performances of his career - criticising journalists for posing valid questions about his seemingly erratic behaviour in recent days.

Mr Kelly had floundered, in front of his own party leader Joan Burton, when quizzed over why he decided to launch a verbal attack on Newstalk presenter Chris Donoghue as a result of the station's decision to air a one-on-one interview with Michael Lowry.

The outburst came during the first week of Election 2016 - the highlights of which included Mr Kelly making the audacious claim power is a "drug", before losing his cool with his constituency colleague Mattie McGrath after being wrongly accused of hiding in his van on the canvass.

Thus, a trip back home to Tipperary should have felt like a getaway to the sun for the Environment Minister.

But the smallest of doubts over whether the event would be well-attended niggled at Mr Kelly in the hours leading up to the event itself.

The 20 months spent serving in the upper echelons of political circles had given way for a feeling of unease to develop.

Despite Mr Kelly's arrogant personality, it is clear that the man, more often than not, feels the need to turn to his own people as a way of self-validation.

And so, you could physically detect the sense of relief among Mr Kelly's campaign team when reams of supporters began to queue outside the venue - located just 10km from the minister's own village of Portroe - an hour before his launch was scheduled to take place.

Supporters wedged into the hall heard from a man who has taken to calling his closest aides at two in the morning in order to establish the goings-on in the constituency.

But as the event warmed up, so did Mr Kelly, warmly embracing well-wishers as the infamous 'Alan Kelly rap' blared out from the speakers.

It seemed the negative headlines and extraordinary outbursts didn't matter in the slightest.

The nicknames, the staunch criticism and the accusations that Mr Kelly's erratic behaviour is overshadowing Labour's campaign did not resonate one iota with his supporters.

They know his flaws but they seem to thrive on the fact that he is unpopular.

This was their politician fighting back against the "naysayers" and the "Dublin media". This is their TD who shamelessly puts his constituency first - delivering everything from jobs and investment to a €40m bridge in Ballina - a project that was mentioned on dozens of occasions on Saturday night.

Flanked by former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, Mr Kelly decided to address some of the criticisms levelled at him in recent weeks.

"I don't take no for an answer. If someone tells me no, it only encourages me. It only encourages me to go back and make sure it is a yes. You all know I am not out there trying to win any popularity contest. If I am, I am failing," the father of two said.

"There are many naysayers out there who try to drag me and drag us down. I tell you one thing for nothing, they can say what they like but one thing you never say about Alan Kelly is that he didn't call it straight, do his best, speak up for his county and deliver time and time again."

Shortly after 11.30pm - as the Scout's Hall turned into a dance hall - Mr Kelly addressed the waiting media over the events of recent days.

He batted off suggestions that his behaviour is "overshadowing" his party's campaign. But given the level of disquiet within the Labour fold, is it not time for Mr Kelly to "cool the jets"?

The use of the colloquialism pushed the minister into a burst of laughter. "Absolutely not," he insisted. "I'm going to be in politics for a long time and I'm going to be in the Labour Party for a long time.

"That is the way I am. I will never change."

Back in the Scouts Hall, Mr Kelly ended with a promise that sparked rapturous applause. "I am only getting started. You have not seen anything yet," he said.

One wonders how Joan Burton will react to such a pledge?

Irish Independent

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