Sunday 25 February 2018

Nicola Anderson: Lowry the old master pulls out a hidden knave and spikes Kelly's AK47

Alan Kelly, left, and Michael Lowry during the debate on Tipp FM. Photo: Pat Moore
Alan Kelly, left, and Michael Lowry during the debate on Tipp FM. Photo: Pat Moore
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

There came a point, dangerously early in the proceedings, when Alan Kelly came close to snapping his pen in two. Properly, like when the main character in a TV mini series comes under extreme pressure.

The plastic flexed precariously. But then he suddenly remembered that he was before the people who really mattered - no, not the nation at large, of course. His constituents. Alan dropped the pen. And smiled.

It was pistols at dawn - and beyond joy for the audience - who only regretted that there had to be anybody else muddying up the field for this gunfight at the 'AK' Corral between the outgoing Environment Minister and his deadliest rival, Michael Lowry, as they met for a Tipp FM election debate, live on air from the Horse and Jockey hotel in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Poor Sinéad Ambrose of Fianna Fáil, Noel Coonan of Fine Gael, Independent Séamus Healy and Sinn Féin's Séamus Morris were only there to make this duel look respectable.

Both men were armed. Kelly had flooded the local papers with good news stories about job announcements.

Lowry's weapon of choice was unveiled with a devastating flourish - those dashed grandiose plans for a casino right there at the Horse and Jockey? They are back on the table.

This was probably the most important election in many decades, said Kelly, adding: "I represent the Labour Party, the party of work," before launching into an on-song message about the recovery.

Michael Lowry was wilier. "As I travel around the Premier County, I listen and learn," he said, talking of the families in "financial and emotional turmoil", the need to have cuts reversed for special needs children and saying that he wants to see "the rural way of life cherished and nourished".

Broadcaster Fran Curry put a question to Kelly.

"Alan, you've been criticised over the last number of months. Brash, arrogant, smug, egotistical, not a team player - even within your own party. You have stated publicly that power suits you."

It was at this point that Alan's pen nearly became the first victim of the day.

"Fran, I've read all of those myself. I don't think personality politics is what people really want to hear," he said.

Fran put it to Lowry that his past continues to dog him. Lowry reminded him of his tax-clearance cert, of the ongoing legal matters and said it was not up to any of the media to decide whether or not he should get elected.

"It is up to the people," he declared grandly.

It took an hour and-a-half for things to really hot up.

Lowry accused Kelly of making misleading and unconfirmed job promises for Tipperary. Kelly replied that he found such accusations "incredible - but then again, not surprising from the type of person they were coming from."

He then brought up the issue of the casino.

"We're sitting here in the Horse and Jockey, where a big fanfare was made about a certain casino announced by the person who just spoke before me.

"But it's not here. I went around, I looked around while I was driving here this morning and obviously its not here," he said in bewilderment.

Lowry said: "Alan, you made two bogus promises in 2010, you made a bogus promise about a million for entrepreneurs that never materialised. Address those two issues."

"You address the casino," replied the minister.

The master craftsman had a surprise for him.

"The casino and the project here... it is very much alive," he dramatically announced.

But then he added bitterly: "The casino element of it is not involved."

The original plans had full approval, a middle eastern investor and would have created 2,000 jobs. And why did it not go ahead?

"Because Alan Kelly's Labour pulled the plug."

"Rubbish," snorted Kelly.

"The good news is that progress has been made, we've a new investor, contracts arranged to be exchanged and a very bright future," said Lowry.

And the timescale? "It could have been last week," Lowry slowly relished.

We almost felt pity for the outgoing minister. How could you compete with that?

Irish Independent

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