Tuesday 15 October 2019

Profiled: Young guns keen to avoid being first Healy-Rae to lose election

Family ties: Johnny Healy-Rae, left, his sister Maura and cousin Jackie. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Family ties: Johnny Healy-Rae, left, his sister Maura and cousin Jackie. Photo: Don MacMonagle

Wayne O'Connor in Kerry

A cacophony of barking fills my mother's house in Killarney and is swiftly followed by her, exasperated, asking: "What's riled the dogs now?"

Our yapping terriers pause as the letter box shuts and a familiar paper-rustle skirts the ground. A Healy-Rae has just dropped the latest piece of election literature into the O'Connor household.

"That was Maura," my mother says with a sense of familiarity. The pair have never met but everyone knows the Healy-Raes.

The leaflet is added to the pile of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party and whatever-you're-having-yourself brochures gathered in a corner of the kitchen.

The Healy-Rae young guns, Maura, Johnny and Jackie Jnr, are the latest generation vying for council seats in Kerry and none of them wants to be the first in the family to fall short on polling day. No Healy-Rae has ever lost an election.

Although she is a sitting councillor, this is Maura's first contest. She was co-opted to take her father Danny's council seat for the Killarney electoral area when he was elected to the Dáil in 2016.

"Obviously down through the years we have all been out canvassing for my grandfather, dad, Michael and Johnny but it is different when you know it's your name on the ballot. You can't help but feel like you are up against it," she says as we follow her hustings to a supermarket in Killarney.

She is cut from the same cloth as her father. She worries about rural isolation, defines herself as pro-life and thinks farmers are being harshly singled-out by a green agenda. However, it is boundary changes ahead of these elections that have really got her worked up.

She points out that families in Kilcummin, 6km from Killarney, are now aligned with Castleisland, 14km from their homes.

But this fuels her hunger. "I would appreciate if you would consider me on Friday," she tells each shopper. The response is largely positive and support even comes from outside of the county.

"You should be running in west Cork," two visitors to the area tell her.

Maura is a secondary school teacher in Bandon, and jokes that she "won't go national yet" with her political career.

Her brother Johnny is a veteran councillor at this stage, with eight years sitting locally for the sprawling Kenmare district.

He's on the canvass about 10km away from Maura at the foot of Carrauntoohill with Timmy O'Sullivan, a long-time Healy-Rae supporter in the 1980s.

The pace is relentless and between houses Johnny is taking calls on the hands-free about machinery for the family's plant-hire business. Constituents are also in touch, worried that their polling cards haven't arrived.

"Hopefully people will recognise the work we have done over the past five years. If we hadn't put that in we would have no chance of picking up any votes this week," he says.

Yesterday, Jackie Jnr was focusing on meeting people in Castleisland. He has been knocking on doors since January, lost 22lb in the process and the sole is coming away from his shoe because of the ground he has covered.

"I have started in these and I will finish in them," he insists.

Last month he appeared at Kenmare District Court over an alleged assault in Kenmare in 2017 but this does not come up on the hustings and locals are happy to meet him.

"The county council will be on to you because you'll have their paths worn," is the closest he gets to criticism when the Irish Independent spent an hour with him yesterday.

"I am looking to become only the second Healy-Rae to get elected without already holding a seat. That's a huge challenge. My grandfather was co-opted, as was Danny, Johnny and Maura. Only my father has gone in out of the cold, so to speak. I don't want to break the tradition."

Danny and Michael are anxious and lend support on the canvass. Danny can't explain why but thinks it is because "you always want better for your children".

Michael agrees: "How couldn't you be a ball of nerves?"

At least come Friday it will be a while before they come setting the dogs off again.

Irish Independent

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