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Michael Brennan: Burning issues of smoke and turf for man in black

LUKE 'Ming' Flanagan famously got involved in politics to run against his landlord -- Fianna Fail TD Frank Fahey.

That was in the 1997 General Election in Galway, when he was at odds of a "million to one" to top the poll and was annoyed at Fianna Fail's "zero tolerance" policy.

But he is delighted to see his odds this time as an Independent in Roscommon-South Leitrim are far better than those of Mr Fahey in Galway West.

"It would prove in the best way possible that things have changed in this country if I could get elected and Frank Fahey booted out," he told the Irish Independent.

Ming (39) is a thinly built man who is running five miles a day while campaigning for his "dream" of getting into the Dail. He is not worried about the front page of a local newspaper -- which has Fianna Fail rival Cllr Ivan Connaughton telling him to "behave" and stop talking about drugs in public.

"I'm being asked by a man whose party has destroyed the country to behave. I don't take lectures off people like him," he said.

Ming said everyone from former US President Jimmy Carter to the Mexican, Dutch and Portuguese governments agreed with him that cannabis should be legalised.

"It's better to put that money into the legitimate taxed economy, rather than leave it in the pockets of the type of people who shot Veronica Guerin. That can't go on," he said.

But the "burning issue" in Castlerea is not just the smoking of cannabis, it's the EU-inspired ban on turf cutting in some local bogs at a time of rising fuel prices.

Ming has put up a giant poster on the main street, which shows him standing defiantly in front of rows of illegally cut turf. He said he and others were prepared to defy the EU directive and go to jail on the issue.

"If they take the bogs from us, they might just take two bits off the Irish flag and leave the white bit," he said.

Turf cutting is just one of the many community issues that Ming has got involved in to harvest votes. He is happy meeting farmers at the Castlerea mart which he says is the "real Ireland" and a "long way from cappuccinos".

The one thing he doesn't do generally is go to funerals. He once met a councillor who accused him of being on the "funeral circuit" -- but he was attending the funeral of his grandmother.

"That councillor didn't even know whose funeral he was going to. I think politicians are under an illusion they are of benefit," he said.

Outside the mart, he met a man whose oil boiler had broken down and had only some turf left to heat his house. Ming took out his iPhone and rang up the council to ask them to send a disabled person's grant form to the house of Ciaran Kearns (51), who says he has difficulty breathing at night.

"You'll be getting my first preference anyway. You're the only man that's talking sense as far as I'm concerned," he told Ming.

If he is elected, Ming is determined to maintain his own dress code -- which on this chilly day is black jeans, black shoes, black jacket and black iPhone.

But what if the Dail ushers insist on him wearing a suit?

He said that his hero, Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, got a doctor's cert so he didn't have to wear a dickie bow for evening snooker matches.

"I'm sure there's some way around it," he added.

One of his canvassers is Conor McGarry (20) who got in touch with him through Facebook to ask him to host a 'Take Me Out'-style dating contest for the his tug-of-war club.

The event was apparently a great success.

Mr McGarry said Ming was better and funnier than TV3's host Ray Foley "because he knew what was going on".

And, according to Ming, one in five of his constituents is contacting him through Facebook with requests such as "Can you get my hedges cut?".

He now has more than 4,000 friends and says that maybe Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny will need to get friendly with him -- if he holds the balance of power as an Independent.

Irish Independent