Monday 26 August 2019

Conlan keeping a low profile after cutting cord to Fine Gael

A Sean Conlan public meeting poster just outside Ballybay, Monaghan
A Sean Conlan public meeting poster just outside Ballybay, Monaghan

Mark O'Regan

Three miles outside Ballybay, along a windswept and winding road leading to the small border town, a Fine Gael poster adorned with a smiling image of Seán Conlan greets visitors.

It's publicising an upcoming public meeting calling for 'Fair Car Tax For All'.

But yesterday the controversial Fine Gael TD was keeping a decidedly low profile in his Co Monaghan heartland.

A reported court appearance in Carrickmacross failed to go ahead.

And only 24 hours earlier, Mr Conlan had cut the umbilical cord with Fine Gael, which has entwined his family in local and national politics for decades.

"In a kind of a way, leaving the party must have broken his heart," said one local. "Fine Gael and all it stands for has been part of the seed, breed, and generation of the Conlans, for as long as I can remember."

But like many others living in the constituency who spoke to the Irish Independent, the man did not wish to be named.

Normal border county reticence was made all the more obvious because of the various controversies surrounding Mr Conlan in recent times.

His family pedigree is rooted in Fine Gael politics - he is a son of John Francis Conlan, who was a TD from 1969 to 1987 and who was also an adviser to James Dillon when the latter was leader of Fine Gael.

Sean Conlan followed in the family political tradition from his teenage years, and while a student at UCD he was chairperson of Young Fine Gael.

An image of the 40-year-old adorned with the Fine Gael party logo sits at the entrance to his constituency office.

Visitors to the office kept a steely silence, refusing to say anything on the record, about the travails of a politician many of them had voted for.

But some privately expressed dismay at the dramatic sequence of events which culminated in Mr Conlan's departure from the party.

Next door to his office on the main street sits the family-owned pub, Conlans. Throughout the day, customers came and went - and inevitably the talk turned to matters political. And while the majority gave their backing for the beleaguered politician, all agreed the whirlwind turnabout in his fortunes is due to more then "just a disagreement over the location of pylons".

Some suggested that now he was facing a general election without the backing of a major political party, he might struggle to retain his seat.

Others insisted he would get a substantial "sympathy vote" and the family's political roots in the area would see him through.

"Fair play to him for standing down over something he believes in," said a local shop owner in the town. But I don't think there's very much support for him around here. He should be doing more for the area.

"He probably got in off the back of his family connections in the last election. The party connection helped him a lot as well, but he may struggle next time round.

"There's definitely more to his decision than meets the eye. Obviously, he hasn't been getting on with Enda Kenny for a while, and there's also the whole thing between him and Heather Humphreys."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section