Sunday 20 May 2018

Ó Cuív: I hate the leprechaun view of rural Ireland

Fianna Fáil TD says party must rebuild trust with voters

Eamon Ó Cuív: ‘I do not agree with taking away the constitutional protecttion for the unborn’.
Photo: Oisin McHugh
Eamon Ó Cuív: ‘I do not agree with taking away the constitutional protecttion for the unborn’. Photo: Oisin McHugh
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Exactly five years ago this week, Fianna Fáil was a party riven by dissent over the issue of the presidential election campaign.

Such was the level of disquiet over the party's failure to nominate its own candidate for the race for the Áras, one senior Fianna Fáil figure reportedly threatened to resign as the party's deputy leader.

The TD in question was none other than Éamon Ó Cuív, whose grandfather Éamon de Valera served as the third President of Ireland.

The Galway West TD was incensed that a party like Fianna Fáil would consider supporting an Independent candidate, rather than fielding one of its own.

Five years later, as Fianna Fáil holds its annual party think-in, the veteran politician still believes Micheál Martin made the wrong decision.

"I was very unhappy Fianna Fáil didn't run someone. We absolutely should have," Mr Ó Cuív said in an interview with the Irish Independent.

Of course, Mr Ó Cuív himself has been tipped as a potential presidential candidate on a number of occasions in the past.

He refuses to rule himself out ahead of the next potential vacancy in 2018 - but repeatedly insists it will depend on whether his former constituency colleague Michael D Higgins decides to go for a second term.

"The next contest mightn't be for another nine years," he says.

"I think it is highly likely that if Michael D runs, he will do so unopposed. He has done a fine job as President."

While the presidential election is an issue that will once again form part of the public debate in the coming months, many political observers believe the next time we go to the polls will be for another general election.

Fianna Fáil politicians gather in Carlow today and tomorrow knowing that their party is on the cusp of returning to power in the not too distant future.

But Mr Ó Cuív, seen as one of the most shrewd operators in Leinster House, has a warning for his colleagues.

He says that although the party is slowly but surely making a comeback, it has not yet reached the point of redemption.

For that to happen, he says, the party must be able to make promises that it can keep whe n in government next time round.

"Can Fianna Fáil become the biggest party again? If we act sensibly and responsibly, then yes.

"But trust between the party and with the public isn't fully restored yet. We must continue to build trust and must not start getting complacent," he says.

But what about the timing of the next election? Will Fianna Fáil prop up this minority, and indeed shaky, Fine Gael-led administration for three budgets?

"Look back at 2007, when the story broke about the US banks Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac - nobody saw that coming.

"Challenges often come out of a clear blue sky. The next election could happen when we least expect it. Fianna Fáil needs to be constantly alert that one (an election) could be called at any moment."

While Fianna Fáil continues to enjoy the new political arrangements that underpin the 32nd Dáil, the party is also conscious of the faultline that separates its traditional, conservative wing from its young, more liberal crop of politicians.

It doesn't take a genius to work out which side Mr Ó Cuív sits on.

This is particularly the case when the conversation switches to the issue of abortion - and the prospect of a future referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

The former minister is clearly irked by the level of correspondence he receives from so-called 'Pro Choice' campaign groups.

"The main Repeal the Eighth groups want abortion on demand. Their documents make that very clear," he says.

"I do not agree with taking away the constitutional protection for the unborn.

"I would be of the view that unborn human life is human life. These are human beings," he says.

I put it to Mr Ó Cuív that many of his colleagues disagree with his position and will even campaign for changes to the country's abortion regime. In truth, isn't Fianna Fáil terrified of discussing the issue of abortion?

"We are not collectively terrified of this issue...It is equally reasonable to want to protect the rights of the unborn, in cases of one week before birth, five weeks before birth, or whatever."

But what about cases of fatal foetal abnormality?

Mr Ó Cuív insists these cases are far too complex for such a short discussion.

He does, however, admit that he disagrees with the idea of the issue being addressed by a citizens' assembly.

"This should be addressed in the Oireachtas, by elected people. I'm not generally in favour of citizens' assemblies. They are not democratic," he adds.

Mr Ó Cuív was appointed as the Fianna Fáil spokesman on Regional Development, Rural Affairs and the Gaeltacht by Micheál Martin in the recent reshuffle of the party's frontbench.

Indeed, if the party is to reconnect with some its core voters, such as farmers, Mr Ó Cuív's experience and rural background will be essential.

He insists that the senior minister in the portfolio Heather Humphreys, as well as junior minister Michael Ring, have achieved virtually nothing for rural Ireland since being appointed.

"Fine Gael - by its actions - has let rural Ireland down," he says.

He says there has been a "huge flight" from rural Ireland to the cities and that has, in particular, exasperated the housing crisis in Dublin. And, in a wish list submitted ahead of the budget, Mr Ó Cuív says the rollout of fibre broadband is essential.

"I hate the leprechaun view of rural Ireland: that we all want to live a quaint lifestyle and in some way we are not technologically advanced. Young people are highly educated, hugely motivated and very, very anxious to have the technology. But there needs to be a modern policy for rural Ireland. We need good water, good fibre broadband, and we need good transport."

And so - perhaps to the dismay of some of his colleagues - Mr Ó Cuív would like to see Charlie McCreevy's decentralisation plan revived if Fianna Fáil is returned to power.

"Decentralisation should be revived. It was incredibly successful in terms of providing jobs for rural Ireland."

Irish Independent

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