Saturday 19 January 2019

Dáil shouting match grist to mill in Kerry's house that Jackie built

Michael and Danny Healy-Rae Photo: Sally MacMonagle
Michael and Danny Healy-Rae Photo: Sally MacMonagle
John Downing

John Downing

Just two years ago in Kerry, the dramatic five-to-midnight Dáil nomination of a second member from the "Kilgarvan house that Jackie built" caused consternation.

Was this clever use of a gap at the southern end of the new unitary five-seat Kerry constituency to pile up a record vote? Or the day the famed political dynasty o'er-leaped themselves?

Well, the Kerry voters delivered an overwhelming endorsement to the political adventure. Michael Healy Rae, first elected to replace his father Jackie in 2011, got over 20,000 votes, while his older brother Danny got almost 10,000. They were elected in counts one and two respectively. How did that happen?

Journalist and author Dónal Hickey has written two engaging books on this Kerry political phenomenon. He sums up the success as the fruit of hard work, round-the-clock service to the people, and the efforts of a loyal network of supporters.

"It's populist and intensely local. It aims to give the maximum number of people what they want, limiting restrictions, in planning for example, as much as possible," Mr Hickey says.

The no-holds-barred row between the two brothers and Sligo Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry in the Dáil on Wednesday is typical of their full-on approach to politics. In this row over speaking rights, they were very determined not to yield, and MacSharry showed that he had the stubborn streak his father Ray also brought to public life in his day.

Classically, when it played out in national media, it was largely seen as political diversion. When it made international headlines, some people were less sure.

Was this letting the side down? The long answer can be summarised as check your own prejudices and see.

The more useful answer is a simple "No". We elect these people, and they are of us.

Such outbursts occur from time to time in all political fora across the globe. So, let's get on with it. New Dáil procedures being tried out may well have to be honed.

Though this may also seem to come from the 'bloody obvious department', Kerry people like to project: in sport, business, culture and politics. Part of the Healy-Rae appeal is built on theatre and this incident is grist to the Kilgarvan mill.

Local Kerry political legend Jackie Healy-Rae was unleashed on the Irish nation as a political colossus in the June 1997 General Election.

Political activists nationwide had known him prior to that as a genius backroom tactician, ill-used by Fianna Fáil after a lifetime of loyalty.

Jackie, with trademark cap covering an epic combover, was among a quartet of Independent ex-Fianna Fáil deputies who supported Bertie Ahern's "three-legged stool coalition" until 2002 for the price of local constituency goodies.

As age crept up on him, he came to rely upon his sons, Michael, and then Danny, who each served on Kerry County Council.

"Three for the price of one" was the way the patriarch described how the team worked.

Healys are plentiful in their native Kilgarvan, and the addendum refers to their ancestral townland "Récaisleach", translated to English as "rough ground near the little ford".

The suffix "Rae" avoids confusion with the "Healys of the Rocks", the "Healys of Barnastooka", the "Healys of Fybe" and many others.

The townland name may also be a political lesson. An ability to navigate rough terrain and river crossings is a transferable skill.

It is all yet another reminder that Fianna Fáil made a huge error in not endorsing Jackie's candidature in 1997.

Irish Independent

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