Friday 19 January 2018

Niamh Horan meets the Healy Raes: 'Jesus Christ... you have a way of gettin' under a fella's f*cking skin'

Maybe politicians, like men and women, aren't good at communicating with each other, writes Niamh Horan

CHILLING: Michael and Danny Healy-Rae enjoying a five-minute break in the sunshine of Kilgarvan. Photo: Sally MacMonagle
CHILLING: Michael and Danny Healy-Rae enjoying a five-minute break in the sunshine of Kilgarvan. Photo: Sally MacMonagle
Michael chats to Niamh Horan. Photo: Sally MacMonagle
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Never ask a Kerry man to talk about his feelings. Like most men of a certain type, they just don't do feelings. It's a sweltering hot day in the Kingdom of Kerry and there's steam coming out from under Michael Healy-Rae's flat cap.

The last time we met, he was the kid holding all the aces. On his way to Dublin to see Enda Kenny, the desperate 'would-be' Taoiseach, with over 20,000 votes in his back pocket and the prospect of a job as Minister for Rural Affairs.

For 70 days and 70 nights, Michael worked tirelessly on the Programme for Government. A copy now sits on his office floor.

It all reached a frustrating climax when Enda called him out in the middle of the negotiations to talk about the job for Rural Affairs.

Kenny told Michael people up and down the country wanted him to take up the job and that he agreed.

It was then that Kenny apparently uttered the magic words: "It would be my intention, if I were forming a Government, that I'd like to have you in that job."

Michael points out that at this stage Kenny was in no position to offer the role.

But in the timeline of events, this was the closest that Kenny came to presenting him with the opportunity.

He continues: "Now, this is the point: I never said no. Actually what I said was, 'Oh God, I don't know if I would be good enough for that job at all.' That was the first thing I said."

Kenny told him they would talk again - but he never returned.

Why did Michael say he didn't think he would be good for the role?

"God dammit. It was only just a comment. Don't make a big thing out of it," he tells me.

But I find it hard to let go.

This was the moment he had been building towards his whole working life. He had beaten down doors, worn a path up and down to Dail Eireann, listened to constituents' complaints about broken porch lights and potholes for years and here was a decent opportunity to grasp the crown for the Kingdom.

Was it humility or self-doubt? Or simply a case of two men who lacked good communication?

"It was just a natural reaction. I am sorry I told you about it now."

I explain that I am trying to find out why he didn't grab it with both hands.

"But sure what could I grab? He wasn't offering it because it wasn't his to offer."

And so I move on to the next question: why does he think Enda never returned?

"Well now. Thanks be to God you're asking a normal question. Whatever way, and I am not questioning your journalism, but Jesus Christ, you have a way of getting underneath a fella's f*cking skin like..." he says, his Kerry accent rising. "Mother of God."

And so I ask him his feelings about ultimately not being offered the position.

"I felt like it was a case of 'that was it,'" he says.

"I am not a person who gets (upset). Do you know, the only person in the world who makes me get excited and uptight is yourself. I wasn't half as excited when the ministers came out as I am now. Because you have just some way, you have, of rubbing me up the wrong way."

Patsy Cline's ballad Crazy is playing softly in the background and I wonder, as we look back on the events of the last few weeks, if it's me he is really annoyed at or Kenny - or himself. Still, I know better than to dig further. Better to push some feelings down to the toes, as they say.

Later, his phone rings and it's Danny. Rumours are circulating that there's a split in the camp but they turn out to be nothing more than hot air.

So what did he think of his brother's comments on climate change? "There was an awful lot of good common sense in what he said."

In what way?

"If you go back over the thousands of years, look at the changes that there have been in our climate. The climate has been changing all the time and it was changing before there was ever people burning (fuels), before there was engines, the climate was changing. But the only difference is there was nobody to go around talking about it or writing about it or putting it up on YouTube. Do you know?

"The world was covered with ice. What happened like? HELLO! You know? Ireland was covered in oak trees. What happened? Our continents were joined together, there was more land masses and look at what happened. Was it engines that caused it?"

But Danny saying an act of God?

"Ah yes, but you know I'll tell you one thing about this God business: maybe a lot of people were being derogatory to him about the use of the word 'God'. The only reason was because there's an awful agenda from people out there at the moment who don't want to recognise God.

"A lot of people who don't believe in God, if there was something driving over their toe tomorrow morning the first person they would go calling out is 'Oh God, help me'. You know? Or if some fella was stuck in a bad hole, the first thing they'd do is go calling out for God.

"So maybe that was why maybe people were sort of against him. They didn't like the idea of God being acknowledged, of being in charge of something. Well I do believe that God is in charge, so I would support what he said."

Eventually, Danny comes in and give his views on Kenny's snub. He surmises that Michael is better off not being part of an unstable Government, which he gives about "five or six weeks".

He describes the "shenanigans" during the Government's formation and says: "They were actually tossing coins to see who would become a junior minister."

Danny believes "a better day will come (for Michael) if there is any fairness or fair play in the country."

As so we turn to Danny's comments on climate change: "I will defend that stance 'til the day I die.

"There have been serious changes of climate going back the ages before we were ever industrialised."

He explains: "The Baltic ocean froze over at one time. What caused that, like? The country had severe heat and severe drought in the 11th and 12th centuries, as opposed to the 15th and 16th centuries, which were very, very wet and then, in 1740, it rained for two whole years."

During that period, he says: "Cattle had no hair, no feet for the winter. They died, they starved. The people had no turf for the fire; they perished with the cold."

He points out that people have long been turning to God to ask for better weather.

"I can remember back years (ago), when we had very bad weather, there was a Mass said in the church to pray for fine weather and I make no apologies for that to no one."

Like many Irish couples, his wife's mother put out a statue of the Child of Prague to herald good sunshine for their wedding day.

Indeed, Danny believes in the maxim of live and let live.

"I have no animosity towards other religions. Protestants? Fine people. From what I know, people of the Bangladeshi community, they have their own religion. I don't oppose that. Or regret or resent that."

I ask him what he means when he uses the phrase an 'act of God'?

"Well I suppose at different times we have had major catastrophes. And you know what we are inclined to say is that it is an act of God. And terrible things have happened to huge amounts of people."


"Take airline crashes. Take bad weather in different places where people get blown away and flooded and drowned and everything like that," he says,

"I mean someone loses a child or loses a whole family in a fire or whatever, like, haven't we that in Ireland? We must still keep our faith, like."

I enquire as to how an airline crash is an act of God.

"Sure, we don't know, we just don't know. The Twin Towers, all that stuff, you know? I mean, so many different innocent people get hurt. There was a family there this year that got burned except for the mother and small child. Those are terrible things, like"

When I ask him to explain the Twin Towers, he says: "I mean they are terrible things. And we just can't account for them."

And then he thinks for a moment, before remembering that terrorists were involved.

"I suppose, yes, there was people responsible for them. Sorry, now, that's a different thing. There was people directly responsible for that. That was not an act of God. I am sorry now. I am saying when a fire takes place or an unexpected accident."

I tell him his prayers must have been answered with such fine weather this weekend.

Then I suggest we head outside for something we can all agree on: a couple of 99 ice cream cones.

Sunday Independent

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