| 10.4°C Dublin

'Secret Millionaire' lacks urban appeal despite city roots

Eamon O Cuiv was once known as the 'secret millionaire' for his ability to hand out cash to communities across the country.

He had access to a bewildering array of grant schemes in his previous post as Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, including the Dormant Accounts Fund, which was originally controlled by an independent board.

O Cuiv's department took over in 2004 and was instantly given access to €685m, which had been resting unclaimed in bank accounts.

One political rival said it made O Cuiv look like the 'secret millionaire' in the Channel Four TV series.

Ironically, O Cuiv (60) turned down the chance to become an instant millionaire in 2001 when he was bequeathed a 200-acre farm in Leenane, the picturesque village where 'The Field' was filmed.

He handed it back to the family of the donor, Bina McLoughlin. She was a Connemara sheep farmer who was a huge admirer of O Cuiv and his famous grandfather, Eamon de Valera. Before she died, she said of O Cuiv: "I hope I'll live long enough to see him elected Taoiseach."

O Cuiv is now taking the first step toward that goal, but his chances of winning the Fianna Fail leadership contest are remote. Then again, throwing his hat in the ring won't hurt his campaign to retain his (still very safe) seat in Galway West, which he has held since 1992.

He is a clever political operator who managed to save his former department after 'Bord Snip Nua' recommended it be abolished. But he has a habit of talking at length in either Irish or English, which has annoyed some members of his party and the opposition.

O Cuiv was lucky to escape with his life in 2004 when his ministerial car was hit by a tourist driving on the wrong side of the road in Kerry. He has always given credit to his garda driver (who he still retains) for his quick reactions.

He is a keen user of his state car -- clocking up 75,000 miles a year for his community visits around the country -- which has helped him to build up a lot of contacts.

A fluent Irish speaker, he was the driving force behind the 20-year Irish language strategy and the Official Languages Act. This piece of legislation was intended to give Irish a better status but it landed O Cuiv in controversy due to the 'Dingle-An Daingean' place name row.

The famous west-Kerry town is still officially known as 'Dingle-An Daingean', despite a public vote to revert to their English name.

It is surprising to many that O Cuiv is the only Dublin-born politician in the race, having grown up in Ballsbridge, while Brian Lenihan, Mary Hanafin and Micheal Martin hail from Athlone, Thurles and Cork city respectively.

Despite this, he is seen as the candidate with the least appeal in urban areas.

And that means O Cuiv will have to settle for a frontbench role rather than becoming 'The Chief'.

Irish Independent