Monday 23 April 2018

Battle of Blackrock backbiting has Mary and Kate's rivals rubbing their hands

Kate Feeney
Kate Feeney
Mary Hanafin

As if to demonstrate the very point that former Tánaiste Mary Harney had been making, the 'Battle of Blackrock' seeped back into the papers this week and once again it was a billed as a 'Mary versus Kate' affair. But who's responsible for breaking Fianna Fáil party confidence and singing to the press to damage a rival this time, Councillor Mary Hanafin, Councillor Kate Feeney or some other party?

Mary Harney was speaking last weekend at the Women in Media conference at which she remarked upon the volume of media stories that are essentially a contest with one woman placed against another, "We now have what's called the 'Battle of Blackrock' - Mary Hanafin and Kate Feeney. Mary Lou and Joan Burton are being pitted in articles I keep reading, and I think some women journalists like to pit the woman against the other woman; the story about Liz O'Donnell wearing the same dress on the same day as Lucinda Creighton."

There's something in this. I have yet to see Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin in a 'who wore it better' feature about competing suits and ties. Leo Varadkar and Billy Kelleher aren't reviewed for their 'catty and screeching' exchanges during Dáil questions on health.

Harney, the first female Tánaiste in the country continued: "Some of the bitchiest comments made about a woman are often made by another woman. In my own experience the snidest comments usually came from other women in the media."

The story from Fianna Fáil's rival Blackrock factions this week would appear very damaging to Councillor Hanafin. Minutes of an internal meeting indicate she was highly critical of the soldiers of destiny, saying the party "stands for nothing, has no vision and agrees with the Government on everything."

How could you Mary, on the week of an Ard Fheis? Victory for Kate.

But hold on, Councillor Hanafin made the comments two months ago and a good source tells me they were in the context of a guest speaker to the Blackrock organisation, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. Her point was that people know the Senator's bread and butter issues are the Irish language, Irish song and Irish dance. She was saying that if Fianna Fáil wants to re-emerge from the 2011 General Election thrashing, they need to have core policies. She's right; the party has lost six by-elections in a row in opposition and won't wish its way back into strength. The seventh by-election is coming up in Carlow/Kilkenny next month and the raft of core policy documents emerging from Fianna Fáil this week prove others feel the same about carving out a fresh identity. Besides, Councillor Hanafin wasn't speaking in public; her internal comments should have remained in conclave. Someone has been keeping these nuggets in their back pocket.

It's politically interesting because the constituency in which both Councillor Hanafin and Councillor Feeney are dreaming of being a TD will be one of the real bear pits of the next election - Dún Laoghaire. The Ceann Comhairle has a guaranteed seat if he wants it. That leaves Eamon Gilmore (L), Mary Mitchell O'Connor (FG) and Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP) to see off all challengers. Fianna Fáil is due to select its candidate at the end of May.

For me, the idea that Kate and Mary are at it again, plotting to backbite each is very superficial and doesn't add up.

It also now annoys me as during the selection process for the local elections, both women showed some real metal in public. Mary Hanafin refused to hand back the signed nomination papers she had received just because Party HQ had a change of plan. Kate Feeney refused to give way for a familiar name and stood her ground when an attempt was made to parachute Hanafin in. As it turned out, they both went on to run and they both won.

A glance at either woman's CV shows they are more than entitled to stand over their own achievements and win the party's Dáil nomination on merit. Both have been active in Fianna Fáil from a young age, both have strong Fianna Fáil traditions in their families. Mary Hanafin has been a senator, the government chief whip and a Cabinet minister in four different portfolios. Kate Feeney has a strong following amongst younger members of the party, was a very successful president of the party's youth wing and is highly rated by HQ.

At the media conference last week Mary Harney said something else: "Your rival is very often not the other man in the constituency, it's the other woman."

In this instance she's completely wrong, hopefully Councillors Hanafin and Feeney and their supporters have spotted that they are not the ones continuing the Battle of Blackrock or evolving it into a War for Dún Laoghaire. Neither of these women need to conspire in the shadows.

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