Tuesday 20 March 2018

Fianna Fáil 'big beasts' making a comeback

Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher
Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher
Mary Hanafin
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Several of Fianna Fáil's big beasts, including some from the political dynasties, are expected to attempt a comeback at the next general election.

With the economic crash receding into dim and distant memory, there is a belief that they will no longer be treated as ghosts at a wedding feast if they turn up at the polls in the coming months.

Some, including Seán Haughey in Dublin and Mary Hanafin, may not be particularly popular in their parties, but Fianna Fáil strategists believe they have the benefit of name recognition.

One long-time party official says: "People have short memories. Perhaps they wouldn't elect Brian Cowen or Bertie Ahern tomorrow, but some of those on the margins from the past have a good chance of getting back into the Dáil.

"Three years ago, this would have been considered unthinkable, because of the economic collapse, but the mood has changed.

"After some of the appearances at the banking inquiry, there is a feeling that the party needs to stick up for itself and what it achieved.

"The party also has a paucity of experience. It will rely on old-school campaigners to get out the vote," adds the former election strategist.

Mary Hanafin was not at the margins in the pre-crash Fianna Fáil administrations, but right at the cabinet table alongside her leader, Micheál Martin.

After the 2011 calamity, Hanafin kept an extremely low profile, but returned to the fray last year to win a local council seat. It helped her profile that she was portrayed in that election as a brave woman fighting against the party machine.

She is not popular in her party, but independent polling by Fianna Fáil in Dún Laoghaire shows that she would win a seat handsomely. Her presence on the ticket is now regarded as inevitable.

The Haughey name may be associated with the scandals of Charles Haughey, but that won't keep it off the ballot paper at the next election. Seán Haughey lost out at a Fianna Fáil selection convention in June, but a decision is imminent on whether he will run for the party. Haughey has claimed that internal research carried out by Fianna Fáil shows that he is the only one who could win a seat for the party in Dublin Bay North.

Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher is the latest former Fianna Fáil minister hoping for a Lazarus-like return to the Dáil. The former MEP is seeking his party's nomination to run in the Donegal constituency at the next election.

The 67-year-old veteran issued a letter to every Fianna Fáil member in the new five-seat constituency, seeking their support.

Former chief whip John Curran is another veteran who has been selected to run for the party in Dublin Mid-West.

Micheál Martin may be trying to promote a new image for his party, but there is likely to be an old world feel to his election line-up. The veterans were buoyed up by the election of a member of the old guard, Bobby Aylward, in the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election.

Recent months have if anything confirmed Fianna Fáil's reliance on its dynasties.

If Conor Lenihan succeeds in Roscommon, he may be joined by his cousin Aengus O'Rourke (son of Mary), another scion of the Lenihan clan who is hoping to be elected in Longford-Westmeath.

If elected, these heirs to political fiefdoms are likely to line up alongside Éamon Ó Cuív, grandson of Éamon De Valera, and Barry Cowen (brother of the ill-fated Brian), as well as many others who inherited their seats.

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