Thursday 21 February 2019

Is Fitzmaurice the Messiah to break the political mould?

The John Drennan Profile

Voice of protest: Michael Fitzmaurice, TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim
Voice of protest: Michael Fitzmaurice, TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim

John Drennan

The first sign of difference when it comes to Michael Fitzmaurice occurs when you shake hands with him.

The skin you touch is not of the fine, soft variant that one finds in politicians and political journalists too, for that matter.

They are the calloused hands of the sort of manual worker that the Government and Enda are so unfamiliar, as they chase after Google Digital stars with their tongues hanging out (Enda, we mean) like virgins in the 1950s Ireland hunting for a husband.

A second curious feature of Mr Fitzmaurice was revealed when, in his early days in Leinster House, he was asked to meet a deputation of protesting workers.

The drill in this regard is normally quite simple. Politician meets workers, agrees with all their demands, is photographed smiling beside them and disappears.

Fitzmaurice, however, checked out a couple of things and politely declined the offer on the basis that what they were looking for was not economically feasible.

This fellow, it struck us even then, was different.

As we now know, he is sufficiently different to be looking to set up a new political party and him in the Dail for little more than a month; the cheek of him.

For such an apparent ingenue, Mr Fitzmaurice certainly has a good line in political patter.

Outside of representing those who are left with a fiver in their pockets at the end of the week, our man is for "what is good for the country" and for real change and people who live in the real world.

He also, apparently has, like the rest of the sane world, a dislike for ''red tape''.

Those infected by the virus of cynicism who might say 'so far, so cliched' would be right.

But they might also be missing a fundamental point,for Michael Fitzmaurice is no political mushroom.

He has been in community activism for many years now and, unlike quite a few FG newbie TDs, he knows the hard and many roads that have to be travelled to secure change.

He also possesses the utterly critical political virtue of authenticity.

This is of critical importance, for anyone can throw out a series of fine sentiments.

Those who are not authentic generally disappear like frost on a summer morning.

In the case of Mr Fitzmaurice, the season appears to be of a spring-like variety, for he has arrived into politics at a time where, within rural Ireland, a great wind of change is now gusting.

The catalyst for our escalating rural revolt might have been wind farms, but the source of this rebellion is the contempt the Government visibly displays for ordinary citizens.

These citizens, most notably in Mayo, are the ones who first came to Fitzmaurice seeking the structures and advice they need to protect their communities.

Significantly, his is not just a voice of protest and of indigent dependence on the state. That was the previous fellow.

Instead, Fitzmaurice wants to represent those citizens who: ''get up and go to work, rear kids and lead what we call a normal life".

Despite the unvarnished nature of his language, he has a sophisticated concept of how the State should work.

The idea of fixed Dail terms and the concept of a new politics of discourse between government and opposition, where we should pick the best people in the Dail to represent the voters, sounds logical to most sane people.

Something, however, happens in Leinster House to still all that and we get so used to it, anyone who challenges our games and rules, is looked at with the same horror as the boy who shouted about the Emperor's nakedness.

Messiahs, be it of the Pee Flynn or the Life of Brian or the Haughey variant, come in many guises, and the denouement after the initial cheers is not always pleasant.

When it comes to Messiahs of the curious type, Roscommon-South Leitrim has a long and colourful tradition dating from its status as one of the seed-beds of Clann na Poblachta to the subversive merriment of a Sean Doherty.

It is also the county that spawned tough, rough-hewn self-made men like the Bailey brothers.

The Baileys were attacked for not paying their taxes and sneered at by the urban intelligentsia in the Planning Tribunal. But, they did much more of use for the country than any of their metropolitan accusers.

Unsurprisingly, the popularity of Mr Fitzmaurice is not high in Leinster House right now. He was supposed to be a one-week wonder that would be condescendingly cheered, and then disposed of to the same bucolic corner of the house occupied by Mattie and the rest of the country cowpokes.

The scathing mood about the new party was epitomised by one biting observation of "a party led by a man who is for the people and is all things to all people; no, we've never seen that before''.

Already some of the smarter lags are applying the tag of Fianna Fitzy to the new undertaking.

The Fianna Fail tag is understandable, for like the lost tribe of Bertie, what the new man stands for - outside of the mouthing of appropriate sentiments - is not entirely clear.

That, however, was never a disadvantage when it came to the Bert.

The counsel for the prosecution could go on, but the Fianna Fitzy tag may also be indicative of the secret strength of the Messiah from Roscommon-South Leitrim.

Rather like Bertie in his prime, the slightly shambolic Fitzmaurice is a form of Everyman.

He is in particular, though, an Everyman for that forgotten political class known as breakfast-roll man.

Indeed, Mr Fitzmaurice himself may have consumed a few back in the day.

Breakfast-roll man, lest you may have forgotten, was the creation of the Celtic Tiger and Bertie.

He, and his country girl partners, were those ambitious scions of the working class whose dreams of a better future were dashed by the implosion of the Tiger.

We are, of course, told a bit of 'modest prosperity' is returning to the country now.

That stardust, though, is reserved for Digital Google man, as the effete political classes of FG - the Brutons and the Kennys, and Labour - have done little for the working poor outside of ongoing attempts to reform them.

Previously Fianna Fail was the closest political manifestation of the dreams of our bricklayers, tilers, hairdressers and shop assistants.

That party, though, appears to be still politically gun-shy in the wake of its great defenestration.

As for Sinn Fein, while breakfast-roll man will threaten to vote for them, in his heart he knows SF are the party of the welfare classes.

Increasingly, those lost FF souls, who have cut themselves adrift from Fine Gael after that brief flirtation of 2011 have been looking for a political hook to sling their hat upon.

The enchanted gushing about Mr Fitzmaurice's earthiness and heart suggests he is a contender, at least, for that role.

But our new political force would be wise to be wary, for while everyone for now is cheering and Mattie Mc Grath has joined up already, Michael Fitzmaurice is playing with fire.

Fianna Fail, in particular, could tell Fianna Fitzy that there is no more dangerous a force than the hopes and dreams of a rising people if they are let down.

Factfile

NAME: Michael Fitzmaurice

AGE: 46

POSITION: Turfcutter TD

IN THE NEWS BECAUSE: His declaration of interest in setting up a new political party has set the cat among a group of already deeply nervous political pigeons.

All he has to do now is set the thing up. He might, too.

Sunday Independent

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