Thursday 14 November 2019

Hanafin up for the fight as the Battle of Blackrock is about to recommence

Mary Hanafin with Polly O’Donnell, who runs Halo jewellery shop in Glasthule, Dublin. Picture: Damien Eagers
Mary Hanafin with Polly O’Donnell, who runs Halo jewellery shop in Glasthule, Dublin. Picture: Damien Eagers

Lise Hand

When Mary Hanafin was snapped last December celebrating after getting a first in her MA in American Studies, she texted the photo to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the party's general secretary Sean Dorgan.

"First count, first class!" she wrote. The pointed point surely wasn't lost on either.

It was only six months after the party emerged from what Mary refers to as the "big shemozzle" when she ran in local elections against Kate Feeney, the 'official' Fianna Fáil candidate for Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown.

Hanafin was elected ahead of her rival on the first count in what was dubbed the 'Battle of Blackrock'. Now that battle is set to recommence, with Kate announcing her intention to contest the party's selection convention for a general election candidate. The Hanafin hat is already in the ring, and so is the chapeau of councillor Cormac Devlin.

Whichever candidate secures the nomination will then be faced with an unmerciful scrap for a seat; with the Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett returned automatically to the Dáil, the sprawling Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown constituency is effectively a three-seater, with sitting TDs Eamon Gilmore, Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Richard Boyd Barrett all competing.

However, sitting in a sunny cafe in the village of Glasthule just hours after Kate Feeney had thrown down the gauntlet, Hanafin appeared undaunted.

"It will be very tough," she admitted. "It's a very big constituency with a big electorate and only three seats. So anybody is going to have to get 12,000 or 13,000 votes to be elected, which is a very big demand."

This is how the former minister reckons she has the advantage. "My argument is that there's only one question: who is best placed to win a seat, who has the capacity to get 12,000 or 13,000 votes? I like to say that on my best day, I had just short of 12,000 votes in 2008 on the first count, and on my worst day, I had 9,400 votes in the last count in the last election, when things were as bad as they get," she said.

And the 2011 general election was about as bad as it can get for Fianna Fáil, who managed to return just one Dublin deputy (the late Brian Lenihan) to the Dáil.

Understandably, given the scale of the party's drubbing, Mary was leery about returning to the fray last summer. "I had no idea beforehand what sort of reaction I'd get, so three of us went out and just canvassed one road in Booterstown.

"The extreme anger was gone, the bitterness wasn't as strong, there was a welcome at the door. People were still saying, 'I'm sorry Mary, but...' While there was a personal regard, there was no way they were voting Fianna Fáil."

Moreover, she was canvassing against a backdrop of he-said-she-said recriminations about whether or not she had defied orders from party HQ not to run against Kate Feeney.

However, Mary is equally adamant that there is no bitterness between herself and Micheál Martin. "We had sat beside each other in Cabinet and had worked together. But we get on fine."

Nonetheless, this selection convention will be as fierce as the first Battle of Blackrock.

"Kate Feeney and I sit beside each other at the council," pointed out Mary, before adding swiftly, "We sit alphabetically, it's not that we're the best of buddies."

She added: "I'm strongly of the view there should be one candidate. We're still being criticised for running two the last time, though I'm not sure it would have impacted on the result.

"If Fianna Fáil doesn't win a seat in Dún Laoghaire, it'll be dangerously damaging for the future of the party. And we'll never get it back then, because it will have been 10 years since they elected a Fianna Fáil TD. So we absolutely have to win it next time," she insisted.

Walking around the Sandycove seafront, it's clear that Mary is a familiar face.

It remains to be seen whether the party decides to select a member of the Old Guard or a baggage-free newcomer. But the former is certainly up for the fight.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss