Sunday 22 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Fianna Fáil's capital battle: three dynasties and a gay rights lobbyist line up'


Tiernan Brady, far right, met Kylie Minogue this month with Leo Varadkar
Tiernan Brady, far right, met Kylie Minogue this month with Leo Varadkar
Conor Lenihan. Picture: Mark Condren
Barry Andrews. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Mary Hanafin. Picture: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The battle to become Fianna Fáil's Dublin candidate for the European Parliament is fast becoming more exciting than the election itself is likely to be.

Three dynastic former ministers from the meltdown era and a gay rights campaigner have thrown their names into the mix.

Micheál Martin's party has struggled in Dublin since the demise of its true blue leader Bertie Ahern. But the European elections have long been marked as a good opportunity to seize a seat, especially as the number of MEPs jumps from three to four if the Brexit deal is passed.

Mary Hanafin's decision to enter the fray has raised eyebrows among senior figures, although they had suspected she wanted more, "much more", than a mere seat on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

On paper she is close to the perfect candidate: female, articulate, south Dublin and experienced. She has been chief whip and held ministries in education, social affairs, tourism and briefly enterprise.

But her potential return to the 'big time' worries many within Fianna Fáil, particularly because of a suspicion she'll rock the boat at a time when Mr Martin is steering a 'steady-as-she-goes' approach.

The Blackrock councillor had already got the nod to run in the next general election - but that could be more than a year away as a result of the party's decision to extend the Confidence and Supply Arrangement with Fine Gael.

Ms Hanafin says she had broached the idea of Europe with the party leadership, but "at the time the Dáil situation was quite unstable… now that pressure is off".

She said: "My preference would be to run for Europe. I think Europe is where it's at.

"I believe I have the recognition and work done to win a seat for Fianna Fáil in Dublin."

Ms Hanafin believes her high profile will be an asset in the months ahead, although her competitors for the party nomination are hardly anonymous wannabes.

Barry Andrews and Conor Lenihan served as ministers alongside her, while Tiernan Brady gained a significant profile on the back of his work as political director of the Yes campaign during the Marriage Equality Referendum.

"They are all good names, all good people.

"But they haven't been around for the last few years," Ms Hanafin said.

She argues that while others left the pitch after Fianna Fáil's implosion in 2011, she was among the few who "stuck with the party".

"We've been doing the work to strengthen Fianna Fáil in Dublin. Knocking on doors and dropping leaflets," she said. "In each election I have run in, the vote has been significantly higher than the Dublin average for Fianna Fáil."

Ms Hanafin and her Dún Laoghaire colleague Mr Andrews have history.

They were involved in a spat at the 2011 General Election over one or the other moving to the neighbouring Dublin South constituency in an effort to salvage a seat.

In the event, neither moved and both lost their seats.

Asked if her challenge to him now was a reopening of that battle, Ms Hanafin said: "I wouldn't start trivialising it. Barry, in 2011, said he was leaving politics. He went to Goal as chief executive. Then went to Institute of International and European Affairs."

For his part, Mr Andrews told the Irish Independent: "I've run a very positive campaign for the last three months, as have the other two candidates.

"I fully expect that to continue ahead of the selection convention in February."

Mr Lenihan has spent much of his time since leaving politics working in Russia.

As for Mr Brady, it remains to be seen how a liberal with a strong Donegal brogue will go down on the doorsteps in the capital.

For now, all four potential candidates will continue their canvass of Fianna Fáil members behind the scenes, with Ms Hanafin telling them she is the one who can be the party's first Dublin MEP since 2009.

"Everybody knows I'm nothing if not a fighter," she admits.

Healthy competition is good for Fianna Fáil - but the 'back to the future' nature of this contest may not be.

Irish Independent

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