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Jackie played the system better than anyone

Jackie Healy-Rae was once asked by an interviewer to name which part of his body he would change by painless plastic surgery. His answer was: "Absolutely nothing."

If he could swap places with anyone in the world, who would it be? "Myself." Did he have any recurring dreams? Yes, one which involved a night of passion with Tina Turner.

The message was obvious. Not only was Healy-Rae supremely comfortable in his own skin, the Independent TD for Kerry South did not give a damn what anyone else thought about him. He may not leave behind much of a national legacy - but as a constituency TD and champion of his own people, there was simply no-one to touch him.

Healy-Rae looked and sounded like a character from Father Ted. On the rare occasions that he removed his trademark cloth cap, it revealed a bizarre hairstyle flattened down by Brylcreem. He spoke with a sing-song accent, often using old-fashioned phrases.

To his critics, Healy-Rae represented everything wrong with Irish politics. He was the archetypal parish-pumper, whose only ambition was to secure as many goodies as possible for the people of south Kerry. At a time when Independent TDs held the balance of power, his vote was always for sale to the highest bidder.

Healy-Rae's supporters always claimed that these criticisms missed the point. He did not invent the system, they point out, but simply used it to help a rural area that had been forgotten by the Dublin establishment.

He was returned to the Dail in three successive general elections - and even inspired a biography called The Mighty Healy-Rae.

John Patrick Healy took the 'Rae' part of his surname from the local townland. The eldest of six children, he was forced to leave school at 12 after a back injury confined his father to bed.


Instead, he graduated from the school of hard knocks, selling turf and cattle before running a successful pub. Jackie felt deeply "blackguarded" after Fianna Fail refused him a Dail nomination in 1997 and decided to run as an Independent.

He won, thanks to a spectacular campaign that involved torch-lit rallies with pikes and burning sods of turf. When Bertie came begging for his support, he drew up a shopping list of roads and factories.

In fairness to Healy-Rae, once bought he stayed bought. He claimed that propping up Bertie did not even leave him with enough time to buy a razor in Dublin, but he did manage to create a family dynasty led by his son Michael - just as determined to represent people who eat their dinner in the middle of the day.

A Dail full of Jackie Healy-Raes would be a terrifying prospect. For many voters in south Kerry, however, this Tina Turner fan was simply the best - and that is the only memorial he wanted.