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Mythen dusts himself off with a renewed hope

General Election 2020

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Johnny Mythen and his wife Barbara on their wedding day in November, which fell just before the by-election in which Johnny was the Sinn Fein candidate

Johnny Mythen and his wife Barbara on their wedding day in November, which fell just before the by-election in which Johnny was the Sinn Fein candidate

Johnny Mythen and his wife Barbara on their wedding day in November, which fell just before the by-election in which Johnny was the Sinn Fein candidate

The year is 2016. Sinn Féin's Johnny Mythen cuts an anxious figure as he leans over the railings at the St Joseph's count centre in Wexford town. Against the odds he's very close to taking a seat in Dáil Eireann.

Going head to head with fellow Enniscorthy man, Fine Gael's Paul Kehoe, the Sinn Féin candidate was to lose out by just 31 votes.

Fast forward three years and Mythen was anxious for a different reason. As the counts rolled in, a major backlash against Sinn Féin became apparent. Johnny would walk away from the count centre having lost his long-held council seat, a bitter blow as the party counted losses right across the country.

'People don't realise you're human as well. You are a human being and things affect you,' Johnny said, reflecting on that loss. 'I felt a little bit let down. I had done a lot of work for people. I think one of the major factors was the boundary changes. Ten areas were taken from Enniscorthy. The likes of Edermine being in Gorey is ludicrous. To me that was a move done on purpose. I believe the figures were done and it was a move that was influenced by government ministers in our area. It put independents and smaller parties like ourselves under pressure.'

While some would have taken the defeat to heart and stepped off into the sunset, Johnny was determined that this wouldn't be his last hurrah in the cut-throat world of politics.

'I'm a republican, I believe in republicanism,' he said. 'What in this country has been easy for republicanism? People have been put in prison and died on hunger strike. To lose an election is not the end of the world. You have to pick yourself up. It's not just about seats. It's a belief, an ideology and looking after the people of Ireland.'

Johnny felt buoyed after a by-election campaign that, although ultimately unsuccessful, he felt put Sinn Féin back in the mix.

'The by-election was always going to be difficult because it's only one candidate for each party,' he said. 'The big parties were obviously going to win that anyway. For us it was about getting back up off our knees and showing the people we're not going to pack it in; that we're fighting for the people.'

If the latest opinion polls are to be believed, Mythen was correct as Sinn Féin moved to within two points of Fine Gael.

'It's good to see that people are beginning to think for themselves and the old way of voting the way your mother and your father voted is gone. People should look at the policies and see what we're about and that's how to judge it.'

In a way Sinn Féin have become the outcast cousin of the political family. In the build-up to this election, we've heard the familiar declarations from the other party leaders that they won't go in to government with Sinn Féin. Wexford's own Brendan Howlin declared his concerns that the party was still 'under the influence of the old IRA leadership', something which Johnny dismisses as rubbish.

'If you're a politician it's your duty to talk to everyone and hear everyone's point of view. It's a bit ironic that these parties are preaching to us to go in with the DUP in the six counties, but they won't even talk to Sinn Féin, but I think after this election they will somehow.'

On Howlin's IRA shot, he said: 'They play that card at every election, they say about the IRA, but it's absolutely ridiculous. If anyone looked at the workings of Sinn Féin, it's grassroots. The policies are decided at the Ard Fheis and any member can speak at that Ard Fheis on any subject that they want. Since the Good Friday Agreement, the IRA have gone off the scene. They're not there and that's the way it is. It's a lack of politics on the part of other party leaders and it's a shame on them really.'

They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Newly married, Johnny's wife Barbara is particularly understanding as their wedding celebrations were somewhat short-lived after the by-election was called last year.

'I didn't think the by-election was going to be called,' Johnny laughed.

'I had some honeymoon! Guys phoning me up for manifestos and that kind of thing! I'm with Barbara 22 years and you kind of get into a rut and you forget the important things. We had never really thought about marriage. I just turned around before that and I said "Listen, will you marry me?" and she said yes and I was delighted.'

'We had a very small wedding, because it was in the middle of the whole thing. We just had the two families together, had a lovely meal and then we went back to the house and had a few beers and a bit of music and it was lovely. She's out canvassing with me now again and she's all on board. But we are both really happy we made that decision to do it.'

While Sinn Féin are flying high in the opinion polls and nobody wants to bring a losing mentality to their campaign, should Johnny be unsuccessful on this occasion, it will be a fourth defeat in four years. Theoretically does that mean this could end up being his last campaign?

'I grew up in a sporting background and I ended up playing rugby. When we started playing first, we were getting beaten 45-0, but we'd regroup and we eventually started winning and now look at the club the way it is at the minute. It's one of the best clubs in Leinster. From that you learn a lot. How to take the hits and the ups and downs.'

'It's not about losing. It's just about what you believe in. Having said that, if I don't make it, we have a democratic system and it's up to the members to decide whether they'd want me to run again.'

'After the last elections I met everyone and asked them if they wanted me to stand again and they said they were 100% behind me, which was good. Ultimately the members will decide.'

However, for now, the Enniscorthy man is not thinking of what could happen if he doesn't win. He's fully focused on riding the surge in popularity that Sinn Féin are enjoying and knocking on as many doors as possible in a bid to succeed where he fell short by the smallest margins back in 2016.

Wexford People