Boxer Kenny Egan keen to prove he is a contender
The Olympic medal winner’s fame helps, but so too could his focus on local issues
Fine Gael local election candidate Kenneth Egan meets Niall Reilly and his daughter Lily (1) while campaigning in Clondalkin, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
Kenneth Egan’s decision to run in the local elections attracted more media attention than any other new candidate.
Egan (32) was not just an Olympic light-heavyweight silver medallist, but a colourful one. He famously went off the rails after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, his life turning into a circus of alcohol addiction, casual sex and irresponsibility.
The 10-times Irish champion finally knew the fight had gone out of him when he was beaten by Joe Ward for the Irish title last year. “I don’t have the desire to do it any more. It’s just too hard. The spark has to be there. It’s gone. It left me.”
It was time for a new challenge. Few thought it would be politics. Egan’s decision to join Fine Gael also seemed rather incongruous – the authentic working-class hero joining a party often regarded as primarily representing the middle class. At his first press conference in February to announce that he was standing for election in South Dublin County Council, Egan sat beside Frances Fitzgerald.
Call me Kenneth not Kenny, he told the media. “Keep it real,” would be his slogan.
Egan’s admission that he knew little about politics and that he did not care which party he joined was candid and, perhaps, no bad thing given the general cynicism about the political establishment.
Fast forward three months, and Egan has been tramping the roads of his native Clondalkin for the past five weeks, almost entirely outside the spotlight. “The area is so big, I want to canvass everywhere that’s needed,” he says.
The recognition factor helps, Egan admits. After all, he jokes, he’s the only candidate who toured the constituency on an open-top bus six years ago.
It also helps deflect from the anger directed towards Government candidates, but not completely. For that reason, Egan sticks to his mantra that he is concerned about local issues, particularly the youth of the area. “We have had a few people that are not too happy with what is happening with the Government at the moment,” he says, “but it’s out of my hands.
“I can’t control what is happening at the top of the table. I try and reinforce to people that it is local stuff that I have an interest in. That’s the type of stuff I want to get stuck into, mental health being a big thing, addiction, sports, getting kids active, all that kind of thing.”
The big picture keeps getting in the way. In Newlands Cross, one couple lament that their daughter, who is about to qualify as a teacher, will have to go to England because there are no jobs in Ireland. Egan counters that he has two brothers who had to emigrate. He did not have to emigrate himself, but boxing allowed him to travel the world. “I always loved coming home. I love the area I’m in. I don’t think I’ll ever leave it.”
Another woman tells him that politicians are in it for themselves and cites a recent report showing that 11 councillors were paid €100,000 each.
“I’m not in it for the money,” Egan responds. “The wages aren’t that good.”
Tale of woe
The tale of woe continues at another door. A woman has been forced out of retirement because her husband is ill. He needs a heart monitor but will not get one until August.
Water charges and the cost of living are raised repeatedly.
Egan trains children in his alma mater, Moyle Park College. This is mentioned several times on the doorstep. Constituents want to talk to him about sport and he’s happy to oblige.
Fine Gael hopes to retain its two seats in the Clondalkin ward, but it won them when the party was in opposition, and the continuing austerity has emboldened what is already a “very ‘left’ ward”, according to one party insider.
Egan is being accompanied on his canvass by Fine Gael councillor Tony Delaney, who is not standing this time. The mood of the voters is testy, Delaney says, but not as bad as some people might believe.
“Kenneth, being a first-time runner, there’s a huge amount of goodwill towards him. Times are tough, there’s no doubt that people are hurting, but it’s a local election and we’ve got to hammer that home. There’s a huge recognition factor with Kenneth. If it turns into votes, we should be okay.”