Fine Gael decision in Skerries may split party vote
Candidate imposed by central office signals struggle for same pool of votes
Fine Gael headquarter’s choice, barrister JP Browne.
Sitting FG councillor Tom O’Leary acknowledges he is in a political fight. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times
It’s a nightmare scenario for some candidates, opportunity for others and one that’s been replicated in all parties and constituencies prior to next week’s election.
Conventions have ended, candidates assume they have an allocated electoral area to themselves and look forward to an exclusive territory in the their campaign.
The party then decides more candidates are needed, adds a younger and fresher face to the ticket – probably with an eye for a future general election run – and murmurings surface of a “shafting” of the established councillor or candidate orchestrated by headquarters.
Fine Gael members in the north Co Dublin town of Skerries have been treated to such political meat and drink in recent months, with two party candidates fighting for the same pool of votes.
Sitting Cllr Tom O’Leary (58) is fighting with prospective candidate JP Browne (35), added by party HQ after he lost out at convention. HQ said Mr Browne, a barrister, had been approached by Fianna Fáil.
“There is a feeling that this is a concerted effort by headquarters to oust him [Mr O’Leary] from office,” reported local newspaper the North County Leader, back in February.
“I am surprised at the decision, but that’s the wisdom of the experienced people in party headquarters,” Mr O’Leary was quoted as saying in that
But the sitting councillor recognises that he’s in a fight. “I didn’t know about it, but I’ll be there now,” he said this week when asked about an event the following day with local TD and Minister for Health James Reilly, who used to employ Mr O’Leary as a parliamentary assistant, and Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan.
Mr O’Leary turned up and stood behind the ministerial pair to get himself on television.
He has also taken to mounting big yellow posters pledging to work for voters to cut their property tax, going further than his party’s promise to provide relief where possible.
Mr O’Leary believes there should be fewer candidates, but says no ill-feelings exist between the pair.
“We went to convention. The party added JP afterwards. I was told he was approached by Fianna Fáil,” he said. “I believe them. We’re getting on fine, we’re not fighting or anything. But it will be difficult to get that quantity of votes.”
Like all first-time candidates, Mr Browne has some political naivete and is helped on the doorsteps by Kay Boland, wife of former TD John Boland, taking the lead in most cases.
She is also Fine Gael chairwoman in the constituency and insists relations are fine between the candidates.
Mr Browne said they are in the hunt for different votes and noted that he’s a “young man with a young family, two young girls.You’re looking at different demographics, he’s slightly older than me,” he said of Mr O’Leary, while adding he had found the campaign “quite tough. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
He received a warm reception from people he knows and they wished him well. On his rival, one woman said she wouldn’t be “that fussed” about Mr O’Leary.
The Northcliffe Heights estate should be strong Fine Gael territory. Yet many are disappointed in the party’s performance in government, even if that won’t necessarily have any influence on voting intentions for the council.
“In fairness to the Minister for Health, and I’m a nurse, he fixed my path,” said Petria Fagan, who answered the door to Mr Browne with her daughter Emma.
“He’s good on that, but not on the health issue. I’m not earning enough money, with the cuts, Croke Park deal, breaks and that.”
‘Listen to the people’
Another man says he knows Mr Browne’s father and will probably vote for him, but asks him to tell “Enda and his cronies to listen to the people”.
He is not as committed when the candidate leaves the doorstep.
“I know I said that, but I’m sick of them. I built this house on my own, with help from my friends and I have no money left after my bills. My mother is 86 and is paying property tax. I’m not against taxes but they have to be a just tax.”
Party in-fighting means little to voters like that.