Ó Cuív confident of backing from all over the country for leadership bid he says is 'not an age competition'

 

ÉAMON Ó CUÍV:MINISTER FOR Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív says he is confident he will get support from “all over the country” for his Fianna Fáil leadership bid, which was “not an age competition”.

The Galway West TD said he believed he was a “socialist”, if fair distribution of wealth and a “community-centred” approach defined socialism.

Mr Ó Cuív said in Galway city yesterday, having declared his bid on TG4 on Saturday, that he believed it was “very healthy” to have a number of candidates competing for the leadership.

He said Galway East TD Micheál Kitt would nominate him as a candidate and Sligo-North Leitrim TD Eamon Scanlan would second him. He had been guaranteed the support of Galway West colleague and close rival Frank Fahey, who had also offered to nominate him, he said.

He had spoken to Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and a number of colleagues. They were “listening very carefully” and had been “very clear that they are not committing to candidates at this stage”. They “want a debate to take place, they want to hear what we have to say”.

In a letter sent by e-mail to TDs yesterday, Mr Ó Cuív said he could offer “a very good knowledge of urban and rural Ireland. All my formative years were spent in Dublin and my adult years have been spent in rural Ireland.”

It was generally accepted the general election would result in a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, he said. He hoped Fianna Fáil would be elected as a “strong opposition”. The immediate task then would be to “go back around the country and to rebuild the organisation”, which would take “huge energy and commitment”, he said.

Mr Ó Cuív, who earned the nickname “Dev Óg” after his grandfather Éamon de Valera when first elected to the Dáil in 1992, emphasised his Dublin roots and his connections with people “all around the country”.

“I think you know that I’ve always been in what’s often jokingly referred to as the left wing of the party.

“I am very much a person who has believed that the whole ethos of Fianna Fáil was centred around the ordinary people of the country . . . right across all social classes.

“I certainly would not be one who would have been socialising with the ‘great and good’ of this country,” referring to the fact he was not a regular visitor the Galway races tent.

“I had all the advantages of opportunities in education, and I made a conscious choice that my life would be working with ordinary people, working with communities,” referring to his experience as co-operative manager in the Gaeltacht area of Cornamona, and his contacts with the “urban disadvantaged” during his time as minister for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs.

He had a “particular view” of Fianna Fáil and believed it was there to “serve the people” and was not “an end in itself”. His bid was serious and “the challenge doesn’t daunt me”.

“The first time I ran in Galway West, nobody thought I’d ever get a seat here because I was living too far out in the country.

“There was no population out there and I was up against heavyweights such as Bobby Molloy, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Frank Fahey, Mark Killilea.

“ I managed to carve my niche out by hard work, by commitment, by talking to people and by listening.”

On the interest in the leadership which had earlier been expressed by Minister of State Conor Lenihan, Mr Ó Cuív, who is 60, said he did not think this was an “age competition”.

It was about “who represents the vision of Fianna Fáil into the future, who the party believes best articulates the values that Fianna Fáil has stood for, and who has the energy to go round the country”.

ÉAMON Ó CUÍV PROFILE

LIKE MANY other senior figures in Fianna Fáil, Éamon Ó Cuív (60) is a member of a famous Fianna Fáil dynasty – he is the grandson of party founder Éamon de Valera.

Born in Dublin, he has lived in Connemara for most of his adult life and has been a TD for Galway West since 1992. He became a senior minister after the 2002 general election.

It seemed that he was fated to serve out his ministerial career in one department – community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs.

However, in Brian Cowen’s most recent reshuffle last year, he was appointed as Minister for Social Protection. He has since gained a reputation among colleagues for a hitherto unseen toughness, especially in a department where deep cuts are being inflicted.

Mr Ó Cuív is seen as an old-fashioned, not a personality, politician.