Another Spring about to be sprung in Kerry

The resurgence of the Spring political dynasty in Kerry is still very much on the cards, writes Michael O'Regan , Parliamentary…

The resurgence of the Spring political dynasty in Kerry is still very much on the cards, writes Michael O'Regan, Parliamentary Correspondent.

FOR CLOSE on six decades, the Kerry North constituency was a remarkable Labour fortress, thanks to the Spring family.

The late Dan Spring sometimes defied political trends and the predictions of pundits in holding the seat from 1943 to 1981. He was, briefly, a parliamentary secretary (minister of state) in the late 1950s.

His son, Dick Spring, won the seat in 1981, became party leader and served two terms as tánaiste until his surprise defeat in 2002.


Following his defeat, Dick Spring opted for a career in business. Labour headquarters looked to a new generation of the family to win back the seat, and the focus was on Dick Spring's nephew, Arthur John Spring, a young bank executive.

Initially, he was reluctant to get involved, but when he moved back to live in his native Tralee, where he runs a juice bar, he rekindled his interest in politics. His attempt to secure a nomination for the Kerry South constituency in the European elections was the first shot fired in a bid to revive Labour's fortunes in the one-time Kerry stronghold.

Arthur John Spring, whose father Dr Arthur Spring is a well-known medical doctor and golf course designer, will say no more than that he will seek a nomination to contest the local elections for a seat on Tralee Urban Council and Kerry County Council.

But everybody locally is aware of what the game plan is. Close on 30 years ago, Dick Spring began his political career by taking the same local route. Arthur John Spring (32) is embarking on a process which, Labour hopes, will take him to Dáil Éireann.

"I worked for Dick as parliamentary assistant for a period when he was TD and I found it rewarding,'' said Spring.

"I now run a business in Tralee and I am aware that the town, and north Kerry and west Limerick generally, are in need of a major economic boost. I believe I have a contribution to make on that front.''

Chairman of the Tralee executive of the party Donal P Murphy speaks in terms of Labour preparing for the mother of all battles to win back the Dáil seat.

"We are reorganising the party at branch level and intend harnessing the enthusiasm of the 80 or so north Kerry delegates who attended the selection convention for the South constituency," said Murphy.

"Kerry faces serious challenges in areas such as health, unemployment, housing, farming and fishing. Unemployment is expected to reach 20 per cent by the end of the year. Arthur John Spring would make an excellent public representative.''

Reclaiming the seat will be a formidable task. In the last general election, Labour ran local councillor Terry O'Brien in Kerry North.

He polled 4,287 first preferences, trailing the three sitting TDs, Jimmy Deenihan (FG), 12,697; Martin Ferris (SF), 8,030; Tom McEllistrim (FF), 7,367.

When Dick Spring lost the seat in 2002, he polled 8,773 first preferences and failed to make it because of the vagaries of proportional representation, which had rescued the seat for the Springs in previous elections.

The next general election will see a transformed political landscape, given that the battle will be fought in the new Kerry North-West Limerick constituency.

The population shift of 13,146 people from west Limerick to the revised constituency has not gone down well with the new constituents, despite a traditional affinity between west Limerick and Kerry.

This view was expressed in the Dáil by Limerick West Fianna Fáil TD John Cregan, who said he wanted to express his "dismay, disgust and disappointment at the failed attempt to rectify a situation in the Kerry North and Kerry South constituencies''.

For the outgoing TDs and those seeking to win seats, it is fertile territory to canvass between now and the next general election. Those expected to benefit most from the new constituency boundaries are Finuge-based Deenihan and Fianna Fáil councillor John Brassil, from Ballyheigue, who is likely to be McEllistrim's running mate and receive the backing of the powerful Collins electoral machine in west Limerick.

In the last general election, the Labour candidate in Limerick West, James Heffernan, polled 2,277 first preferences, giving Arthur John Spring a base on which to build.

Local political observers believe that Spring could benefit from transfers in the sizeable Fine Gael vote in the constituency.

With Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael expected to take seats, Ferris would seem to be the most vulnerable to a strong Labour challenge.

"The next general election is a long time away, and anything could happen between now and then,'' said a local observer.

"Arthur John Spring will win council seats in the local elections and after that there will be huge battle for the Dáil. Don't rule out this dynasty resurrecting itself.''