Cassells clan proves blood is thicker than politics


Mark Hennessy visits Meath as the Taoiseach starts the Fianna Fáil by-election campaign

Blood is something they understand in Meath, be it spilled on the football pitch, or be it on display in the just as brutal world of politics.

Showing that it is thicker than water, or political leanings, trade unionist Mr Peter Cassells put aside his Labour beliefs for a time yesterday to stand by his nephew.

Young Cllr Shane Cassells is running for Fianna Fáil in the March 11th by-election in the county caused by the departure of ex-Fine Gael leader Mr John Bruton to Washington. Cllr Cassells is facing, amongst others, Labour's Mr Dominic Hannigan.

Mr Peter Cassells ran for Labour in the European Parliament elections last June, only to lose out in the end to Fine Gael's Ms Avril Doyle. Nevertheless, there he was yesterday at Fianna Fáil's top table, even if he was very far to the left of it, as the nephew got his campaign into full swing.

Blood ties matter in politics and football - the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, who would usually prefer to spend Sundays at a GAA match, understands the language of both codes. Early yesterday, Mr Ahern went canvassing with his candidate in Stamullen, the home of Meath's legendary football back, Pat "Red" Collier.

"I was looking for 'Red' Collier to tell him that I still think he was a dirty footballer, but he didn't turn up," Mr Ahern, a loyal Dublin fan, jokingly told Meath FF's membership.

By lunchtime, Mr Ahern and his coterie, heavily filled by ranks from Dublin Central, had migrated to St Oliver Plunkett's Church in Navan. Gingerly placing posters for Cllr Cassells around the church, FF canvassers tip-toed around Irish Association for Spina Bifida church gate collectors.

"Be careful, don't put the posters of Cassells in front of the spina bifida posters. They have to get their money too," one FFer told a colleague. Bad publicity like that so early in the campaign would be a definite no-no.

By now, the spina bifida collectors had realised that they were going to run into party canvassers of one hue or another wherever they went yesterday.

For the life of them, however, they could not place the three men standing around in red bomber jackets, handing out leaflets to churchgoers.

"They couldn't be Sinn Féin, could they? Sure, they only wear black bombers," one collector told Fianna Fáil Gorey Town Commissioner, Cllr Malcolm Byrne, a friend of Cllr Cassells from college days. Appropriately enough, the three turned out to be from Duffy's Circus (appearing nightly from February 24th to 27th in the Simonstown GAA club, Kingscourt Road).

Clearly freezing in the February cold, the Taoiseach joked: "I had one guy come up to me complaining about the timing of the election. I told him to ring Enda Kenny."

By mid-afternoon, Fianna Fáil had moved into the warmer climes of the Newgrange Hotel in Navan to formally launch Cllr Cassells' campaign.

The Taoiseach urged the packed hall to "get out and canvass" for Cllr Cassells, who "is the same age that I was when I was elected to the Dáil".

"We have not won a by-election in government since July '82 with Noel Treacy. I was the Government Chief Whip and the assistant director of elections. We have had a lot of by-elections since, but the record has not been good and some of the results have been bloody terrible. That is the truth, folks."