Calling a spade a spade and bagging the turf-cutter vote

 

It’s twilight and halfway on the road between Athleague village and Roscommon town, the old jeep pulls up and a massive man emerges from the passenger seat and grips your hand with the force of a vice grip.

The first thing to note about Michael Fitzmaurice is his size – tall, broad, big. As electoral dark horses go, he is definitely in the Clydesdale department. He has spent most of polling day shifting cattle to allow calves to begin weaning.

Dark horse, he was. From the moment he announced his candidacy, the agricultural contractor from Glinsk in Co Galway was always going to be in contention. He was backed by Luke Ming Flanagan, the newly-elected MEP, whose vacated Dáil seat was up for grabs. Another factor was Fitzmaurice was identified as the de facto leader of the turf-cutting campaign. In north east Galway and in Roscommon this was a huge issue.

Straight talker

In the end, what were thought as the negative factors made little difference.

He lives just outside the constituency and is a councillor in Galway. But all of eastern Galway and Roscommon is hinterland terrain, and besides when the constituency changes come into effect for the next election, big swathes of east Galway will come in and Fitzmaurice will be slap bang in the middle of Roscommon-Galway.

The other downside was the notion he was keeping the seat warm for Ming. But that may not be the case.

Fitzmaurice looks like a stayer. The man has a reputation as a doer. He organised the turf cutters into a potent resistance force resisting the designation of local bogs. Before he ever became a councillor, Fitzmaurice would take his machinery out to do hedge-cutting along country roads around Glinsk as the council might take an eternity to get there. On the side of the N63, Fitzmaurice sets out his vision animatedly.

Stay grounded

His victory, he says, “is a statement from the people to Government, telling of the dissatisfaction that is out there in rural Ireland.

“I hope it’s a wake-up call for them. I intend to roll-up the sleeves, highlight the problems, work with the people.”

On his victory, he says he will stay grounded: “You keep your feet on the ground. Today will come and today will go. Next week is when we start the work.

“No one ever knows where life takes them. I have seen a lot of things in life. I saw my mother dying when I was 10. I saw many a thing as I was growing up.You will never know where you will be. That’s the great thing about life, it’s the mystery of it. Hopefully I can repay the people who voted for me and repay their faith in me.”

He is keen too to stress he is not a single-issue candidate: “My heart bleeds when I see so many kids out of this country at the moment. It sickens me to see how Government has neglected rural Ireland. When I talk about rural Ireland I talk about the towns of Athlone, the towns of Roscommon.

The new TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim will certainly be an interesting addition to the Dáil.