Fine Gael’s John Perry has no problem being an outcast

On the canvass with the Sligo-North Leitrim TD who survived legal battle with his party

Fine Gael TD John Perry  canvassing in Sligo. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Fine Gael TD John Perry canvassing in Sligo. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Scuttling around Sligo town in his pinstripes and polished brown shoes and speaking in his distinctive voice that sounds like an agitated bee captured in a jam jar, John Perry is back in the game and relishing it.

“How is your wife?” the former junior minister asks an elderly man on Grattan Street on a cold day last Wednesday.

“She is as miserable as ever,” comes the reply, with the addendum of a promised first preference vote.

It has been an eventful Dáil term for Perry, a once staunch Enda Kenny ally who found himself an object of ridicule and discarded by the party hierarchy following a contentious selection convention last October.

Fine Gael wanted two candidates for the reconfigured Sligo-Leitrim constituency, which now takes in a large portion of west Cavan and parts of Donegal.

The directive from party headquarters was one candidate should be chosen from Sligo and one from Leitrim.

Perry lost the Sligo contest to fellow deputy Tony McLoughlin, but objected to how the convention was run, dragging Fine Gael all the way to the High Court.

After Perry produced a letter in which party general secretary Tom Curran referred to the “chaotic” nature of the convention, Fine Gael folded.

Legal bill

Joe Davitt, having a cup of coffee in the Johnston Court Shopping Centre, greets Perry as he passes.

“I said to the wife when all that was going on: ‘Do you know who we are voting for?’ ‘John Perry’,” he says.

“‘Why?’ ‘Pure spite. To give them fellas a kick up the arse’.”

It seems, however, that Davitt and Perry – who in 2013, while in ministerial office, reached a deal with Danske Bank to restructure a €2.47 million debt – are no strangers to each other.

“You promised me you were going to put me on some of those committees,” says Davitt as Perry walks away. “You never did!”

Perry later insists this was a joke.

Fine Gael strategists and local party figures are now unsure of whether victimhood will propel Perry back in to Leinster House.

A number of observers still say McLoughlin has the edge for Fine Gael in Sligo.

The Sligo split will probably help Gerry Reynolds, who is running for the party in the Leitrim part of the constituency.

At the last election, Perry, a TD since 1997, said he did not canvass within a five-mile radius of Sligo town in order to maximise the Fine Gael vote and help elect McLoughlin.

Will he be doing the same this time? “No.”

Intimidating place

“Congratulations on your bravery,” says Noel Kelly, a local solicitor: “I would vote for him; I think he was badly done.”

Nor is Perry afraid to play it up.

“When you go into the Four Courts, it’s a very intimidating place, isn’t it?”

He pays a visit to St John’s National School to hand out “John Perry” branded posters of the executed 1916 leaders.

Principal Bernard Mulhern, a Fianna Fáiler, seems eager to protect the students from the vulgarities of politics as experienced by Perry.

“Those of you who were watching what was in the news lately, you all saw what happened. But we won’t get into that in sixth class,” Mulhern says.

Not all are convinced of Perry’s chances. Some locals recall an unkept promise made before the last election when he said cancer care services would be restored at Sligo Regional Hospital.

Just weeks into this Government’s term, Perry hung up on a local radio host when pressed on the pledge and was barracked at a press conference.

“Some people are sympathetic, some aren’t. There are some who think he should have accepted the result of the convention,” says one woman who declines to give her name.

“The cancer issue has come back to bite him in the bum. It is still a big issue. I’d be surprised if he is [elected].

“An awful lot of people are going Independent. You’d hear people say that one is as bad as the other.

“People are under pressure with the USC, house insurance, car insurance. There is an awful lot of apathy. I’m not sure a lot of people will go and vote. I have a son and he is just not interested.”

A man, who also declines to be named, says: “He’d have his support among some, but certainly not among others.”

Perry has so far blamed Curran and Fine Gael headquarters for the initial refusal to allow him run.

Even though he says Kenny promised every TD they would have the chance to stand, he is reluctant to criticise the Taoiseach.

Many in the parliamentary party believe Perry, one of Kenny’s strongest supporters during the 2010 leadership challenge, was poorly treated.

The Taoiseach’s detractors say it is yet another illustration of Kenny’s habit of discarding allies who have outlived their use.

Did Perry feel let down by Kenny, who, as party leader, surely approved of how he was treated?

“I was somewhat surprised,” he says, before trailing off again towards his villains of choice. “Headquarters gets very powerful.”

He claims he was offered and declined a place in the next Seanad as one of the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees if he backed off his High Court action and that a meeting with Brian Hayes, now Fine Gael’s director of elections, ended with Hayes saying he was looking forward to seeing Perry in court.

Fine Gael sources deny both claims.

Devoid of sensitivity

“Not directly, no, to be honest,” he says, before reflecting on his relationship with Kenny. “He takes no prisoners. Very few people know him.”

Kenny was due in the constituency yesterday to fundraise for Reynolds, although he cancelled and was replaced by Charlie Flanagan, but Perry expects no such treatment.

However, he says he understands why he was dropped from the junior ministerial ranks in 2014.

Kenny had ambitious TDs to manage, and Perry’s troubles with Danske Bank likely counted against him.

“Politics is totally devoid of sensitivity. I never expected sensitivity. I have no doubt the pressure I was under didn’t help my case,” he says.

He admits his financial troubles were “stressful for the family, but we dealt with it . . . These are chapters in life you have to deal with”.

Back in October, it also looked as if the political chapter of John Perry’s life was over.

Now, he is in that role most politicians would relish: an underdog who took on the big guns and fighting hard to regain his seat.

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