Miriam Lord: Hanafin spat helps liven up dull campaign

Veteran cut adrift as Fianna Fáil backs first-timer Kate Feeney in Blackrock

Kate Feeney, a Fianna Fáil local election candidate, canvassing in Blackrock, Dubilin, on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Kate Feeney, a Fianna Fáil local election candidate, canvassing in Blackrock, Dubilin, on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


They style themselves as the first-timers, but the sins of the political mothers and fathers are never far away. Too close for comfort, as it turns out in Kate Feeney’s case. The first female president of Ógra Fianna Fáil (the party’s youth wing) had the field to herself until the week leading up to the close of local election nominations in Dublin’s Blackrock ward.

Then, in a delicious internal spat, Fianna Fáil made a show of itself with a ham-fisted attempt to impose former minister Mary Hanafin as her running mate. Hanafin, who has made no secret of her desire to return to full-time politics, didn’t need to be asked twice. She grabbed the opportunity.

The furious Feeney camp cried foul. Whereupon, in a flurry of comic manoeuvring that would put the Keystone Cops to shame, the powers that be attempted to take their nomination back. They tried the Quasimodo defence: it was the polls, they quivered, the polls that made them deaf.

Mary was having none of it – but what she did have was the signature of the party general secretary on her papers. Despite increasingly frantic pleadings from Micheál Martin – Mary’s former ministerial comrade-in-arms – La Hanafin stood firm. Cue national headlines for a local squabble, consternation at headquarters, deep embarrassment for the rebuffed party leader whose judgment is called into question and an irresistible chance for grateful headline writers to liven up a dull campaign.


Bad Day at Blackrock!

Designer Handbags at Dawn in South County Dublin!

Now, the area has two Fianna Fáil candidates – Feeney (official FF) and Hanafin (continuity FF). The old campaigner has been cut adrift, pending the election result. The party is backing the young first-timer.

She may be a name in Fianna Fáil, where a top position in Ógra is seen as a springboard for national ambition, but Feeney is a political unknown. The party has been talking her up for some time as one to watch for the future.

However Fianna Fáil and its leadership need good results in Dublin now.

So when pre-election polling gave them a fit of the collywobbles, they took refuge in the past and the record of a solid vote-getter from a discredited administration. When the voters kicked Fianna Fáil out of Dublin at the last election, (the late Brian Lenihan their sole representative), Hanafin lost out by a whisker.

Where does this leave Feeney? Not very happy, that’s for sure. She was canvassing in Blackrock yesterday, skilfully sidestepping questions about the candidate selection fiasco. The fact that people brought it up in an election marked by widespread apathy shows how the spat has raised the profile of this particular local contest. “I know it’s a talking point, but I’m not concentrating on it,” she told a woman on a doorstep in Carysfort Avenue who said she recognised her from “the controversy”.

Feeney is an attractive candidate – youthful and energetic. She chats easily with people. Some tell her to her face that they might consider giving her a vote . . . but . . . well . . . it’s the party she represents. Others tell us afterwards that they admire her for going forward for election, but they aren’t ready to forgive Fianna Fáil.

She disarms people, not least because she’s such a slip of a thing. A gust of wind would blow her away. “I can’t believe you’re only 23. I was falling out of nightclubs when I was 23,” says a woman outside the Frascati Centre. “I’m actually 28,” replies the candidate, who has taken a six-week leave of absence from her job in an accountancy firm in Foxrock to fight the campaign.

The woman takes a leaflet, but politics is far from her mind. “My God! I can’t believe your age. Fair play to you!”

Gerry Magee, a man who has canvassed for Fianna Fáil in many elections, says there are usually more people about the two shopping centres at lunchtime. “It must be ladies day up at the golf club.” Then a middle-aged man, wearing a lavender golf jumper over a white polo-neck in broad daylight, walks by, just in case we forgot where we were. He smiles warmly at the candidate and we somehow resist the urge to ask if he’s Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s Da.

Ryan Tubridy says hello outside the supermarket, forever known here as Superquinn, with his post-show grocery shop.

Who are we following? Kate Feeney, we say.

He does a double-take. “Ooops, I better go, so” he grins.

Tubridy is a member of the Andrews family, Fianna Fáil royalty in the area. Former Fianna Fáil minister David Andrews publicly endorsed Feeney earlier this week.

Local woman Christine Feeley stops for a chat. “Now that I’ve spoken to her, I’d love to give her my support. I like to see young people getting involved, but she’s the wrong party for me. We were badly burned by Fianna Fáil.” As for the controversy: “It’s disgraceful they [Fianna Fáil] didn’t get their act together. It doesn’t reflect well on the leadership.”

It’s the same story over and over. Aoife Montgomery is impressed by the candidate. “I asked her if she comes from a political background and she was honest enough to say she does. “It’s good to see the younger people getting out there and doing something, but I don’t know . . . her party and all that. I’m still deciding.”