Political People – June 9th

 

‘I’m a blunt, straight-talking man’ (who would vote to leave EU)

What a welcome relief it was…to see a front cover that didn’t involve Yvonne Keating, David Beckham, Amy Huberman, Katie Price, Marty Whelan (er…RTE Guide)… 

I had walked into a shop in Roscommon Town, done my usual browsing of the newspapers, and then I saw it – a magazine front cover with a new ‘cover face’…

Step forward Roscommon/Galway Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who adorns the cover of the latest issue of ‘Ireland’s Eye.’

Now I’m not an Ireland’s Eye reader, but in the interests of local journalism and sheer curiosity, I handed over €1.80.

I skipped past the ‘Rambling houses of Ireland’, various short stories and an article on the famous dance, ‘The Tango.’

My fingers danced their way to the centre pages, where, under the headline ‘Man on a Mission’ the very media savvy Michael was featured in a two-page interview.

In a typically straight-talking exchange, Deputy Fitzmaurice gave his views on Brexit, Rural Ireland and various other topics.

Fitzmaurice alleges that “many parts of this state are rotten to the core” and he blames controlling civil servants. (He stresses that “not all” civil servants are “bad”). He is generally pro-Europe but against the “rules and regulations” which, he says, have been bad for ordinary people.

In fact Fitzmaurice goes on to say that if there was a referendum in Ireland in the morning, he would vote to leave.

Asked how he would like to be remembered, he says: “As a blunt, straight-talking man, no bullsh*t, and someone who calls it as it is.”

With that, I skipped over the remaining pages – quickly – for fear I’d come across another Daniel O’Donnell profile.

 

Tensions between FG and Naughten remain

If Denis Naughten is to return to the Fine Gael fold in the coming years, wounds will have to be healed between the party at local level in Roscommon and its one-time ‘golden boy.’

Fine Gael was devastated at grassroots level due to the explosive fall-out from the closure of Roscommon A&E in 2011, the subsequent collapse of the Denis Naughten/Frank Feighan dream team, the resignations of two party councillors in Roscommon, the hostility from many quarters towards Frank Feighan and, of course, the departure from the party of Denis Naughten.

Some Fine Gael supporters, furious over the party’s handling of the hospital issue, and historically loyal to Naughten, threw their support in behind the now-Independent man. In what was a bitter split, many more remained loyal to the party and in some cases, hostile to Naughten.

At heart, Naughten is Fine Gael through and through, and if his decision last year to support the FG-led Government (and Enda Kenny) represents a ceasefire, then Kenny’s departure may well lead to an official reunion of old comrades (FG and Denis). 

However, tensions between Fine Gael and the Naughten machine in Roscommon remain.

In ‘People Platform’ in today’s Roscommon People, a leading Fine Gael officer in the County Town, in the course of taking issue with Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice, also has a good dig at Deputy Naughten.

Gary Stephens, Roscommon Town Fine Gael Chairperson, accuses Deputies Naughten and Fitzmaurice of trying to use Roscommon A&E for their own political benefit.

Mr. Stephens says that both Mr. Naughten and Mr. Fitzmaurice had the opportunity, after the 2016 election, to insist on restoration of Roscommon A&E as a price for their support for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach (Fitzmaurice subsequently declined to support Kenny; Naughten went into Government as an Independent Minister). 

Mr. Stephens doesn’t hold back, accusing Denis Naughten of political opportunism. According to the Fine Gael official, Naughten has put his own fate at the ballot box above the fate of the hospital.

“It is time for Independent politicians to stop using Roscommon Hospital for political gain. If Frank Feighan managed to secure €20 million investment in Roscommon Hospital, imagine what could have been achieved if Deputies Fitzmaurice and Naughten had worked with him – instead of thinking about the ballot box!”

Can this broken marriage really be healed?

 

Enda who? Why Denis will relish rise of Leo

One man who couldn’t lose regardless of who won the Fine Gael leadership contest was Roscommon’s own Denis Naughten.

Naughten is close to both Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. Many years ago, when Enda Kenny was leader of the opposition, the trio were amongst the brightest rising stars in Fine Gael. They were young, ambitious and – certainly when it came to Kenny’s lacklustre opinion poll ratings – impatient.

All three supported the disastrous Richard Bruton-led heave against Kenny in 2010, but while Coveney and Varadkar survived the fall-out, the ill-fated coup was the beginning of divorce proceedings for Naughten and Fine Gael.

Kenny was furious over what he saw as disloyalty by Naughten. Some people link the subsequent closure of Roscommon A&E to Kenny’s broken relationship with Naughten. However, five years on from ‘Hospital-gate’, Naughten and Kenny put their differences behind them and became political bedfellows again.

Some people were less than impressed by Naughten’s willingness to support Kenny from the Independent ranks after the 2016 election…not least because Naughten didn’t seek a deal on Roscommon Hospital in return for his support. But it was hard to argue with the statistics that emerged from that election count; the public voted with their fingers and Naughten was returned with a massive poll-topping vote. Naughten is now a Roscommon voice at the Cabinet table.

With Kenny now gone, we may see Naughten return to Fine Gael in the future.

In the meantime, Naughten will enthusiastically support Leo Varadkar as  Taoiseach –  and Leo will always have a Cabinet place for his friend (and one-time party colleague).