When Paddy Kilduff became a member of Fianna Fáil, Sean Lemass was still Taoiseach.
It was the mid-1960s. Paddy’s late parents, Pat and May, were both of Fianna Fáil ‘stock.’ Paddy became active in the party at just 16 years of age; when he was 17, he was elected secretary of Glanduff Cumann, in South Roscommon. Paddy would remain active in Fianna Fáil for over half a century, rising from youth member to a three-term councillor. Today, Thursday, 8th of February, 2018, he’s leaving the party, severing a 52-year bond that seemed to be unbreakable.
Yet it’s been on the cards for a few years. While he was re-elected as a Fianna Fáil councillor in 2014, and served as Cathaoirleach of the Council up to the summer of 2016, he’s been in conflict with his own party for the last three years.
As he sees it, Cllr. Kilduff was set up by elements within his own party at a meeting in Strokestown in 2015. Worse still, the lack of support he received from Fianna Fáil HQ when he reported the illegal recording of that meeting in Strokestown confirmed in his eyes that ‘Dublin’ no longer cares for its grassroots. He goes further: he says Fianna Fáil has been taken over by unelected but powerful administrators who manipulate the party structures, systems and rules to suit their own agenda and idealogy.
A very public row with his colleague, Cllr. John Keogh, is also part of this story. Cllr. Keogh alleged that Cllr. Kilduff made derogatory comments about him to a third party. When Fianna Fáil finally investigated this, they upheld Cllr. Keogh’s complaint. The party censured Cllr. Kilduff and warned him that any repeat of the comment(s) could lead to his suspension or even expulsion. Cllr. Kilduff rejected that finding.
The last couple of years does not represent the full story of the Lecarrow man’s career; it is an acrimonious ending to what was a strong relationship for so long.
Over the decades, he was a fiercely loyal grassroots activist for Fianna Fáil. He was there during the eras of Lemass, Lynch, Haughey, Reynolds, Ahern, Cowen and Martin.
For decades, most of his work was behind the scenes, on the canvass trail and in committee rooms. He was Chairman of the Mid-Roscommon Comhairle Ceanntair for twenty-five years. He served as Chairman of the Fianna Fáil Roscommon Dail Ceanntair for thirteen years and was Director of Elections for Michael Finneran, having also worked closely with party TDs Hugh Gibbons (RIP), Brian Lenihan (RIP), Sean Doherty (RIP), Terry Leyden and Eugene Murphy.
It was no surprise when Mr. Kilduff was selected to run for the Council. Unsuccessful in 1991 and 1999, he was elected in Mid-Roscommon in 2004. In 2009 he gambled on switching electoral areas following a re-drafting of the boundaries (he wouldn’t have been able to vote for himself had he remained in ‘Mid’) and was impressively returned in South Roscommon. In 2014 he won a third term and went on to serve as Cathaoirleach from June 2015 to June 2016.
His staunchly conservative views would have been consistent with the views of the majority for most of his time in Fianna Fáil, but all that changed in the past decade or so. As Ireland changed, Paddy Kilduff’s views appeared outdated to some people, though others of course agreed with his positions and admired his commitment to his long-held beliefs.
Either way, Paddy Kilduff had and has a likeability factor that transcended all this political stuff. Popular and respected in his community, this was reflected by his ability to attract cross-party support on polling day. In the Council, he has been one of the most popular members over the years. Staunchly conservative, he has no time for political correctness and happily ‘says it straight.’ His supporters have remained loyal to him, and he had the knack of remaining on friendly terms with political opponents and critics too.
Although many within Fianna Fáil would have advised against his decision to quit the party, Paddy Kilduff felt a sense of grievance about how he was treated in recent years, and a sense of frustration about how the party was changing.
From my conversations with Cllr. Kilduff this week, it is clear that he feels let down by some within Fianna Fáil locally, though not all.
He is particularly grateful to Independent Councillor Tony Ward for his support and friendship in recent years. He also acknowledged the support of Seamus Kelly of Athlone/South Roscommon Fianna Fáil. He remains close to many more within Fianna Fáil in Roscommon.
He is quitting Fianna Fáil with a heavy heart. It’s a difficult decision for him and his family. But he was not for turning. Today, to quote one of the most famous Fianna Fáil men of them all, he’s saying ‘Goodbye to all that’.
As ever, Paddy has done it his own way, on his own terms.