Calleary, Dara FF
The Political Interview
AT 33 he is the youngest of the candidates already declared. Crucifixion age, he chortles. But his deportment betrays no sense of suffering.
On the contrary, Dara Calleary is fully alive to the demands of the hustings, geared up for his first experience as a General Election candidate, following in the footsteps of his father, Sean, and grandfather, Phelim.
He is energetic, high-spirited, sanguine. Since politics is in the blood, nothing about electioneering is new to him. Ten years as a member of the Fianna Fáil National Executive has prepared him for the vicissitudes of public life.
“I don’t play sport. So this is the only chance I get to wear the county jersey. It would be a huge honour to do so. I feel now that I have the experience, and the absolute passion to represent Mayo at Oireachtas level.”
He is single, articulate and organised, and asks the electorate to stick with the party that has transformed Ireland and Mayo over the last ten years.
He dismisses any talk of neglect by the government of the county, and claims that over the past five years John Carty, the government’s sole Dáil deputy in the county, has delivered more than in periods when there were ministers in the constituency.
“If one man could deliver in terms of roads, water, sewerage and sporting infrastructure, can you imagine what three would do?”
Three? Yes, they have to aim at three seats, he says, and the only thing that will stop them from achieving three is lack of effort. From travelling all over the county he finds there is a hunger and a commitment to playing for the team. But the work has to be done.
From the dizzying heights of holding four of six seats in the old two three-seater constituencies, Fianna Fáil’s decline in Mayo was due to a number of factors, he claims, not least their difficulty in getting familiar with it being one five-seater.
The phenomenon that is Michael Ring was also a factor. The Westport man has secured votes in the Erris area that once went to Fianna Fáil.
“You have to hand it to Michael Ring, he has an enormous work ethic. I might have disagreements with him on a lot of things, but nobody can criticise his work ethic.”
There were a lot of internal difficulties in the party also, he said, but those were now past and all of their energies could be focused on re-building the party.
He agrees that Enda Kenny’s leadership of FG had also raised the bar for Fianna Fáil, although they had not seen any specific plans about what his leadership would mean for Mayo.
“Fine Gael have told us they are going to do things differently. They are hanging it out there like a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there are no specifics. There is no doubt his face will be on the posters nationally. But that is making us more keen, more committed to the job.”
Dara Calleary is not short on specifics. His number one priority is the completion of the N26. No arguments, no apologies. “The completion of the first phase has made an enormous difference to Ballina. We have been waiting in north Mayo for over 30 years for a proper road to reflect the confidence in our area. The second phase is going to CPO next year, and I will not rest until I see that road built.”
He fails to understand why in this day and age the NRA persists with a policy of doing only one project at a time in a county, implying that from a business point of view the N5 and N26 could have been taken together. The Charlestown and Ballaghaderreen projects should also have been undertaken together.
Surprisingly, a new issue has emerged on the doorsteps: broadband. Five years ago there was not a word about this transmission technique. Now, he finds, it is a big issue with young and old.
“I have always claimed broadband is more important than roads. With it people can work from home. I have a particular interest in broadband and it is an issue into which I am going to get my teeth.”
But to do that he has first to get himself elected. For the past five years Ballina has been without a national representative based in the area.
“People are looking to see who can do that. I am the one fighting for the area ... and delivering to the area.”
He was educated at Quay School and St Muredach’s College in Ballina, read business and politics in Trinity College, worked with ACC bank for two years and afterwards with Chambers of Commerce of Ireland for eight years, the last two of those in Ballina.
Back in his home town the significance of broadband came fully home. He was able to connect directly into the Chamber of Commerce systems in Dublin and it made no difference that he was 150 miles away.
As development officer for the Chambers he received a thorough grounding in policy issues throughout the regions, and an understanding of the pressures under which people in small businesses were operating.
That experience and the political acumen gained from his ten years on the National Executive – for which he fought six elections, topping the poll in 2000 – has prepared him well for public office.
“I have the youth and the experience. You learn a lot from ten years in the National Executive,” he says.
Last week a fund-raising launch was organised in Dublin by some of his friends at which the Taoiseach was guest of honour. Since his selection to run for the party he has had the Taoiseach and six ministers visit Ballina on separate occasions. All returned with N26 etched into their minds.
For all that, he is conscious that the election will not be won until the last vote is in the box. Even then, there are only two definites in the contest ... Michael Ring and Enda Kenny. “After that it is a lucky dip. My line is that north Mayo needs a resident TD. It has not got it for the past five years. I’m your best chance of doing it. I would love the honour to wear the Mayo jersey. I would wear it with pride, and wear it to deliver.”
On the record
Dara Calleary on …
> the health of Fianna Fáil in Ballina
“We retained our four seats the Town Council when seats were being lost all over the country. Our annual Christmas draw of 2006 was the biggest ever. The crowds coming out to meetings and joining me on the early canvas are fantastic. The organisation in Ballina is raring to go.”
> the health crisis
“Brendan Drumm was in the General Hospital in Castlebar recently and is committed to having reforms established in six months. I had hoped the opening of a new 15-bed unit off the A and E would have made a difference, but figures in the last few weeks seem to have gone up again. I had experience of the A and E before Christmas and we are blessed with the staff there.
> election promises
“I will not make a promise I cannot keep.”
> Labour’s promise to cut Income Tax
“Welcome on board. We have been cutting taxes for the past ten years. Labour opposed the cuts every time. I’m glad they have now come around to our way of thinking.”
> Fianna Fáil’s loss in Ballina
“North Mayo has lost out. If we go another period without a resident national voice the whole area will be set tremendously back.”
> his relations with the Opposition
“I have good relations with the majority of Fine Gael people in Ballina. I have massive respect for Michael Ring’s work ethic. But you have to put your hands up for Enda Kenny also. In the last five years he has brought Fine Gael back from the brink.”
> his chances
“I am personally and politically ambitious for Mayo. I will be expected to deliver and I will not let people down. I strongly believe North Mayo has lost out by not having a resident TD, so when Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen walk the corridors of Leinster House they know they are not going to be hassled. It is time that was changed.”
> Government fatigue
“If people feel the country is better off, and it is, if people feel they are personally better off, and the majority of them are, then stick with the team that has delivered the changes.”
> his leisure pursuits
“My last film was The Wind That Shakes the Barley which had personal connotations because my grandfather was involved in the War of Independence. My last book was the Munster Rugby Story, and for exercise I like nothing more than to walk on the beach in Enniscrone.”
> quitting his job
“I decided to quit my job so I could fully concentrate on winning a seat in the election. Thank God for Charlie McCreevy and the SSIA. That’s what is paying the bills at the moment.”