ALAN KELLY HAS staunchly defended John Delaney’s visit to Tipperary last week and insisted the FAI chief executive was not stopping people and asking them to vote for him.
The Environment Minister was pictured in last weekend’s Sunday Times out and about in his constituency with the soccer chief on Friday last.
Delaney, who is from Tipperary and friends with Kelly, later gave an interview with Midwest Radio in which he appeared to encourage people to vote for the Labour deputy leader.
The visit has sparked criticism from opposition politicians. As well as this, Kelly’s cabinet colleague Paschal Donohoe said today that campaigning should be left to politicians and not people involved in sporting organisations during the election campaign.
Defending himself today, Kelly said it was “completely appropriate” for Delaney to visit his home county, telling reporters today: “He [Delaney] was visiting a number of soccer clubs with me, something that had been an outstanding arrangement for sometime and we duly did that.”
Asked if Delaney actively encouraged people to vote for him, Kelly said that what somebody does in their private life “is their own business” regardless of their employment. He added:
But the idea that John Delaney was going around Tipperary, stopping people and asking them to vote for me directly simply did not happen.
“What was going on was that we were visiting a number of clubs, we finished that work and we did a number of other things like going having something to eat, we met a number of people we knew, we chatted to them. There’s nothing wrong with that.
If John Delaney feels it’s appropriate that people in Tipperary vote for me, I mean, that’s fine by me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
“But to say that he was going around actively campaigning, canvassing would be a long stretch of the imagination. I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that.”
However, Donohoe told reporters that while he understood it was a long-standing engagement he believed campaigning should be left to politicians during the election. The Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister said:
What I think, however, is very important is that as we move into an election period, in which people will be going out looking for votes and putting forward their own arguments as to why they should be elected, that this space should be left to political figures to have that debate with people and put their case forward.
He said “those involved in sport or leading sporting organisations” should not be in the political arena during the election campaign.
What John Delaney said
A recording of Delaney, seemingly urging voters to support Kelly in the general election, has emerged from Tipperary Midwest Radio.
In an interview with the station, Delaney says: “I’ve worked very closely with Alan on a number of applications in this county and we’ve had a lot of sucessful applications for a lot of clubs.”
Delaney stresses the importance of “keeping a minister in your own county”, saying:
As the election comes and things get nearer to people making decisions I think it’s always important to have a minister – irrespective of what party – that represents you in your county, because ultimately people deliver.
A lot of people often say to me: ‘Well you’ve done a lot for Tipperary town and St Michael’s football club and clubs around the country.’ Well you do that because of personal connections to the clubs – it’s your job to do it – but also because you’re in a position to do it.
Delaney told Midwest Radio that “Alan is in a position to help the county” and predicted that there would more announcements about investment in the area in the coming weeks. He added:
So, look that’s my message, to thank him for his support for soccer clubs, and also hopefully when the election – when you announce it, Alan! – when the election is coming that people remember that because a minister is hugely important, in any county, to deliver for that county.
Tipperary, which is one five-seat constituency in this election, is also represented by Fine Gael junior minister Tom Hayes. Delaney did not mention Hayes during his comments to local media.
‘A friend giving a dig-out to another friend’
There has been criticism from opposition politicians with independent Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath saying Delaney’s involvement with Kelly was “highly unusual and inappropriate”.
Speaking to reporters at Leinster House today, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was not appropriate for Delaney to be advocating for Kelly.
“I’m sure the Labour party have no problem with it, that doesn’t really surprise me,” she said. “It is of course for John Delaney himself to take a decision on these things. I don’t think it’s appropriate that he would be out advocating for Alan Kelly or that he would be partisan in such an obvious way.
Bear in mind that he heads up an organisation that represents people of all political persuasions and none. I read this as a friend giving a dig-out to another friend.
“It’s very clear that Alan Kelly has made an absolute mess of his ministry – whether you look at water, whether you look at housing – and I don’t think a dig-out from John Delaney, at the eleventh hour, will necessarily save his skin.
McDonald said she has “absolutely no doubt” that if Delaney was out canvassing with Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil the government would not be happy about it. She said that while Delaney is entitled to his own private beliefs and his friends, she’s “not sure it will play out well” with soccer fans.
Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea later agreed with McDonald, telling reporters this afternoon:
If, say, John Delaney or somebody in the IRFU, or something like that, came around Limerick with me, canvassing and urging people to vote for me at the last election, what would Alan Kelly have made of that?
He said it was “totally inappropriate”for Delaney to be canvassing for Kelly and said it was another example of Labour “refusing to own-up to something that they would be highly critical of in opposition”.
I think it is absolutely inappropriate. I mean, frankly, I’ve never heard anything like it.
But, earlier, Kelly and Delaney escaped similar criticism from Labour’s coalition colleagues in Fine Gael. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Sports Minister Michael Ring said:
John Delaney is an individual and in a democracy he is free to do what he wants himself.
While on his way into cabinet this morning, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told reporters that he found it “a little unusual” that Delaney was “actively canvassing” for someone, but said it is a democracy and the FAI boss is entitled to canvass for who he likes.
The FAI said it had no comment to make at this time.
It’s not the first time the FAI chief executive has been involved in a political controversy.
Last year, TheJournal.ie revealed that Delaney had been ringing around TDs on the Oireachtas Transport and Communications committee.
He told deputies, who wanted him to appear before the committee, that he would have little to add to the public comments he had already made regarding FIFA’s €5 million to the FAI in 2010 following the Thierry Henry handball controversy.
- additional reporting from Órla Ryan