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The Fianna Fáil surge: How this new TD upset the odds in Enda’s backyard

Lisa Chambers told us how she took a second seat for Fianna Fáil in Mayo and what she thinks of a coalition with Fine Gael.

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MAYO IS FINE Gael country. In 2011, the constituency elected an unprecedented four Fine Gael TDs as the party swept to power.

This time around, even on what was a dreadful day for the party, the Taoiseach and junior minister Michael Ring were easily re-elected in Mayo as Fine Gael won over 50% of all first preference votes in the four-seater.

But a poor vote management strategy saw Michelle Mulherin fail to hold her seat. She was ousted by 29-year-old barrister Lisa Chambers, who joined Dara Calleary in taking two seats for Fianna Fáil.

“Obviously I was up against it, I knew that,” Chambers told TheJournal.ie, when asked how she took a second Fianna Fáil seat in the Fine Gael heartland.

I’m in Castlebar, which is the Taoiseach’s hometown, so I was going head to head with a Taoiseach, and I had junior minister Michael Ring literally 15 minutes over the road in Westport. So I knew I was up against it.

Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

‘Hard graft’

Chambers ran for Fianna Fáil in 2011 but the party’s collapse all around the country meant she never came close to taking a seat.

However, that experience stood to her when she ran in the local elections three years later and there was no doubt about her seat on Mayo County Council. From then on it was a campaign on the ground, across local media and on social media that helped get her elected to the 32nd Dáil.

Chambers’s success could arguably be attributed to having a bit more time to knock on doors and make herself known. Fianna Fáil attributes her election and that of a few others across the country – like Mary Butler topping the poll in Waterford – to Kenny’s decision not to go to the country last November.

An early winter election would have caught Fianna Fáil on the hop in some constituencies, but when February came the hard work was largely done. All that was left was the final push.

“I know for the public it was a very short campaign, in terms of it was just over three weeks, but for myself and my team it was months and months of work,” she said.

Chambers believes Micheál Martin has done “an unbelievable job” as Fianna Fáil leader: 

Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

It was during this short campaign last month that Kenny infamously referred to people in Castlebar as ‘All Ireland whingers’. In his later clarification, Kenny claimed he was only talking about small group of Fianna Fáil councillors, which would have included Chambers.

But few believed him, including Chambers:

It was very clearly directed at the people of Castlebar. So if anybody is unsure of that just take a look back at the clip and see for yourself and make up your own mind.

“People were annoyed about that. I was out canvassing and it came up on the doors that day,” she said.

Perhaps with that in mind Chambers is not of the view that her party should go into coalition with Fine Gael and does not believe party members will vote for it at a special ard fheis if it comes down to it.

Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

I don’t think people voted for Fianna Fáil to go into a coalition with Fine Gael, that’s the feedback I’m getting.

Defence Forces

Despite her youth, Chambers has a wealth of experience. She has practiced as a barrister on the western circuit for a number of years. She also served in the Reserve Defence Forces for 13 years – an experience she “loved”.

“I joined when I was a teenager. It was my neighbour who was a member and she said: ‘I think this is something you’d really like.’.

Myself and my best mate went on up to Castlebar military barracks. We didn’t really know what we were joining up to. We knew it was something to do with the army and 13 years later I was still a member and loved it.

21/4/2013. Fianna Fail 1916 Easter Rising Commemorations Chambers was the first woman to be in the colour party at the Fianna Fáil Easter Rising commemorations in Arbour Hill in 2013.

Chambers gave up the RDF when she was elected to the council in 2014, but told us that she did consider a permanent career in the Defence Forces before deciding to go into law.

Her backgrounds in defence and justice mean she has her sights set on a either of those portfolios if any cabinet positions open up in the future. Unlike most politicians, Chambers is surprisingly honest when asked about what ambition, if any, she has to lead Fianna Fáil.

“I’m in the Dáil a week, so I think it might be a bit premature to be talking about leading the party,” she laughed.

But she would “absolutely” consider going for the position if it arises in the future, before adding:

But again I am only in there five minutes, so I think I’ve a long way to go yet before I am qualified to even look for that.

Read: ‘Up Fianna Fáil, we’re back!’: How the party reclaimed ‘Fine Gael country’

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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