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'Nobody dies without a Healy Rae send-off - or perhaps nobody is born without a Healy Rae arrival'

Here’s what we learned after taking a dive into Healy-Rae history.

THERE IS NO Irish political family like the Healy Raes. They’re successful – they’ve never lost any of the 22 elections they’ve taken part in locally and nationally – they’re united, and they’re a dynasty to be reckoned with.

They’re also characters too – TD Michael Healy Rae is always noticeable for the flat cap he wears, whether in the Dáil or out. His sibling Danny, a fellow TD, doesn’t wear a cap, but his views on everything from climate change to drink driving have led to the kind of media coverage most first-time TDs could only dream of.

Joining the two Healy Rae TDs are three councillors – Jackie Jnr, Johnny and Maura, who all topped the polls in last week’s local election. 

In this week’s episode of The Explainer podcast, we look at what makes the Healy Raes so successful. To discuss it in studio were reporter Rónán Duffy, columnist and former Irish Independent editor Gerry O’Regan, and author Donal Hickey.

The dynasty

“I think it started with their father,” says O’Regan of where the family’s political dynasty began. “I think his story is a remarkable one in a way in that he grew up down there [in Co Kerry] in the 1950s which was a fairly grim time in Ireland generally, and certainly down in South Kerry. Kerry was ravaged by emigration during the 1950s and it’s interesting that he went to New York but he decided to come back – there’s not many stories and not too many came back for good but he came back and in a way he showed himself to be a man of diverse talents.”

Jackie had an “extraordinary work ethic”, which he passed onto his sons, says O’Regan. Jackie was a Fianna Fáil man, but the party didn’t let him run in the 1997 general election for the party – so he ran as an independent, and won.

“His ghost wouldn’t mind us saying that he became a very good Fianna Fáil fixer so to speak,” says O’Regan. “Like he knew the constituency, he knew the local area, he knew the local people and he was personable. And he helped nudge the party to a lot of electoral success down there.”

“Fianna Fáil made, perhaps being far away from that part of that Ireland, made a strategic mistake by not giving him the go-ahead to run for the Dáil, so like many a spurned politician before he decided to run himself,” says O’Regan.

The Healy Raes can sometimes end up in the press for controversial reasons, but O’Regan says “one thing that everybody acknowledges and says – whether they’re on their side or with the opposition – is their extraordinary capacity for work, in the sense of political work”.

And they also … are involved in various businesses from property to farming to plant hire to owning a pub, and a shop etc, but certainly they are if you like the classic rural political machine… where nobody dies without a Healy Rae send-off or perhaps nobody is born without a Healy Rae arrival.

‘Voracious workers’

Author Donal Hickey has literally written the book on the Healy Raes – The Healy Raes: A Twenty-Four Seven Political Legacy. What does he put their success down to? “They would say it’s because of the hard work they all do in the constituency,” he says.

“Which is true of course, because they are voracious workers and people find that they are very approachable, they are available 24/7 virtually. They are at everything from funerals to hurling matches, football matches, openings of pubs… anything at all you’ll meet a Healy Rae there.”

He says their approachability is key – they’re “very good with people, good mixers, enjoy people’s company, very approachable and they have a delivery rate which is second to none”.

They’re easily contactable, and they specialise in old-style campaigning, door-to-door canvassing. 

Hickey describes them as a “very tight family network” and says “it’s hard to beat that”. “They have a policy: if someone comes with a problem they will work on it but they will always come back … always return to the person. It’s all about service to the clients really.”

O’Regan says: “The Healy Raes look after no 1 which is Kerry South and all the issues there which if you like affect people’s lives.” But he adds that there is a “a popular misconception” that “metropolitan or Dublin politics” isn’t necessarily local.

He describes their work ethic as “clientelism” and about “making sure [their constituents] get their rights”. Because of that, they look after their constituents when it comes to things like health and social welfare but also on issues like roads. 

A classic case in point is they are at odds with the green phenomenon because they don’t quite agree with shall we say the fixation on climate change

We know that, for example, Danny says climate change is “an act of God”.

Though they appear in the media a lot, and sometimes specifically to discuss comments like Danny’s about climate change, O’Regan doesn’t believe it affects the opinion of them locally:

I think the thing is the local people or the local electorate feel they have their quirks and oddities but they shrug their shoulders and say look.

They could be described as something like a political party, says Duffy.

Keeping the dynasty going

The next challenge for the Healy Raes is to keep the dynasty going. O’Regan compares it to a business that’s been going for many years. “The business is founded by the driving forceful singular personality who started off, in this case Jackie Healy Rae, and then the sons are very much fashioned by him so they are very much into working at the business and keeping it going and growing it in politics,” he says.

The third generation will have come to it in a much different sphere and I think in many ways an issue for the family it’s not I’m sure their primary concern at the moment, in a way they have to manage this success if you like.

Says Duffy: “The fact that they don’t lose – the fact that they win all the time and the fact that they get things done … that is something that is very difficult to maintain.”

They have enjoyed so much electorally but one thing is sure, the dynasty is safe and sound for the immediate future.

Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

This episode was put together by presenter Sinéad O’Carroll, executive producer Christine Bohan, producer Aoife Barry, assistant producer/technical operator Andrew Roberts, and featured reporter Rónán Duffy, Gerry O’Regan and Donal Hickey. Design by Palash Somani.

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