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"Would I do anything different? ... I'd try and do a hell of a lot more of the same"

Often controversial, veteran political operator Jackie Healy-Rae secured €71 million in funding for Kerry roads as part of his post-election deal with Bertie Ahern.

Source: Michael Healy Rae/Facebook ... Jackie Healy Rae, flanked by Danny and Michael

THOUGH OFTEN RIDICULED for his unvarnished appearance and public speaking style, anyone who’s had the pleasure of driving the silk-smooth road into Kilgarvan will attest to Jackie Healy-Rae’s ability to deliver for the people of South Kerry.

His two deals with Fianna Fáil-led Governments were dismissed by many as the worst kind of ‘Ballymagash’ style parish pump politics.

But political observers have noted how Healy-Rae, in his own idiosyncratic style, represented people in rural areas who felt they were being, at best, left behind and at worst, ignored by the Dublin political establishment.

In one of his final interviews, in May of this year, Jackie was unapologetic about his long-time political strategy.

“You can see yourself the massive improvements,” he told Radio Kerry. 

“There were things that were owed to the people of this county back over the years and they were left undone – and it was high time that some fella came along… And I was very glad that I came along to do it.”

Source: Photocall

After quitting Fianna Fáil in controversial circumstances ahead of the 1997 election, the Kerry TD was one of four deputies to back the FF-PD coalition during its subsequent five-year term.

Funding for roads, schools and other local services was secured as part of his agreement to prop-up the Bertie Ahern-led Government, alongside Tom Gildea, Mildred Fox and Harry Blaney.

Ten years later, Jackie took another fateful phonecall from Bertie — and this time the deal was a whopper: €71 million to be spent on 26 Kerry roads, over the lifetime of the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition.

“The question was — in pounds, shillings and pence, what was I looking for that would sort out South Kerry for me,” he said of the deal, post retirement.

Ahern made a similar pact with Healy-Rae’s fellow Independent, Michael Lowry, and the pair’s support helped keep the odd-couple administration afloat through the turbulent post-crash years.

Healy Rae, in 1997 [Photocall]

Speaking to RTÉ after details of his deal with Ahern came to light, in 2012, the now-retired politician was unrepentant.

“To answer your question would I do anything different? I’d try and do a hell of a lot more of the same, and that’s being honest with you.”

Healy-Rae was also handed the chairmanship of an Oireachtas comittee as part of his deal with Ahern in 2007 — a job that came with a €20,000 pay bump.

However, attendance figures compiled by the Irish Independent showed he absented himself from a quarter of the panel’s meetings — and got up and left mid-way through another quarter.

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A fellow committee member said it was a “shabby” performance.

Through thick and thin

As the economic crash took hold, Healy-Rae and Lowry’s support for the increasingly unpopular Brian Cowen-led coalition began to waver. The pair said, ahead of the December 2010 Budget that they were “unlikely” to support it.

It later emerged that the Kerryman had sent a fax to Cowen the previous month, accusing him of telling “blatant lies” to the people of Ireland regarding the presence of the IMF in Dublin.

He said the Cabinet should stop their “charade of spin and lies” and leave their posts.

Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland ... On the way to the Dáil in 2010.

In the end, though, the veteran deal-maker acceded to one last pact, voting through one of the toughest Budgets on record, and — after one final Lowry-accompanied wobble — also backing the Finance Bill, the following month.

Jackie, of course, stepped down from politics at the 2011 election, to be replaced by his son, Michael.

There was talk of a possible Presidential bid in the following months — but, enjoying his retirement away from Leinster House and the hassles of city life, he later said he wanted to “stay a free man and stay out of it”.

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Read: “No, no, no, no way”: Healy-Rae rules out presidential bid

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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