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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 19 June, 2019
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'It's a blessing and a curse': The relatives of well-known politicians running for election

Is a famous political surname a help or a hindrance for new candidates?

It can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse. People either like us or don’t like us. Of course, it helps when somebody said to you “Oh, your father was very good to us…”

FROM HAUGHEY TO Healy-Rae, Lemass to Larkin, there are a number of candidates running in this year’s local election that have politics in their genes.

Some of the names are instantly recognisable: Cathal Haughey, nephew of Sean Haughey and grandson of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, is standing as a Fianna Fáil candidate for Dublin City Council.

Hannah Lemass, the great-granddaughter of former Taoiseach Sean Lemass, grand-daughter of Noel and Eileen Lemass, who both were TDs, is running as a Fianna Fáil local election candidate in Cabra-Glasnevin.

Rory O’Connor, running for an independent local election in Bray West-Wicklow County Council is a great-grandson of Sean Lemass.

But as the political landscape shifts, and politics grapples with a rise in anti-establishment sentiment, fake news, and a shift in the role the ordinary punter plays in the system, is a recognisable political surname a help or a hindrance?

For those candidates who don’t share a famous surname, but have a relative who represented the area before – do they flaunt it to win a few extra votes, or is the pay off worth it?

As the end of their campaigning nears, we asked a few political candidates about the experience of trying to win votes for their political dynasty?

Labour councillor Aoife Breslin, from Athy in Co Kildare, is a granddaughter of former TD Jim Larkin Jnr and great-granddaughter of Jim Larkin.

90312223_90312223 People take part in the State Commemoration of the 1913 centenary Lockout around the Jim Larkin statue on O'Connell Street. Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

“Some people are born into farming families, or musical families. I was born into a family that was and is political,” she told TheJournal.ie.

My mother use to say most children were read to at night, but in the cot she use to recount the political events of the day. Growing up, I think what was instilled in myself, my sisters and brother was a sense of making a positive contribution to society.

Breslin says that in her five years working for Athy Town Council, her links to the founder of the Labour party “doesn’t come up on a daily basis”.

She says that she’s “extremely proud” of her political heritage, and says “it can be a help” while canvassing on the doorsteps.

“Within the Labour movement it is a great honour… I do not see it as a hindrance. Very proud and privileged to follow in the family tradition. But there is no comparison in the achievements of Big Jim, Young Jim and mine.”

Jagan Muttumula is a Fine Gael candidate from Ongar, running for the Fingal County Council, whose brother Ashok Reddy Muthumula is a political representative in India and is also canvassing for an election being held this week.

“Tomorrow my brother’s result will be out in India, and day after my election is here,” he said. “I feel honored and my family in India feels very proud that I’ve chosen to run for public office.”

Although he has three Master degrees, in Plant Sciences, in Computer Sciences and in Business from the Smurfit Business School, he says that for him, public service gives him self-satisfaction and immense pleasure.

“Canvassing is going very well,” he says. “I have an energetic and innovative team who comes up with new ideas. I’m asking for no poster canvassing or limited poster canvassing to address the climate change.

“The response at the doors has been quite positive. The main issues raised by the voters in the Ongar ward are safety and security, schools, traffic and transport, local facilities and amenities.”

When asked about people who are disillusioned and who don’t usually vote, and whether it was difficult to understand that separation from politics, Muttumula said that he’s tried to encourage such citizens to vote.

I encountered some residents who said that they are not interested in politics and they don’t trust politicians. My answer to them was that whether they vote or not on Friday, five public representatives will be elected from Ongar ward.
Bad politicians are elected because good voters stay away from voting. I feel politicians have to engage with their local voters more and more and gain respect through their work. All politics starts locally.

In Kerry, Jackie Healy-Rae Junior is running his first election campaign. His grandfather Jackie, father Michael, uncle Danny, his cousin Maura and Johnny have all served on Kerry County Council. Jackie has also serves as a parliamentary assistant to his father.

And he’s feeling nervous about it: The 24-year-old is trying not to break a 19-election streak of wins for the Healy-Raes (although he’s only the second Healy Rae to ever contest an election “out of the cold”; others were co-opted to the council before they ran for election).

I had four siblings and if you grew up in a football household, it’ll catch on to one. Politics was going to catch one of us and it caught me, Jackie was elected in ’97 when I was two years old, and my father was elected in ’99 when I was four, so it was always around me.

“My father would bring me to the council AGM every June because I loved it, and I’d get the day off school and the mayor would take people out for dinner after… I thought was great.”

He says that canvassing, has been “extremely enjoyable”: Five of us will jump in a car and go off for the day, and it’s nothing but laughs.” He says says that people have been vocal about the Clancy amendment, drink driving penalties. On whether his name helps gather support, Jackie says that it can be “a blessing but it can also be a curse”.

“People either like The Healy-Raes or they don’t like them. Of course it helps if somebody said to you ‘Oh your father was very good to us’ or ‘They did this for us’.”

90094300_90094300 Jackie Healy-Rae (right) with his son Michael at Leinster House (2007). Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

He says that the flip side of that is that you can get judged “on what your father, uncle or cousin did”. He says that the media often reports “The Healy-Raes’ views” as if the family all think the same, even though his views are different on some issues. Climate change, for one. 

Climate change is a huge local, national and global issue. In school we learned about the polar ice caps melting – I’m not going to be denying it. Solutions need to be found, but we need practical solutions.

“Taxing solutions aren’t the way forward. A bag of coal going up by €12 so that elderly people are priced out, I don’t agree with that. We need to look at other practical solutions like using our native woodlands, and more growing and harvesting of hemp.”

He says that there hasn’t been great awareness that there’s an election on, or that people aren’t aware of all the votes taking place – the local, European elections, the referendum and the plebiscite – and that the media should play a greater role in raising this awareness of the local elections.

He says that he’s met people who aren’t engaged with politics and who don’t vote. “A lot of these people who are disillusioned are the first to give out if there’s a piece of legislation they mightn’t like – so go and vote this Friday.

It’s hard for me to understand, but I’m an outlier because I grew up in a house where ministers’ names were being thrown around the dinner table every day. It’s different for me.

Although he says his father or uncle have never pushed him to get into politics, Jackie says that he is feeling the pressure to get elected in what is his first campaign. “I’m 24 now, I have the experience and I know if the people give me a chance I’ll work hard and be a good representative. If I’m good, keep me and if I’m a disaster, sack me.”

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