Dick Spring’s nephew is working hard for votes but Labour has suffered in Kerry, writes Anne Lucey
‘IT’S Arthur J all the way — Arthur J he’s OK!”
Deep in what might be perceived as Healy-Rae territory, Labour’s Arthur J Spring (he likes the J, for John) is out on the canvass in Killarney. The nephew of Dick Spring, a former tánaiste, he likes to sing his own song. It’s something children made up for him.
The classy dresser with the Swedish education (he studied international business in DIT and in Sweden) and the Spring lineage looks serious, but he’s a funny guy — though he worries sometimes that his brand of humour will get him in trouble.
Away from his stronghold of North Kerry, spring is making a rare appearance in Killarney. There’s even a barometer showing 35 degrees in one house this morning.
It may well be Arthur’s day and he may well be OK, if the TG4 poll on Kerry released this week, putting him ahead of Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris, is to be believed. However, both will struggle at 8% and 7%, respectively, according to the poll. Arthur should not be underestimated, his supporters say. But where will the Healy-Rae transfers go? To Ferris? This is their worry.
On his first general election in 2011 in the constituency of Kerry North-West Limerick, Arthur J polled 9,159 first-preference votes, just 123 votes behind Ferris, but on transfers he ended up with 12,245 — around 800 votes ahead. Both were elected on the seventh count, after Jimmy Deenihan swept the boards and got elected on the first count.
This time in the new constituency of Kerry, which has lost West Limerick, Arthur will most likely be fighting for the last seat along with a bunch of others, including Danny Healy-Rae, who represents the Killarney area on the council.
Neither Sinn Féin nor Labour have opted for a candidate in the old Kerry South, a strategy which looks increasingly flawed.
Arthur is quick to point to the old Labour tradition in Killarney and south Kerry. With him is Labour senator Marie Moloney, who runs a weekly clinic in the Siptu hall in the town and garnered 5,000 votes in the last election.
Along with some of the town’s lifelong Labour supporters, like Dan Kiely and Gene Moriarty, she is out canvassing for Arthur.
The party has become a bit fragmented in recent years — there is no Labour seat now in Killarney — but the roots are still there, party members insist.
In the heart of Killarney, just off Rock Rd, there are number ones for Arthur, even if he gets a telling off because his uncle in Fexco (Dick) did not reply to two letters on children’s issues.
Teresa FitzGerald (small z, big G, she warns) is a self-taught artist who studied French and Celtic studies at UCG. Her small house is lined with books, paintings, and jars of biros for the book she is writing.
Arthur bats the question about his uncle away — send it to this address in future, he says, giving his own. But he is curious about her views on children’s rights. Did she not vote in the children’s referendum, he asks.
Teresa tells him she voted no. “A bad mom and a bad dad is better than no mum and dad. Unless there’s sexual abuse, children should be left with their parents,” says Teresa. She spent time in an industrial school, she adds.
On his way to other houses in the Clúid development, Arthur J says old industrial school institutions, “thankfully” no longer exist, and the referendum was to safeguard children in the future.
Nearby, Margaret Cunningham a home help and a former classmate of Moloney, has been working since 7am . It’s now almost 1pm. “You’re doing so much good work for the home helps and everything,” says a tired Margaret. She had paid €4,000 into her pension, but you had to have the hours to get the pension, she says.
“It’s hard work. We are looked down upon, if the truth were told,” she says.
Hopefully that’s changing, says Arthur. There is a long discussion about the nitty gritty of home helps, their travel or journey times between clients . This is not taken into account, says Margaret, adding that the summer traffic in Killarney can be a nightmare.
The confrontation and the anger of the last election is largely gone, says Arthur. There are nine new schools in Kerry which he helped deliver and €13m for Kerry General Hospital, but jobs are still the priority and more foreign direct investment is badly needed countywide, along with support for small local enterprises.
He says Moloney and former Labour TD Breeda Moynihan Cronin have done a lot of work in the area. The tourism industry in Killarney, too, will be grateful for the reduced Vat rate achieved under Labour and Fine Gael, he hopes.
About to depart to canvass East Kerry, Arthur J is hopeful it will pay off. “I will top the poll here,” he says. It’s going to be a long day — he’ll be back in Killarney to canvass again before nightfall.
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