Rapid rise for North Tipperary candidate Alan Kelly

Alan Kelly with his wife, Regina; daughter, Aoibhe, 4; and son, Senan, 2. Pic: Laura Hutton

WHEN he came from virtually nowhere to win the nomination to contest a seat for Labour in the European Parliament in 2009, Alan Kelly told party members he would run "the most professional campaign you have ever seen".

As his pledge suggested, he is not a politician known for doing things by half, particularly when it comes to ambition. Possessed of confidence that rivals sometimes characterise as arrogance, Kelly is a man who knows what he wants and usually achieves it, helped by what his colleagues describe as “master” electioneering skills.

And so it was no surprise to many that, just three years after becoming a TD, he was elected deputy leader of his party.

Mr Kelly has been in the Labour Party since he was 16. A former chair of Labour Youth, the 38-year-old is married to Regina O’Connor. They have two children under four. The former e-business manager with Bord Fáilte entered national political life in 2007 when he was elected to the Seanad’s agricultural panel. He was appointed as Labour spokesman in the Seanad on tourism, finance and local government after the election of Eamon Gilmore as party leader in 2007.

His first big political battle came two years later, against Arthur Spring, to win the nomination to run for Labour in the European elections. During the campaign, Kelly promised he would see out his five-year tenure in Europe, but allowed his name go forward as a Labour Party candidate at the 2011 general election.

His excuse for breaking this promise was that the State had since fallen into such crisis that the situation demanded his candidacy.

He ran a high-profile general election campaign, with a good PR machine and hammered the sitting TD, Fianna Fáil’s Máire Hoctor, on the issue of Nenagh General Hospital.

His strong performance helped him secure 9,559 first preference votes to take the second seat in Tipperary North.

Of the new generation of Labour TDs he was the only one to secure a junior ministry.

He is the younger brother of Declan Kelly, who was appointed in 2009 as economic envoy to Northern Ireland by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Declan, and a company co-owned by him, donated a total of €7,500 in 2010 to help elect the north Tipperary politician to Dáil Éireann.

This included a declaration from Mr Kelly that his brother, from his address in New York, donated €2,480. A company jointly owned by Mr Kelly, Stone Park Taverns, also gave the new TD €2,500. Accounts for the same company show that, on top of that, it made a €2,500 payment to “North Tipperary Labour Party”.

Now Alan Kelly has become the face of a new generation of Labour and is likely to take his place next week at the Cabinet table.

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