Book review: The Healy-Raes: A Twenty-Four Seven Political Legacy

THE first formal political deal with an independent deputy was concluded with Deputy Tony Gregory to support the government of Charles J Haughey in 1982. 

Donal Hickey

Rushy Mountain Books, €14.99

He propped up what was, without doubt, the most scandal-ridden government in the history of the state.

Jackie Healy-Rae was very active in Fianna Fáil at the time. Donal Hickey notes that the man from Kilgarvan was critical of the deal. 

Yet when he was running for the Dáil as an independent in 1997, he indicated that he would be looking for “a sort of Gregory deal”.

“If I hold the balance of power,” he said, “I’d vote for Bertie Ahern, if there was funding for the county roads and some guarantee of jobs for the young people.”

After the election he concluded a deal with Ahern, supporting Fianna Fáil in power in return for multi-millions of euro in support for his Kerry South constituency — even though he had railed against what Gregory had secured for his inner Dublin constituency in 1982. 

In the process, he virtually elevated what looked like political extortion to a tactical skill.

“While nobody could dispute the claims of Gregory’s long-neglected, urban heartland, a similar argument could also be made for Kerry South, a largely rural constituency with its own problem of unemployment, isolation, depopulation, and lack of investment in transport and other essential services,’’ according to the author, who provides a six-page facsimile of the formal deal that Healy-Rae concluded with the Fianna Fáil leader at an estimated cost of around €70m.

On retiring from active politics in 2011 Jackie Healy-Rae was asked if he would do things differently, if he were beginning again. “No,” he revealed, “but I ‘d try to do a hell of a lot more of the same.”

He was expressing no regrets, but the author clearly exposes some frightening inconsistencies. In November 2010, for instance, Healy-Rae sent an indignant fax to Taoiseach Brian Cowen following The Week in Politics programme.

“Not alone did the Taoiseach of this country tell blatant lies to the Irish people regarding the IMF and the ECB, but his cabinet ministers to a man were singing from the same hymn sheet,” he complained. 

Healy-Rae urged the Taoiseach to “stop this charade of spin and lies,” by calling a general election, but he nevertheless went on to support the government with his vote.

The book is a rags-to-riches story of a man and his family who have achieved real political distinction against the odds.

With his two sons actively engaged in local politics, the Healy-Raes formed a political family rather than a party. They were offering three-for-one and even claiming tri-location, but their efforts were always backed up by dedicated hard work.

Many Dublin journalists may have looked down their big noses at Healy-Raes, but that has only enhanced their appeal in Kerry. 

Donal Hickey concludes that the explanation for the father’s success could be summarised in one word — personality.

“Healy-Rae brought the power of personality and colour to a new level in Irish politics,” he concludes. In a similar way, this book is a moving and apt tribute.

In Jackie’s early years books were generally published without photographs, or with a centre section of black and white photographs, whereas this book is liberally interspersed with photographs in living colour incorporated into pages of text. They reflect the colour of the man and his team being celebrated.


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