Phyllis aims to follow in son’s steps

SPARE a thought for the mothers of the candidates running for the first time in this Friday’s local elections.

The anxiety the mammies suffer is greater than that of the contenders themselves.

Just ask Phyllis McCarthy. There were numerous sleepless nights when her son, Michael, at the tender age of 22, was running for the first time for the Labour Party back in 1999. Now the tables are turned as she’s a candidate herself in the same Skibbereen electoral area of Cork County Council, yet she says it’s not actually as stressful an experience.

“I’m not a bit worried about myself, but I never slept a bit when he was running,” she says.

Following that successful first run, Michael McCarthy went on to become a senator in 2002, meaning he won’t be running this time out.

Politics is in the blood. Michael’s father is a first cousin of Michael Callanan, a former Labour county councillor who also spent five years in the Seanad. And though his grandmother’s maiden name was Collins and she claimed to be related to Michael Collins, the senator is highly sceptical about the veracity of the claim and doesn’t believe it is true.

The McCarthy family, though, is not another example of the rampant nepotism that engulfed local politics with the abolition of the dual mandate last year. Instead of installing a family member, Brendan Leahy, a member of Skibbereen Town Council, was co-opted in the senator’s place and he will be contesting this election.

Rather than seeking that co-option in September last, Phyllis was selected as a second candidate on the ticket in an effort to take a second seat.

The Dunmanway based psychiatric nurse has been involved with the party since the early 1970s, long before Michael arrived on the scene at all.

The 55-year-old has reared six children and now has three grandchildren, but certainly isn’t lacking in energy or commitment and is out until 11 o’clock at night on the campaign trail.

After canvassing in Drimoleague all day, it was off to Ballineen in the evening, with the issues coming up on the door predominantly personal to the individual voter, varying from the condition of roads and the county council’s failure to cut back hedges to the future of the health services in the area.

“The people are dissatisfied with Fianna Fáil in general. I am confident I am going to take a seat. I’m enjoying every minute of it,” she says.

Labour’s decision to run two candidates has provoked a lot of comment locally as the chances of taking a second seat are slim and fragmenting the party vote is a dangerous tactic, but Michael says it is a carefully calculated plan.

“To co-opt Brendan was a good idea as he topped the poll there in 1999 and it’s on the opposite side of the electoral area to Dunmanway. There were two Labour councillors here in the past. In a seven-seater area we have a better chance.

“We looked at the situation and we thought it was best to co-opt in Skibb. We were cogniscent that you can’t be seen to be doing what others were in terms of passing the seat on to family members, plus Brendan got a good dry run for 10 months,” he says.

In essence though, McCarthy’s strategy is geared towards building the party vote across the constituency ahead of the next election, when he is expected to be a serious contender for one of the three seats in Cork South-West.

“The overall plan here is a Dáil seat. Our biggest objective after the local elections will be putting in place a war chest and building up the organisation for the next election. The one target is always the general election. I believe at that stage the Government will be deeply unpopular and a young Labour Party senator should be in place to capitalise on that,” he says.

In order for Labour to get back into Government, the party will need its young senators, Michael McCarthy, Joanna Tuffy in Dublin Mid-West and Kathleen O’Meara in Tipperary North, to produce the goods next time out and win seats. Simple as that.

If you believe the hype coming from the Joe Walsh camp, the next election in the constituency could be later this year in the unlikely event of the Minister for Agriculture being appointed as Ireland’s European Commissioner, thereby forcing him to relinquish his seat.

As far as Michael is concerned, it would be great if the minister moved on to fresh pastures in Brussels to create an early vacancy.

“Let’s hope he does. It would be nice to bring Pat Rabbitte down again after his recent visit. It’s hard to know who will go to Brussels. It’s something we are acutely aware of nonetheless. Joe Walsh seems to be more concerned with rue’s in Europe than roads in West Cork. There is a perception he won’t get back into the Cabinet in the Autumn reshuffle. The result of the European elections will count for a lot as there are two junior ministers running. Bertie is probably considering an overall package of changes,” he adds.

At the moment though, the roles are reversed in the McCarthy household on Castle Street in Dunmanway, just within spitting distance of the statue of Sam Maguire in the main square, with Michael fretting on his mother’s behalf.

“You are particularly aware when you are fighting for a parent and conscious that you have to deliver,” he says.

In five days time, it will be clear if Phyllis McCarthy can follow in her son’s footsteps.

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