Tony Killeen: Fianna Fáil


The men behind the parties

Tony Killeen: Fianna Fáil

Tony Killeen is the general appointed by Micheál Martin to direct their toughest ever election campaign from Grattan House in Dublin. At Killeen’s side is Charlie Haughey’s former press secretary and Scrap Saturday regular, Mr ‘Showtime’ himself, PJ Mara — the party’s best ever director of elections, winning elections for the party in 1997, 2002 and 2007.

Killeen, for his part, was Minister for Defence until he resigned last month on the same fateful day as Noel Dempsey, Dermot Ahern and Mary Harney.

Killeen’s appointment to a full ministry last year followed the resignation of Limerick TD Willie O’Dea over his affidavit controversy with local Sinn Féin councillor Maurice Qunlivan. A former national school teacher, Clare county councillor and chairman of Clare County Council, Tony Killeen has held a Dáil seat since 1992 and held three junior ministries before getting the big promotion last year.

Some Fianna Fáil candidates think that PJ Mara is really “pulling the strings in Dublin”. They say future-building Micheál Martin couldn’t be seen to be parachuting back in a strategist, that will forever be associated with Haughey and Ahern.

Killeen doesn’t have a reputation as a director of elections, unlike Noel Dempsey who was widely expected to get the role. However he is “well respected and liked within the party” and popularity is important, one Fianna Fáil TD said, when you’re trying to get the troops in line. “He’s also calm and bright. He’d have chaired a lot of conventions for that reason.”

Four years ago, Tony Killeen found himself in the media headlights when it emerged letters were sent from his constituency office on behalf of a convicted murderer. Efforts were made in three letters to secure Christopher Cooney’s early release after he was jailed in December 1992 for the murder of a 22-year-old in a Clare pub. The then junior minister refused to resign on the grounds that he didn’t personally sign the letters.

FF secretary general Sean Dorgan and deputy secretary general responsible for communications Pat McParland are also on Fianna Fáil’s Election 2011 committee. McParland was director of corporate affairs with Northern Ireland Water before he relocated to Mount Street last year.

Fianna Fáil’s election press office are being rather cagey about the remainder of the seats on the committee but it’s understood political advisors Deirdre Gillane and Brian Murphy are also on board.

Fine Gael: Phil Hogan

Ever more known as Enda’s Svengali after he quietened the naysayers and pulled off the almighty coup of keeping Enda as leader during Richard Bruton’s failed leadership bid last year, Hogan is known for his innate political guile. An election candidate in Carlow-Killkenny, he was first elected to the Dáil in 1989 and has kept his seat through the party’s famous meltdown in the 2002 general election.

The party’s environment spokesman in the last Government, he was also FG director of organisation from 1995 to 2002 and chairman of the parliamentary party.

Phil was junior minister at the Department of Finance, with responsibility for the OPW from December 1994 to February 1995 and a senator in the late eighties.

Opinion on Hogan in the party is mixed but as one FG source put it: “Everyone might not like him, but they respect him.” Widely known as Enda’s ‘enforcer’, he thrives on political skullduggery. “Political strategising is what gets Hogan out of bed each morning,” one party member said.

“He’s constantly wheeling and dealing.... He’s cunning, a tough operator and if there’s any plotting or division in the party, he’s sure to be involved somewhere and generally will be on the winning side,” another source said. “He gets things done and isn’t afraid of difficulty. He has nerve.”

Hogan will need it as all the Fine Gael camp are expecting some low-flying shots out of nowhere from the Fianna Fáil camp as they desperately try and gain some kind of foothold in the polls.

With Hogan at the 2011 election HQ is the party’s director of organisation, Frank Flannery — the man who told a MacGill Summer School that he was in the job as FG director of organisation as he was “bad enough of a bastard and tough enough to make really unpopular decisions”.

Flannery has argued that a new more radical Fine Gael has emerged in recent years due to the hordes of young TDs and councillors in their ranks — and that it now stands as the best party at managing the electoral process and its own votes.

“They used the elections of 2004, 2007 and 2009 to bring a new generation of young politicians into the party and into elective politics,” he said. Many of these young politicians are “products of the age of ecology and technology”.

Frank Flannery is also known as the author of the 2002 Flannery report which restructured the party after their electoral washout earlier that year.

Ex-director of communications Ciarán Conlon is also heading up the Fine Gael 2012 campaign as director of electoral strategy. Political director Mark Mortell, formerly of Newstalk, is also part of this cabal as is press director Fergal Purcell.

Labour Party: Ruairi Quinn

The former party leader and Finance Minister — a man renowned for his organisational skills — is heading up his party’s strategy in advance of February 25.

The Dublin South East candidate, entered the Dáil in 1977 after a period as a Dublin city councillor, was made junior minister at the Department of the Environment in 1982 before continuing on to be Minister for Labour, Minister for Public Service, Minister for Enterprise and Employment and then Minister for Finance — a tenure largely credited with sewing the seeds of Ireland’s economic boom.

Ruairi Quinn was also director of elections during Mary Robinson’s successful 1990 campaign for the Áras. He is joined at Golden Lane in Dublin with party general secretary Ita McAuliffe, Eamon Gilmore’s chief advisor Mark Garrett, policy director Colm O’Riordan, national organiser David Leach and publicity director Tony Heffernan.

So how will Quinn fare when faced with the political shenanigans likely to emanate from Phil, PJ et al?

As one Labour source put it: “There are two different types of directors of elections. There are those who are measured, strategic and all about planning and then there are those who are more mischievous ... I’d put Ruairi in the first camp”.

Unlike the new breed of TDs who work off Blackberrys and iPhones, Ruairi writes in a pocket notebook. “It’s something to watch. It must be his architectural training but he draws a little box beside each project and colours it in gradually as the various stages of the project are completed.”

Quinn is described as “very businesslike” when running big projects. “There’s the quick analysis of the situation, the examination of options, a final decision and then a strategy devised to see that decision through before a follow-up at a later date to make sure that all has been done. It’s only then that the box is coloured in.”

Labour Party TDs and other Dublin TDs are said to marvel at how he runs his constituency. “It’s a model constituency, with the quality of its organisation and the unity of the organisation second to none. If he copies the model he uses for his constituency for the election, it will be our best election ever.”

Green Party: Donal Geoghegan

Donal Geoghegan has been programme manager with the Greens since 2007 and based at the Department of the Taoiseach. Along with Dan Boyle and John Gormley, he was part of the Green Team that formed the 2007 Programme for Government with Fianna Fáil.

Before going into Government, Geoghegan was general secretary of the party and was involved extensively in the 2007 general election and the 2009 local and European elections.

In his life before becoming a full-time Green, Donal worked in the voluntary sector with The Wheel and as assistant general secretary general with the National Youth Council. Some like to describe him as “your typical Green” who “believes in the typical Green model of consensus and avoiding confrontation”.

However, there’s little doubt that he has learnt a lot about the ‘dark arts of politics’ after their coalition pairing or “that experience” as some of the Greens term it.

One Green source described Donal as “your typical Green — what you see is what you get”. But another politician who has worked closely with him in the past went a step further colouring him “a shrewd operator” who “will pull out everything to try and win back that core Green vote”.

He too nodded to the likelihood that he had “learnt a lot of tricks over the past couple of years”.

Sinn Féin: Brian Tumilty

People in Sinn Féin describe Brian Tumilty as one of their “best backroom men”. He was director of elections during the 2009 European and local elections, and back then he told An Poblacht that his elections strategy was about more than just getting “bums on seats”.

He said it also “about building the party and building the electoral capacity of Sinn Féin throughout the island ... we’re also about republicanising those areas.”

It’s a strategy that seems to have worked as the party’s standing in the South is at an all time high right now, although their high polling has to be taken in the context of the economic collapse and the entry of the IMF.

One Sinn Féin candidate described him as “a highly valued strategist, very influential both in the North and the South”.

Tumilty certainly isn’t a household name in the South, but he is a well-regarded republican in Newry, from where he hails, and the wider North.

“He’s a quiet person, softly spoken and gentle, a great listener and that’s a good thing for candidates as he doesn’t interfere that much,” said the Sinn Féin source. Joining Tumilty as campaign manager is Maurice Quinlivan, the Limerick city councillor who Willie O’Dea incorrectly linked to a brothel in the city.

The false affidavit error led to the former Minister for Defence leaving Cabinet last year. Quinlivan and O’Dea are both standing for election in Limerick city.

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