Mattie McGrath is the man in the van

Independent TD Mattie McGrath is still gunning for ‘AK-47’ Kelly, despite backing down on ‘hiding in his Hiace’ claim, writes Elaine Loughlin

Mattie McGrath is the man in the van

INDEPENDENT candidate Mattie McGrath is double jobbing. Today, he is trying to get to the bottom of the theft the previous night of a horsebox festooned with Mattie McGrath posters. At the same time, he is directing his van driver down a street in a bid to steer clear of a funeral cortege.

With the hearse avoided, it’s back to the missing poster-clad trailer, which had been parked outside Clonmel and was last spotted at 11pm.

“Who would bother with posters, how many times have they been taken from different places, three or four times? It was locked and tied to a pole and it was cut off, they have to have had heavy cutting material,” he says. He said dirty tricks have played out in the constituency since the 2007 elections, when there was opposition to Mattie — who was then running for Fianna Fáil — from within the party.

“I had a lot of trouble in 2007, and even in 2011, with posters. I have a lot of volunteers, so it’s very frustrating, they are out all night putting up posters.”

He has reported the latest incident to the local community garda, who is now on the case, despite it being his day off.

However, this is not the only spot of bother Mattie has got himself into since the general election was called two weeks ago; his supporters claim he is magnetic, as he certainly seems to attract controversy.

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Only in Tipperary can a van cause more of a hullabaloo than the politician it’s advertising.

It’s mid-afternoon and a dreary day in Cashel as music blares and crackles from the van, which recently became the centre of a fiery spat between two local rivals vying for the last seat in their constituency. The diddly-diddly country tune penned especially for this election will never reach No 1, but Mattie hopes it will get him elected. It amuses the small number of people who brave the cold, rain, and wind.

The spat started when Mattie claimed Environment Minister Alan Kelly had hidden from an angry constituent in the back of his Hiace, a claim which was later retracted.

“That only happened in the ice-cream van that plays the music in his head,” a spokesman for Kelly, also known as AK-47, later claimed.

“I speak for myself and my head is fine, thanks be to God, but the power has gone to his head,” Mattie says, as he reflects on last week’s on-air fight.

He apologies if he may have “misrepresented the situation”, but he is not putting the dispute to rest.

“When I met Alan, he turned to jelly, Chiver’s Jelly. Look, he brings it on himself. His behaviour was atrocious...

I gave as good as I got. Any man who would say that power is a drug and loves it, seriously?”

So, it’s back to the scene [imaginary or not] of the crime, as a van, covered with Mattie’s mug, pulls up.

Alan “Jelly” Kelly may never have had the opportunity of a lift in the van, but this reporter is now being afforded the honour.

Tipperary has changed from two three-seater constituencies to one substantial constituency with five seats, meaning someone will lose out.

Mattie’s main rival is the same man who, apparently, wanted to get into his van.

“It’s a whole different ball game. Michael Lowry is going to top the poll, that’s a given.

“So, then there are four seats left; Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are looking for a seat and there are Independents, Sinn Féin and, of course, we have the so-called king himself, ‘Allah’, ‘AK-47’, he thinks he’s invincible.

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly

“I am fighting for my own seat, I don’t mind that, I don’t mind him at all.”

The best way to win the fight is to take the final seat, so the father of eight is eager to visit every home in the county and this morning it’s Cashel’s turn.

He calls to a guesthouse which was formerly the dean’s residence.

“I’ll take some of your holy water,” says Mattie, before leaving.

There is more holy water and blessings to be got at a house down the street, along with kisses from an elderly woman, who had been listening to Mattie on local radio earlier in the morning.

She brings him inside, where the dusty pink wall-paper is beginning to bulge and peel.

“I have no heating, and I’m getting too old now to be lugging in bags of coal,” she says.

Her local representative takes out one of his white report cards and begins to take her details.

“What age are you?” asks Mattie, with the intention of applying for support. The woman throws a shifty look at the members of the canvass team, but is then happy to whisper her date of birth in his ear.

Mattie McGrath
Mattie McGrath

“Hello, Mattie, I know you well, you bought me a drink in the Dáil,” says a woman on the street, who recently travelled to Leinster house with a local choral group.

“They broke all the rules in the house, they sang in the Dáil bar,” Mattie jibes.

“But, you gave us permission,” she adds.

With all the talk of refreshments, it’s time for tea.

However, it seems another candidate has the same idea and is sitting, eating a salad, when Mattie and his team enter the Bake House café.

“That’s it, isn’t it, they are all going for the same square,” says one of Mattie’s supporters, as she spots fellow-independent candidate Lowry.

Mattie is all big hand gestures and smiles.

“Now, we are civil. We don’t fight, we are simply ordinary people, isn’t that right, Michael?”

“It is.”

With Lowry expected to top the poll again, he can afford to exchange pleasantries. The only seat he may be battling for is a place as a super-Independent in a coalition with Fine Gael.

So, have there been any calls from Taoiseach Enda Kenny about a possible deal after the election?

“There’s no calls; he is too busy promoting the current government, so we will leave him at it,” he says, though, he hasn’t ruled it out: “Let’s just wait and see.”

The pair shake hands and Michael quietly goes back to his lunch, while Mattie gets back in his van for some more canvassing.

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