Fine Gael courting the campaigners as election candidates

There was a time when securing a former county GAA player or other sports personality was a major coup for any political party.

Fine Gael courting the campaigners as election candidates

There was a time when securing a former county GAA player or other sports personality was a major coup for any political party.

But there is a new type of star candidate emerging, which Fine Gael is seeking out — the campaigner.

The party is hoping it can harness some of the public groundswell that gathered before last year’s referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, and other social movements around gender equality and human rights.

At local, national, and European level, Fine Gael has sought out people who are known for their activism outside of traditional party politics. These include:

Deirdre Duffy

When Deirdre Duffy spoke at the Fine Gael party conference at the weekend, she knew a large chunk of the room would not agree with her.

But the barrister, who worked as campaign manager for Together for Yes, views this as a positive and says it is one of the reasons she joined the party.

“I found Fine Gael to be very broad; it is a very diverse group of people with very different views and they don’t all agree with each other and I like that, because to be honest that’s reality.

“I have just come out of a session around Church and State and some people really weren’t happy with what I was saying, and I understand it, because I am talking about a privileged Catholic majority that now has a different place, and what does that mean for education and healthcare and things like that?”

After 15 years of slow and tough campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Ms Duffy decided she needed to make another step to bring about change.

“I was working on legislation for years, policy for years, referendums, Together for Yes obviously, and I saw that we can only do so much, and I saw the power of politics,” said Ms Duffy, who has been selected as running mate for Paschal Donohoe in Dublin Central.

But she is not alone, and a new generation now wants to move from campaigning for change to implementing legislation.

“I think we have seen a big sea-change. One of the crucial questions after marriage equality was how do we keep young people politicised and how do we move them into politics?

“That has now shifted with Together for Yes. Loads of people who are running in the local elections and general elections have come through Together for Yes and are standing for various political parties.”

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop

An invitation that was impossible to decline has led Ellen O’Malley Dunlop to make the leap into politics.

“When Fine Gael asked me to join their party and run for them in the next general election, for me it was a natural progression,” said Ms O’Malley Dunlop.

After heading the Rape Crisis Centre for 10 years she went on to chair the National Women’s Council of Ireland and was added to the Dublin South West constituency ticket last October.

Given her lack of traditional family ties to party politics, Ms O’Malley Dunlop had her choice of political parties but went with Fine Gael for two reasons.

“Number one, they asked me, and number two, I have great time and have worked quite closely with Frances Fitzgerald when I was in the Rape Crisis Centre and she was minister for justice.

“We very much admired the work she had done.

“She would be someone I would have admired. I also have great time for other women in Fine Gael, like Regina Doherty, like Helen McEntee, and Kate O’Connell. There is a fantastic group of women there and I have to say that since I joined Fine Gael, they have all been extremely supportive, and that’s very refreshing.”

She says politics needs an injection of people who have experience in different areas, and while taking the local politics route is important, others can bring a lot to national politics.

While progress has been made through gender quotas, Ms O’Malley Dunlop still sees much room for improvement.

“We have 50% women in the population — why don’t we have 50% women in the Dáil?

“Why don’t we have 50% women in Cabinet?” she asked.

Maria Walsh

Doing things a little differently from others has always been the norm for Maria Walsh.

The former Rose of Tralee wants to bring an alternative perspective to the European Parliament and is running in the vast constituency of Ireland Midlands North West.

“I looked at local; I looked at national; and I looked at Europe. I like to do things in a non-traditional way I guess — it’s the type of personality I have. For me, Europe was and has been the most underrated landscape, that could benefit from more voices.

“It should not be looked at as a ground for retiring politicians, but as a space for new voices and a new way of thinking.”

Politics was not in the blood of the former Philadelphia Rose, but a number of things, including Fine Gael’s Ireland 2040 masterplan for rural Ireland, and the referendums on marriage equality and abortion, attracted her to the party.

“I don’t come from a Fine Gael pedigree background of party politics but I have been very clear about that from the get-go. I didn’t grow up in a house where legislation or policy was being discussed around the dinner table when I grew up, but my parents were heavily involved in the community, so active citizenship and civic duty was part of the DNA of each and every one of us.”

She added: “I had met a number of politicians from all parties, but particularly Fine Gael. From a personal side, I was looking at — are they seeking individuals in the party or are they towing the party line? From a social perspective, I was excited that the party asked two very important questions to the Irish people.

“I was very proud that they asked the question, the fact that they are moving and bringing in younger people is a big thing for me because you want to pave the way but want people around you,” she said, referring to recent referendums.

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