It says a lot about the search by some for a saviour to lead Irish people to the recovery that the first group to welcome people to Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s general election selection convention are pilgrims travelling to Knock, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.
Perched outside the train station in Claremorris, Co Mayo, those travelling to the west of Ireland shrine climb onto the Brendan’s Bus Hire white van waiting to whisk them away to the nearby religious haven where an apparition once promised a better tomorrow.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Junior Sports Minister Michael Ring, and local TD Michelle Mulherin did not need the help of any unnatural phenomena to get over the line last night, with the Mayo selection convention amounting to an uncontested walkthrough for the TDs.
However, with the latest polls showing it is by no means certain the Coalition will still be in power after next spring the Fine Gael leader will be thankful for any divine intervention he can get.
While the main Government party is basking in the aftermath of a €1.5bn budget targeting key voter groups, jobs and unemployment remain as far away as ever for some.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the rural west of Ireland, with Mayo one area still suffering widespread emigration and unemployment despite the growing economic comeback Mr Kenny needs to stretch beyond the east coast.
Speaking as the Fine Gael setpiece took centre stage, rival politicians Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary and Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne — tipped to run Fine Gael’s Michelle Mulherin close for the fourth seat — both said the local recovery still means “one in five” shops in Castlebar are closed; 12,000 people are unemployed; and “37% of IDA investment going to Dublin and Cork” meaning little real recovery elsewhere.
“In 2011 we were told to vote for a Mayo taoiseach so the county wouldn’t go poor again. It was like the second coming of Christ. People looked at Cork under Jack Lynch and bought into that [Fine Gael won four of five seats]. But look at Knock, it should have investment but it’s an airport and a road. A bad road,” said Mr Kilcoyne.
Last night’s selection convention marked Fine Gael’s final general election candidate choice, with Mr Kenny certain to be in control of a seat he has held since 1975.
But while his position is stable, with an economic recovery yet to hit all homes a term after the “democratic revolution” more than a few Knock-inspired prayers may be said by colleagues.
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