WILL the Ming Dynasty continue to rule in Roscommon, and if so, is the by-election to be remembered as Micheál Martin’s last stand — the beginning of the end for his leadership?
Mr Martin has thrown so much time and treasure into regaining the former Fianna Fáil stronghold that yet another failure to launch will raise serious questions about his future.
The biggest obstacle to a Fianna Fáil fight back appears to be independent candidate Michael Fitzmaurice, who has been anointed by Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan as a worthy successor now the pony-tailed publicity-seeking machine has breezed-off to Brussels.
With the political atmosphere in Roscommon-South Leitrim remains as polluted as the glass of sewage-infected water, Mr Flanagan plonked down in front of then junior environment minister Fergus O’Dowd during heated Dáil exchanges over the plight of 21,000 homes in the constituency served with boil only notices, a Government win is about as likely as Ming converting to the war on soft drugs campaign.
And even if water was not an issue, the festering wound that is Enda Kenny’s broken promise on the local hospital still stings. More than three years after Mr Kenny’s election pledge to keep Roscommon Hospital’s emergency department open was reneged upon, it has not been forgotten on the doorstep.
TD Denis Naughten quit the Fine Gael whip in disgust at the U-turn and the whip-lash backlash still makes this hostile territory for his former party colleagues.
Indeed, anger over that decision to downgrade the emergency department provoked the most colourful moment of the campaign so far when a complaint was made to gardaí against Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan by hospital action committee candidate John McDermott after an elbowing incident when the Taoiseach arrived in the constituency to face down the fury.
The attention the argy-bargy brought upon Mr McDermott has boosted his recognition and further fractures a field of 10 candidates looking to break free from the pack.
Ironically, given the sexism element in Mr Kenny’s handling of the Seanad shambles when he was accused of ignoring better-placed women candidates in order to shoe-horn John McNulty into the upper house, Fine Gael is fielding the only female candidate, Maura Hopkins, in the contest. But the tangible anti-government feeling is set to see Ms Hopkins and Labour’s Senator John Kelly flushed away like so much contaminated water, while Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny does not seem to have the tide swimming fully in his direction.
This leaves the seat as Fianna Fáiler Ivan Connaughton’s to lose after the party recorded a strong come back in May’s local elections in Roscommon.
And Mr Martin has a lot riding on this with Fianna Fáil stagnating in the national polls behind Sinn Féin and the independents.
Though Fianna Fáil did manage to nudge ahead of the field in the local elections across the country, Mr Martin badly needs a Dáil win after the party only returned one MEP to Brussels, and even then Brian Crowley soon broke free after an internal row that an on the ball leader would have been able to avoid.
Murmurs within the party grumbling over the lack of forward thrust under Mr Martin will multiply into public protest if the party fails to finally achieve a byelection win as this Dáil heads for the home straight.
Standing in the way of such delayed satisfaction for Mr Martin is the substantial figure of local hero of the turf cutters’ revolt, Mr Fitzmaurice.
Though Mr Fitzmaurice lives across the border in Galway, where he is also a councillor, he has drawn strong support from the ever popular Mr Flanagan and taps into the anti-political establishment mood in the country at large.
Coalition attempts to talk-up the recovery role hollow through Roscommon where unemployment and emigration remain everyday features of family life.
Self-inflicted government wounds over the jobs for the boys culture still prevalent in a Coalition that has so clearly failed to live-up to its lofty ambitions of ushering in a democratic revolution have also fed into the feeling of disillusionment with the lazy old look of the Leinster House way of doing business.
The emergence of a now demoted Mr O’Dowd to denounce the Irish Water he helped set-up as a disaster also left a taste in voters’ mouths almost as bad as the water they are too scared to drink.
Tomorrow’s by-election is likely to be the last battle fought before the constituency is carved apart with Leitrim re-emerging into a northwest constituency and Roscommon entering into controversial political shotgun marriage with East Galway at the next general election slated for the spring of 2016.
It could also be the last election for Mr Martin as unchallenged leader of Fianna Fáil if his man fail’s to take the crown that now lies so tantalisingly close and Roscommon once again declares Ming-dependence Day.
The big obstacle to a Fianna Fáil fight back in Roscommon-South Letrim is the independent candidate, says
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