FROM the very vocal fire station protestors outside to the hundreds of party faithful inside, the Tullamore Court Hotel on Tuesday night last week was awash with politics.
It was a busy night for the hotel with a number of events in the building. The hotel’s manager Philip O’Brien was busy organising staff to bring extra chairs into the Fianna Fail convention.
Originally they had put out 500 seats in the massive ballroom, then they brought in a hundred more, but there were still people standing at the back of the room, leading Philip to estimate that there were 650 delegates at the convention.
Although the meeting was scheduled to commence at 8pm party activists had been gathering from much earlier and there were numerous sub-committee meetings taking place all over the hotel. By 8pm the ballroom was almost full, surely a first in Irish politics? A meeting starting on time?
The two Offaly delegates Cllr Barry Cowen and Cllr Peter Ormond went into the Convention on the dot of 8pm. They were followed soon after by sitting TD Sean Fleming and shortly after that again by Junior Minister John Moloney TD. But it was to be another while before the Taoiseach Brian Cowen breezed through, apologising to waiting journalists that he could not stop to chat as he was “beagán deanamh” and he would happily talk afterwards.
Although journalists were not allowed into the Selection Convention itself, from the doorway we could see that the outgoing Taoiseach received a rapturous reception and a standing ovation.
Then the doors closed again, but within a short time the two Laois deputies Fleming and Moloney and the two Offaly councillors were all heading out to the reception area of the hotel while the delegates voted on who the candidate for Offaly would be.
There had been speculation that the party would opt for one candidate from each county, but once John Moloney TD indicated his desire to stay on, it was now two Laois candidates and one from Offaly who had to be chosen through a ballot. When the results came through it was 92 for Barry Cowen and 62 for Peter Ormond.
Cllr Ormond then gave an incredibly gracious speech to the Convention before Barry Cowen launched into his maiden speech as a general election candidate.
Cllr Cowen outlined his political background and experience from when he was first co-opted onto Offaly County Council in 1992. He pointed out that he had increased his vote in each subsequent election, easily exceeding quotas. He used the term that has almost become his mantra these days, that he “did not have a God given right” to a seat. But vowed that he would fight for it.
He went on to recall his late father Ber and the battle he fought in 1977 attempting to secure the future of Tullamore hospital before going on to say that he would defend Fianna Fail policies, for which he would make no apologies. He also maintained that there are signs of recovery - “we will get up off the floor.” He refuted the allegation that the country was “banjaxed” and accused Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore of “economic treason” for claiming the country was “banjaxed”.
There were tough decisions to be made, hard choices, but the party had to put their responsibilities first, he concluded.
This was a sentiment echoed by the two following speakers – Sean Fleming TD and John Moloney TD. The party would have to be courageous and be prepared to take difficult options.
But it was a different Cowen who was the man of the night. The Taoiseach gave a lengthy, poignant speech in which he spoke with great fluency and passion about a wide range of topics from the 1916 commemorations to the Northern Ireland peace process and his government’s legacy. “There are people alive in the North today because of what we did, which is a matter of great pride to me.”
However, not everyone was happy with the Taoiseach or Fianna Fail. Laois man John Hyland, who had been a member of the party since 1968 said he was resigning his party membership and would be voting for Brian Stanley in the general election.
“I carried Blaney and Haughey on my shoulders outside the Four Courts during the Arms Crisis. I was a personal friend of Charlie Haughey’s, but I could not support the party any longer after what they did to poor people. Taking money from blind people in the budget was a step too far.”
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