Politics in the blood

The decision of the Galway West convention not to put forward Pádraic McCormack as a candidate remains one of the shocks thus far of an already interesting General Election campaign - not least for the candidate himself.

The decision of the Galway West convention not to put forward Pádraic McCormack as a candidate remains one of the shocks thus far of an already interesting General Election campaign - not least for the candidate himself.

The Kenagh native had been looking forward to potentially being part of a Fine Gael-led government for the first time, having spent much of his 22 years in Dil Eireann as an opposition backbencher.

And given his current position of party chairperson, McCormack could have been the new Ceann Comhraile, a position he would have no doubt relished.

But in early December, the constituency delegates in Galway West decided to put forward Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames and City Councillor Brian Walsh as two of their candidates.

"I was disappointed the way it ended, but the system of voting that we have I have to accept that," said Deputy McCormack, speaking to the Leader this week.

"There was about 100 people there that I never met before, and they were eligible to vote according to our system, and you can't interfere with that - that's the system," he said.

More candidates have been added to the ticket, but Deputy McCormack declined the offer to join, despite the obvious incentive of Fine Gael being in government.

"I'm 22 years in Dil Eireann and I've never been there when Fine Gael won an election. I was there when John Bruton assumed power when the government broke down, and not as a result of an election. For two years we were in government.

"I was looking forward to having that opportunity, but I have to accept the result of the convention. I'm not sorry I offered myself to the convention and nobody can say that I was running away from it. I was just defeated at convention and I have to accept that," said Deputy McCormack.

Born in Kenagh in 1942, Pdraic attended the local national school and sat beside another future TD.

"Louis Belton and myself started school on the same day and we were elected to the Dil in the same day in '89," he recalled.

"We played football together (as well). We won an Under-21 championship in 1963 (alongside Liam Mulvihill), and we won junior and intermediate, league and championship and became a senior club in the 60s for the first time - one of the smallest parishes in the country. Even when I moved to Galway in '65, I used to go back for matches."

Galway was where work was, with the marts as a livestock auctioneer in Athenry. It was there that he built on his interest in politics.

"There was always a tradition of politics at home and my father was involved with Fine Gael. When I came to Galway, I just got involved. I didn't think I'd have a career out of politics, but I always had an ambition to have one.

"In '67, I worked with a friend of mine in Athenry who was going for the county council; I helped him out. He didn't get elected, but the following time I went and got elected (in ‘74)," said Pdraic.

In 1985, having moved in to the Galway suburbs, he was elected as a city councillor, becoming City Mayor in 92/93.

The move to national politics was not as straightforward, however. Following failed bids in ‘77, ‘81 and Feb ‘82, Pdraic stood back in Nov ‘82 and ‘87 Dil elections. Crucially, he was elected to the Seanad in ‘87, giving him the launchpad for a successful bid in 1989, taking the Dil seat of retiring John F Donnellan (father of All Ireland footballer Michael).

"It was a great honour," Pdraic said, "and it was a double-honour for me because I wasn't from the area."

He was re-elected in four subsequent Dil elections and in March last year, the party honoured his long service by appointing him party chairperson.

Soon after, however, he was thrust into the public spotlight through the leadership challenge to Enda Kenny.

The subsequent battle between Kenny and Richard Bruton gave Pdraic an inside view as to what the future government will bring.

"Fine Gael have a very capable front bench now. There's no question at all about that. They will be people that you could trust to run the affairs of the country, having observed them first hand," said Pdraic.

Potentially, Enda Kenny could be the next Taoiseach, depending on the vote. Like Brian Cowen, one of the criticisms that has been levelled against the Mayo TD is that he is a poor communicator. Pdraic, however, has no worries on that front.

"I have no doubt that Enda Kenny will make an excellent Taoiseach, because he is able to delegate responsibility to people and leave them to do their job, and act in a chairman's role really. He has done tremendous work for Fine Gael in bringing the party from the position we were in to where we are now," he said.

Looking ahead, Pdraic agreed that major political reform will be required. "To have the government parties now talking about Dil and Senate reform, after them being in power almost uninterrupted for 22 years, is a joke.

"There's no doubt that Fine Gael, as the leading party in government, will tackle the Dil reform and make the Dil answerable to the people. This thing of putting down Dil questions and the minister having no responsibility is a ridiculous situation."

Speaking about his own future, Padraic says he "won't be finished" in politics. "I'll still have an input at some level in politics, because you're never finished in politics."

He also plans to enjoy his retirement with his wife Eilish (nee King, native of Ballyconneely, Galway), his family Roisin, Mairead, Michael and Patrick and his five grandchildren.

In the near future, he's looking forward to the All Ireland Intermediate Championship semi-final. His son Michael, who played for Kenagh about ten years ago, won Intermediate County and Connacht titles with his club St James (Mervue/Renmore) this year. They play the Kerry champions Gneeveguilla in the semi-final on January 30 next.

"He (Michael) played with Kenagh when they won a Junior B while he was in college in Dublin. He used to come down to my brother's place (Tom, Abbeyshrile) and played with Kenagh for one year, following in the footsteps of his uncle and father," recalled Pdraic.

Following that, it's election time and who knows what that will bring. In Galway West, Pdraic predicts two seats for Fine Gael. "The ticket isn't complete yet. There will be additions to the ticket (Cllrs Hildegarde Naughton and Sean Kyne), and when we see the full team, I'm confident that in the present climate it's the easiest election ever for Fine Gael and I would be very confident that we will get two seats."

Padraic McCormack, pictured outside his Galway city office this week.