TO sustained applause from the party faithful, Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen urged supporters to be inspired by his brother Brian in the bid for three seats in the Laois-Offaly constituency.
A crowd of over 200 people attended the Fianna Fail election campaign launch in the Tullamore Court Hotel and heard all four candidates spell out the message which they hope will propel the party back into government.
But the most compelling moments were when Deputy Cowen, first elected in 2011 when then Taoiseach Brian Cowen retired from politics, mentioned his older brother.
Brian Cowen remains in hospital following a brain haemorrhage last year but Barry was happy to report that he is making steady progress.
“He is keeping a close eye on proceedings in this constituency obviously,” said Deputy Cowen.
“It is the first time I have been without him and him without I since we got involved in politics on behalf of our late Dad,” he added.
Their father, the Clara man Ber, was a Fianna Fail TD in Laois-Offaly when he died suddenly in 1984, resulting in the bye-election which saw Brian first enter the Dail.
Deputy Cowen said of Brian: “He’ll be a great loss to us but he’ll be a great help and strength to us too and he will continue to exert the sort of influence he has done over many years.”
After attacking the Fine Gael led Government across a range of issues, and criticising the policies and records of Sinn Fein and the Green Party, Deputy Cowen told supporters Fianna Fail’s “greatest weapon” was its 20,000 members “in every parish in each constituency”.
He quoted the former Fianna Fail TD from Bracknagh, Ger Connolly as he called on party volunteers to campaign for a change in government.
“So let’s take our message to each and every doorstep in each street in this county and in Laois. And as Ger Connolly used to say, let’s take it to the highways and the byways too,” he said.
“Let’s set out the need for change, let’s set out our vision in what is and can be an Ireland for all. And let’s do it in the spirit and the example of the likes of Lemass and De Valera, whether it be in Haughey’s time or in Reynolds time or whether it be in Ahern’s time.
“But most of all do it in the spirit of a man that has been mentioned, who is in a hospital tonight hoping we can show the sort of leadership this constituency showed time and time again.”
He said Fianna Fail always won three seats in Laois-Offaly when Brian Cowen was on the ticket, and those elections were always followed by the formation of a Fianna Fail led government.
Deputy Cowen’s running mate in Offaly is Cllr Peter Ormond, Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, and the party’s other sitting TD is Deputy Sean Fleming, Castletown, Laois.
The fourth candidate is Pauline Flanagan, Portlaoise, a first time Dail candidate who served a year on Laois County Council after being co-opted in 2018.
In his main speech, Deputy Cowen first turned to the housing crisis, saying it was of “historic proportions”.
“The scandal of homelessness is a terrible scar on our streets, in our cities, in our towns, and believe it or not in some of our villages too,” he said.
Young people are stuck in a “rip-off rental market” and the former “simple aspiration for ordinary workers” of home ownership was slipping away.
“They can say what they like about Fianna Fail, and they say it, and they say it with vehemence many of them. But the one thing they can’t deny, when it comes to houses, Fianna Fail’s the party that builds houses,” Deputy Cowen declared.
“And we’re needed more than ever to reiterate, to recommit to that that is part of our history and will be part of our future because of the national housing crisis.
“We’ve cleared slums before, we’ve built council houses across rural Ireland and we’ve ensured an ordinary worker on an ordinary wage could own the roof over his own head.
“We’ll do that again by slashing local authority red tape which is stifling the efforts of those. And we’ll give first time buyers and other buyers the support they need.”
On health, he said waiting lists were “unprecedented” and the crisis had spilled over to many other sectors within the health service despite the best efforts and the professionalism of the workforce, whose morale was on the floor.
“And all the while that that is the case, all the while that that case builds up to what it is today, Fine Gael, that prudent party we were told we could rest assured would mind the public finances, have squandered hundreds of millions that could otherwise have been employed in the health service because of the overspend associated with the National Children’s Hospital.”
Targetting Fine Gael again, he said their election slogan, ‘A Future to Look Forward To’, was “up there with the best of them”.
“I’m trying to think of what could match it, you think of Delboy Trotter talking to his brother when he’d say ‘This time next year we’ll be millionaires’.”
He accused Fine Gael of approaching the election with their “trademark arrogance”, defending their record “with a neck as firm as a jockey’s undercarriage”.
“So after this long decade in power, they have started to drink the Kool-Aid of their own press releases. They believe in their own hype. To them the M50 is the real hard border.”
Deputy Cowen said the Independent Alliance had disbanded “in the biggest break-up since One Direction”, Shane Ross was the “Minister for Photobombing”, and Sinn Fein had entered the Guinness Book of Records because they had spent so long out of government in the North.
“The alphabet soup that is the independent left wing groups, more splits than a Love Island couple, hardly know the names of one another when they come back to see them the following week,” he went on.
“The Green Party, they’ve been promising to introduce wolves into this country. You want to be careful the next thing is they’ll be looking to undo all the work St Patrick did and bring the snakes back along with them.”
On local issues, Deputy Cowen highlighted Bord na Mona and the ESB, saying Fine Gael’s stewardship “has been nothing short of appalling”.
They had stood “idly by” while An Bord Pleanala refused planning permission for co-fuelling at Shannonbridge and had overseen a transition shortening from “eight to 10 years” to “eight to 10 months”.
“If they’re left there any longer to preside over that debacle you can be sure they’ll take down the likes of Shannonbridge and Lanesboro power stations brick by brick despite the €500 million that was spent on them 15 years ago when a Brian Cowen led Government made sure they were put there in the first place,” he said.
Concluding, Deputy Cowen said the electorate had a simple choice. “You either have an out of touch and arrogant Government or a new way of doing things. This election will without doubt come down to a handful of votes in a handful of constituencies. It will be a straight fight between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to lead our country.
“I often remember, Brian again, at a famous Ard Fheis, when issues arose about coalitions with PDs, he talked about ‘If in doubt, leave them out’. The key message in this election... get Fine Gael out, end of.”