McConalogue calls on party to re-engage with the people
By Carolyn Farrar@
As Fianna Fil party faithful digested the shock announcement that Niall Blaney, TD, would not contest the upcoming General Election, newly ratified Donegal North East candidate, Cllr. Charlie McConalogue, said the party needed to re-engage with the grassroots as it embarks on its election campaign.
"That is something we have to continue here and in the rest of the country as well," the 33-year-old councillor said, to applause from the crowd of more than 400 people who gathered at the Mount Errigal Hotel.
The councillor said the decision by party headquarters to stand two candidates in the Donegal North East constituency was an indication that they were listening to people on the ground. That decision was not announced until Saturday evening.
The decision followed last week's unauthorised Fianna Fil convention in Inishowen, organised by the local comhairle ceantair to select a candidate from the peninsula for the Donegal North East seat. About 350 people attended. The party had not authorised the convention, but local party members said they believed the move was a factor in the decision by party headquarters to run two candidates in the constituency.
"We very much forced their hand," Cllr. McConalogue said of the party's decision to run two candidates. "They couldn't ignore what was happening with us."
Cllr. McConalogue said he would be running on a three key policy areas: jobs, a strong health service and maximising Donegal's potential in agriculture, tourism and fisheries. The politician's job is to create the conditions necessary to spur job creation, he said.
"It is the people who will create the jobs that will bring Donegal forward, but it is up to the politicians to create the conditions that are right for that," Cllr. McConalogue said.
The councillor said the party must also admit to mistakes that have been made, saying "unwise decisions were made along the way". But he did not spare opposition parties from sharing the blame. He said if he were driving too fast with a car-full of passengers and hit a ditch, he would have to take full responsibility as driver.
Returning to his metaphor, the councillor said that the passengers could not say "they didn't have anything to do with it when they didn't say, ‘Stop.'"
Pat "the Cope" Gallagher, MEP, told the convention he was disappointed to learn of Deputy Blaney's decision. He called the upcoming General Election "one of the most important elections Fianna Fil will ever fight."
Mr. Gallagher, who also attended other selection conventions in his MEP constituency, said the party was not playing against the wind, but "playing against a hurricane". Later, in acknowledging the contributions of the Blaney family, he said, "I'm sure we've not seen the end of the Blaneys yet," to applause from the crowd.
Tnaiste Mary Coughlan defended the government's actions to address the economic crisis in her remarks. "It would be very easy for I or my colleagues here to tell you all you would like to hear. It would make us very popular," she said. "But it is not the right thing to do."
The tnaiste said the party will "use this campaign to challenge those who do not have answers".
Nominations for the second Fianna Fil candidacy were to close at 4 pm yesterday, and the party will decide whether to pursue a two-candidate strategy in the constituency. Until Deputy Blaney's announcement, the party's candidates in the constituency were expected to be Deputy Blaney and Cllr. McConalogue. By yesterday afternoon, Fianna Fil Cllr. Dessie Larkin, formerly a member of Independent Fianna Fil and a former director of elections for Deputy Blaney, was considered a front-runner for a second nomination.
Saying the decision was now in the hands of the committee, Cllr. McConalogue said on Sunday, "Whatever happens, I will work with it."
Fianna Fil Cllr. Ciaran Brogan said on Sunday night following the convention that Cllr. McConalogue "demonstrated an awful lot of hunger and energy tonight, and it augurs well for the election."