Robert Troy TD
Can enigmatic Fianna Fail TD Robert Troy live up to head-office expectations and bring in a second seat in the Longford-Westmeath constituency, a critical part of the party’s programme of winning back its old pre-eminence in Irish politics – and vital for Troy’s own ministerial ambitions?
#Longford #Westmeath was once a bastion of FF, with the party comfortably scoring two and sometimes three out of four seats with support in the high 40s, and a stunning 58% in 1987.
But the party’s debacle in 2011 saw support drop to a paltry 19% and they scraped just one seat out of four, with Troy elected without reaching the quota and barely keeping Fine Gael from three seats.What was really interesting about 2011 was that both the then FF incumbents, former cabinet minister Mary O’Rourke and Longford’s Peter Kelly, lost their seats as what was left of FF support looked for new faces unmarred by connection to the bad old ways.
Troy had been an adviser to O’Rourke’s great rival Donie Cassidy in 2005-2007, but his selection as a candidate was expected to just add a few votes to the FF pile.Winning the seat was a great surprise.
Troy may be young (35) but he is not one of the new breed of bright young things. He is old-style FF, in family and personal terms. His family has run the post office in Ballynacargy outside Mullingar for generations, while Troy went to Dublin when he left school, working for MB.
He came back in 2004 to take over the small family business, and won a seat on Westmeath council that year. It was there that he showed what he was made of Working closely with Donie Cassidy, he established himself locally and, in the 2009 local elections, more than doubled his previous tally, getting the largest vote of any councillor in Westmeath.
As Cassidy’s protégé, his success was a warning to Athlone-based O’Rourke, as he went on to get a general election nomination two years later: the strong local base he had built up enabled him to out poll O’Rourke and Kelly and take the seat —just.
As a new face, untainted by the murky past, head office was keen to push Troy forward to speak for the party, as he declared the party had to return to its radical roots.
This was closely aligned to what new party leader MIcheál Martin was saying and was also in tune with grassroots feeling among party supporters in the constituency.
Attempts to link him with dubious practices have been made, but without much success. In May 2013, the Irish Independent reported that gardai had failed to serve three summonses for relatively minor motoring offences on him and, as a result, the charges were dismissed.
No explanation was ever forthcoming and Troy clarified that he had no idea why the summonses weren’t served.
In any case, the party’s support for Troy reaped its benefit in the 2016 election. He topped the poll and was elected on the first count. He may not have been a high flyer, but he was producing electoral success.
Crucially, this success did not lift the party as a whole. Troy’s running 2016 mate, Connie Gerety-Quinn, whose nomination Robert Troy was forced through by head office to meet gender quota requirements despite strong local opposition, made very little impact even though Troy ceded campaigning rights in Longford entirely to her.
One astonishing aspect of this election was that all four elected were from Westmeath, with no representation from Longford. More than that, three of the four TDs are from the Mullingar area, with Troy and Labour’s veteran Willie Penrose both from the tiny village of Ballynacargy. It is likely that at least one of them will lose a seat, with Penrose looking to be the weakest.
But how crucial will Troy’s role be in securing the second seat? FF has nominated Joe Flaherty, a director of the Longford Leader newspaper, as their candidate. He romped home at the local convention with two-thirds of the delegates’ votes, completely eclipsing Gerety-Quinn and sending a dismissive message to head office in the process.
Longford will not be without representation for long, but head office is beginning to be unsure of Troy. Long regarded as a strong supporter of Martin, the idea is dawning that perhaps he is only a strong supporter of himself.
For, example, his answer to a question about a possible coalition with Sinn Féin was vintage FF politics. He declared that the party leader had made the party’s position “absolutely clear” before going welcoming the openness and maturity of Gerry Adams’s new approach to the question.
With Troy standing firmly on both sides of the fence, and with the Long ford nominee also a dubious quantity in respect of the party leader, head office is decidedly unsure about the party machine there.
Troy’s caution in respect of SF is quite logical. Paul Hogan, who stood for the party before he quit in a row about supposed lack of his head office support, only missed out on snatching the last seat from Labour’s Willie Penrose by a few hundred votes.
With Hogan now outside SF, it seems unlikely that either he or the party will be in contention again, but Robert Troy certainly doesn’t want to antagonise a significant element of the electorate just as Longford gets its act together and as Westmeath faces the certainty of losing one or two seats.
This leaves a question mark over Troy’s ministerial ambitions. Opinion polls indicate that Martin’s strategy will fail to put FF in the driving seat and, if a coalition with SF becomes the only option, then a new leader – especially one from Mayo (Dara Calleary) with a keen interest in rural Ireland – is likely to be better disposed.
Robert Troy hasn’t exactly shone in policy areas, as spokesperson first for arts and culture, then for children’s affairs and currentlyfor transport and tourism. Here, though, he has remained closer to the official line, denouncing SF’s budget proposals as potentially devastating for Irish tourism.
Neither has he been slow to court Ryanair boss and fellow Mullingar resident Michael O’Leary, declaring that he would listen more to O’Leary than to transport minister Shane Ross. He provided the controversial businessman with a platform – at a local fundraising breakfast – to further his attacks on RTE and public enterprise in return for limited financial backing from a man normally associated with Fine Gael.
Robert Troy, though, is not without some strong qualities. His courage and genuineness in openly discussing his problems with depression have won him widespread approval and revealed a man who has his own ideas and values, as well as an ability to read the political rules to his advantage.
THE PHOENIX OCTOBER 6, 2017