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Dev Og still a bright spot

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There was this skinny young fellow from Dublin who came down to Connemara in the early seventies to manage the small and struggling co-operative project in Corrnamona in the heart of the mountains.

The place was dying on its feet in a mountainy region with one of the highest emigration bleedings in all of Connemara, and the times were hard. The lad looked vaguely familiar when I met him first when doing an article on the area for The Irish Press.

The fact the lad was from Dublin was not strange at all. The strong Gaelic-speaking community in Dublin at that time provided many of the young energetic managers that came to the Gaeltacht areas like Corrnamona.

They came with their degrees and energies to the region where the native tongue was that spoken by their parents above in Dublin. Usually they did well, spent a few years in Connemara and then disappeared back in the general direction of Dublin and bigger jobs.

The vaguely familiar looking lad was a bit different though.

He was a mighty bit of stuff altogether. Inside a few years he had so energized the co-operative that it was on a 24-hour shift, humming all the time.

It was going so well that local boys and girls did not emigrate any more in the numbers of the past. Many came home from England and started their own projects under the co-op umbrella. There was a buzz about the whole place and its hinterland.

Instead of leaving Galway the young fellow courted a girl from down the road in Spiddal, married her, started a family in Corrnamona and immersed himself in all the life of a reviving community.

He was a Fianna Failer and he contested for a Dail (Parliament) seat the first chance he got and was easily elected. That night the Twelve Pins were ruddy with bonfires on the skyline.

That was the political beginning for Eamon O'Cuiv, the man the locals christened Dev Og from the beginning.
That was why he looked familiar. He was, and is, the living image of his fabled grandfather Eamon De Valera, founding father of Fianna Fail.

I covered that first election campaign of his. It was almost surreal.

He was skinny, tall, bespectacled, and he wore a long black overcoat just like the grandfather. West Galway was a Fianna Fail heartland, and I actually saw old party members begin to weep when they saw him canvassing their townland.

His physique was a great help back then for sure! I think he came in near the top of the poll without any problems.

He was not a great orator in either language. He did not have any special charisma about him apart from the family resemblance, a palpable decency and the common knowledge that he was doing such great work up in the mountains.

The people said their thanks by electing him. They would have believed that he would be a good solid backbencher and constituency worker for them in the monolith of a party that had still to go through the tainted Charles Haughey era, the questionable Bertie Ahern years and all that has happened since.

If the Dev Og ran good "clinics" that would cut some red tape for them; if he was useful to his constituents, that would be enough. They were grateful.

The Dev Og was all that. He did not explode like a bright new lantern in Leinster House. He worked away solidly and quietly.

Unlike most of the other new TDs (Dail members) whose campaign trails I followed professionally in those years, he did not lose "the run of himself" once elected and given a little power. He remained a principled and decent man.

His career developed very slowly from the backbenches of his party, but eventually he became a junior minister and, in more recent times, a full minister in the government.

Being in charge of the social welfare portfolio, it fell to him last year to detail the spending cuts in that area. That would not have been an easy task for the Dev Og.

He was never a Fianna Fail star at any stage. He was seen as a good solid regional representative with a safe seat.

And it is typical of the man that when Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen challenged his own party last week to back him or sack him, and leading ministers backed away from the challenge, that it was the Dev Og, out of nowhere, out of principle, who was the first to openly throw down the gauntlet.

Others plotted in the background until Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin was flushed out into the open by Cowen's challenge. Cowen won the challenge despite the fact that the nation at large has already turned its backs on him. He is a Dead Man Walking and his party, as I wrote here last week, will be obliterated in the election.

The Dev Og just might prevail against the odds in the feverish battle for leadership of whatever rump of Fianna Fail still exists in three months time. He probably won't, but the irony is that maybe alone among the contenders, he could be the man to rescue his grandfather's party.

Decency and principle are in short supply among the Soldiers of Destiny just now. About all the others are somewhat tainted by association with the incredibly mismanaged and possibly corrupted recent past.

I love elections. The Irish generally love elections.

The upcoming one will be a humdinger because there have been so many fascinating developments already even before the date is fixed.

On a personal level, I supported Fianna Fail for more than 30 years and was a member of my local branch for years. But I departed from them in disgust as the Haughey era imploded and have not voted for them since.

Dammit though, I have a huge respect for the Dev Og because of his inherent decency. He is a good and honorable man in a party that has latterly disgraced itself and ruined our country.

I wish him well.

Note: On Wednesday (January 26) O Cuiv failed to win the position of leader of Fianna Fail. The final count found O Cuiv in second place with 22 votes while Micheal Martin won the position with 50 votes.

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