The Munster Express interviews Deputy John Deasy (FG)
Exclusive: Dermot Keyes
John Deasy doesn’t overdo it on the interview front. He’s hardly your typical ‘photo op’ politician. He doesn’t appear at every envelope opening or tape cutting between Tallow and Cheekpoint. He doesn’t do social media. “I’m just too busy for it, to be honest” he says of the latter when visiting The Munster Express for a wide-ranging chat on Thursday last.
Yet I suspect no-one, at least coherently, can suggest that Deputy Deasy is anything other than a rigorous local advocate who has also assumed his brief as a national legislator as seriously as anyone who has ever sat in the Dáil chamber.
The outgoing Fine Gael TD remains one of Waterford’s most reliable vote winners, drawing from a 16-year career in local and national politics.
Indeed, it’s fair to suggest that his not being re-elected this weekend would represent a tearing of this constituency temple’s political veil. But the people are sovereign, the Returning Officer’s word shall be gospel come Saturday afternoon and no political chickens are being counted by Team Deasy.
A return of the Fine Gael/Labour government, should the polls of recent weeks and months ultimately prove reliable, “is unlikely to occur,” Deputy Deasy conceded.
“But everyone is fixating and obsessing in talking about who’ll go in with who, and there’s been a lot of denial and posturing up to now, but in fairness, we’re just going to have to wait, allow the electorate to vote and just figure it out from there. It’s a bit presumptuous to be talking about alliances or coalitions in advance of an election.”
However, the one utterance Deputy Deasy has publicly made on the issue of a potential future coalition was one he was happy to repeat. “I don’t think we should rule out Fianna Fáil at all. If the reason for being, politically, is to maintain stability at all costs, then that can’t be ruled out, nor should it. But let’s let the electorate vote and see what happens afterwards.”
When asked about the mood he’s encountered on the doorsteps, unlike 95 to 99 per cent of election candidates, John Deasy didn’t provide the stock answer.
But stock replies and glib sentiments have never been part of John Deasy’s politics, yet that alone hardly warrants the ‘maverick’ tag as readily associated with him as ‘mercurial’ was with Deise hurling great Paul Flynn.
“There is a bit of a difference, in my opinion,” when asked for a comparison with the mood back in 2011.
“Some people feel that Fine Gael have forgotten about the person a little bit and have been focused, maybe, too much on press release, positioning themselves as having created a massive recovery, and when it comes to Waterford we have seen a very small but appreciable recovery over the past year. But I feel people feel a little left down, a little left behind.”
John Deasy continued: “I always try to focus on the person on an individual basis, issue-wise and I see myself as a public representative – not a publicist – and I think a few TDs in Fine Gael have really based their careers around regurgitating press releases and taking credit for things that they’ve had nothing to with, and I think that’s a huge mistake. I think, when it comes to hard elections, the work you do on the ground for people is ultimately the thing that you can count on – and maybe some people have lost sight of that.
“Politics is about people – that was the biggest thing I learned from my father – and another thing I’ve learned over the years is to never underestimate the intelligence of the working man and that’s something you can never, ever forget in politics.”
Confident of a “bounce towards Fine Gael” in the days before election day, Deputy Deasy believes “minds will focus on what the alternative is and I think Fine Gael will ultimately have a reasonably good election”.
He continued: “But I think we need to be conscious of the effect that (the recession) has had on the families that I’ve been dealing with over the last five years and the only way I can describe it is catastrophic – and not just for people below a certain income – it’s been a catastrophic time for many middle class people.
“The most pain that I’ve experienced (in dealing with representations) has been among massively indebted people in the middle class at a personal level, people who have lost everything, including their homes.
“The pain has been shared across the board and hasn’t been focused on one sector of society and that’s putting it mildly, and for anyone to suggest otherwise, who hasn’t recognised the nuance at work in this upsetting and difficult reality being faced by so many people, then I feel they’re incorrect.”
Referring to his work on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a great deal of which he described as “fundamental”, John Deasy feels he used that brief as well as he could to progress Waterford’s cause on several fronts.
“The mess we inherited – and this is no criticism of anyone, including Martin Cullen – but the infrastructure in the constituency, particularly in the city, had been destroyed. The motorway was an achievement and that’s something that the previous administration can point to. But apart from that, when I think about the Airport and the Port in particular, the key infrastructure around both had been completely destroyed and had deteriorated to a level I never thought possible.
“So my job was, I felt, to build up the fundamentals across the board when it came to key elements in Waterford city, but in terms of the county as well given that the biggest industry we have in the constituency, and this is sometimes forgotten about, remains agriculture. For the city and towns and villages in the county, agriculture remains our key economic driver and is integral to spending power in rural communities, feeding into the consumer spend in county towns like Dungarvan.”
Waterford Airport’s future is a great deal sunnier now than it was in 2011, “and if I hadn’t had the help of Leo Varadkar, I’m not so sure I would have achieved it. But we’re over the hump now and had it not worked out, that would have been a huge psychological blow.
“Right now, the Board of the Airport is concentrating on making what’s in place successful, not that the runway extension is by any means a secondary issue. Thankfully, the land arbitration issue is finished with, planning permission is in place – we’re still looking at the financing of the extension and that’s something I’ve tried to get included in the Strategic Investment Fund. Funding, of course, will have to be matched locally, but the primary issue now is to make the Airport work and to continue VLM’s commercial operation.”
As for the repeated assertion that Waterford would benefit from having a voice at senior cabinet level, John Deasy contended: “I would make the case that having a good CEO at Council level is more important. We’re incredibly lucky in Waterford to have Michael Walsh in that role. He’s a man with real ambition, he’s someone with imagination, he gets to the bottom line very quickly and understands very complex issues. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the kind of talent we have sometimes, so Waterford is very fortunate in that respect.”
John Deasy is hopeful of a good weekend ahead, but not without adding a disclaimer. “If you take the electorate for granted, you’re an eejit. What you’ve got to do is to put your best foot forward and everything, for me, is grounded in work. There’s a plasticity that’s emerged in our politics over the past 10 years which hasn’t been good for politics, but I would maintain that you have to retain the fundamentals and remain wedded to dealing with the non-sexy stuff. But I do believe that people recognise hard work and see through any other approach.
“I try to be effective, I don’t try and shove what I do in people’s faces, and that’s what I’ve based my political career on. And it’s served me well up to this point.”