THE mud began to fly in the election campaign this week with Labour Party’s candidate John Whelan lashing out at Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan, and Fianna Fail’s John Moloney and Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley suffering some collateral damage in the crossfire.
With polling day less than a fortnight away, and 21 candidates declared, Mr Whelan lobbed in a tirade of criticism at the Fine Gael stalwart’s track record as a TD. Mr Whelan rejected suggestions that sitting TDs had experience and track records.
“Can Charlie Flanagan point to one single achievement in 30 years in the Dail, not two not three just one - one significant achievement all that time?” he asked.
He also attacked Deputy Flanagan over his failure to back Enda Kenny, and yet now expect voters to back Mr Kenny as Taoiseach. Mr Whelan, who insisted that he had never been a member of any party other than Labour, claimed people were flocking to Labour in their droves. He also claimed that Deputy Flanagan had benefited from his father’s success.
“When Fine Gael talk about change it means that Charlie Flanagan’s father, Oliver J hands the seat over to him. That is not change and people are sick and tired of that. That is nepotism and cronyism - keep it within the family,” charged Mr Whelan who also dismissed the split in the Labour camp.
Minister of State Moloney also came in for mention, with Mr Whelan claiming both men do not want change. “They don’t want any change. They want the status quo - the cosy old status quo. Between the two of them, and they are there long enough, they couldn’t even agree to get planning and funding for a single small relief road around the town of Mountmellick to take away the congestion. Don’t talk to me about track record and experience,” he said.
The Labour man also took a swipe, albeit a gentler one, at Cllr Stanley saying that he came from “a party of protest”. Mr Whelan said the political system needs reform and he had the businesslike and workman approach to be a good public representative. “I believe you have to get up early and work hard,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, Charlie Flanagan was not shirking from Mr Whelan’s challenges. “It’s mudslinging from John Whelan of a type that I won’t engage in. Both myself and my Fine Gael colleagues are engaging in a most intense campaign, and I won’t be deflected by John Whelan’s mudslinging,” he stated.
Deputy Flanagan said he worked hard over the years in opposition. He said his biggest achievement was jobs related. “The last IDA investment in Laois was primed by myself and Richard Bruton, when Richard was Minister for Enterprise,” he said.
He insisted that he had confidence in Enda Kenny and the matter of his leadership was dealt with last year. He also rejected Mr Whelan’s “dynasty” claim.
“Mr Whelan appears to question my fitness for office because my father was a member of the Dail and subsequently I was elected. I have to reject any such slur. I am proud of my father’s record for the people of Laois-Offaly and I have worked hard since I was elected for the many issues of the constituency, and to play my part at local and national level. Ultimately these matters are decided by the people. Mr Whelan seems to impute that I was appointed to the Dail, forgetting that I was elected by the people and have a mandate, and I am seeking a renewal of that mandate without engaging in personality politics,” he said.
Deputy Flanagan said Mr Whelan had got its facts wrong in relation to the Mountmellick road. He said he agreed with Minister Moloney on the route, but he had difficulty in relation to the funding. “There was no difference between Minister Moloney and myself on the issue,” he said.
Minister Moloney was reluctant to comment saying “he had no interest in what John Whelan says”. In relation to the relief road, Minister Moloney said he drove the proposal and secured funding, but it was refused by An Bord Pleanala. Minister Moloney said he did not believe in negative campaigning.
“When fellas start throwing stuff at you it musn’t be going too well, so I don’t get involved in that stuff. I never in 11 elections responded back to any criticism and I won’t but be starting now,” he said.
Mr Whelan said the division and disruption in FG and FF was far more disruptive than in the Labour Party.
Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley said his party was “absolutely not” a party of protest. He said people were voting for SF because of their clear and concise policies. He said Labour were at just six per cent in Laois-Offaly below Sinn Fein in the latest polls.