The political career of Michael McNamara may be over, as the Labour Party has opted not to nominate the East Clare man for the Seanad.
Over the course of five years in the Dáil, Mr McNamara was an outspoken critic of his own party on several occasions. Memorably, he said it had an “ancient front bench” after the 2014 Local Elections and, in 2015, he was not part of the parliamentary party for a number of months, as he refused to support the Government’s disposal of the State’s share in Aer Lingus.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr McNamara, who lost his seat in the General Election, said it is now “almost certain” that he won’t get a nomination for the Agricultural Panel of the Seanad.
Labour Senator Denis Landy is being nominated by the Greyhound Breeders’ Association of Ireland and Mr McNamara said the general secretary of the party has decided that Labour would not make any nomination itself.
“I had made it known to the leader of the party, Joan Burton; the deputy leader, Alan Kelly; the chairperson of the party, Lorraine Mulligan and the general secretary of the party, Brian McDowell, that I would seek a nomination to the Agricultural Panel. I can only conclude that the decision was made to prevent me from running for the Seanad.”
He said the fact that senior members of the party are out of the country is being used as a reason for not having a meeting to discuss the issue.
“I know that there are members of the executive board across the country who have contacted the general secretary to convene a meeting to overturn that decision but he has told them he can’t convene a meeting because the leader and deputy leader are out of the country for St Patrick’s Day events. That’s really where it stands.”
It is hardly surprising that relations between Mr McNamara and those in the upper echelons of Labour have been strained at times. In Irish politics, speaking out openly against even an aspect of one’s party’s policies is nearly unheard of and Mr McNamara feels the party leadership have now done what they could to keep him out of the national arena.
“It’s quite clear that not alone did I not have their backing but they went out of their way to prevent me from running. I suppose I wasn’t a nodding dog within the party and this is probably the price you pay for that. At some point in the future, under new leadership, there may be a move to rebuild the Labour Party and, if there is, I’d be prepared to consider being part of that. But, for the moment, it’s clear that the view has been taken that I have nothing to contribute at this stage.”
Attempts were made to contact the press office of the Labour Party on Tuesday but these proved unsuccessful.
It has been clear for well over a week that he is set to be denied a nomination, he says, even though there was quite a bit of support for him in the Mid-West.
“It became clear last Saturday week, when the general secretary recommended to the executive board that the Labour Party not make a nomination to the Agriculture Panel. A nomination paper was sent in; there was considerable disquiet, obviously, in the Clare branch of the Labour Party and that disquiet was shared in Limerick. Efforts were made to have that reviewed. Also, other rural-based members of the central council voiced their strong support and indicated they were prepared to sign nomination papers for me but it appears to have been blocked.”
Given his own background, he felt he was a natural candidate for the Agricultural Panel.
“There are outside nominating bodies, as I explained. Denis Landy has a nomination from the Greyhound Breeders’ Association but I think I have a certain knowledge and expertise in agriculture. I am actually a farmer, so I thought agriculture would be a good fit. I’ve always thought the Labour Party needs to move beyond its current, very narrow focus and broaden that focus but, clearly, that’s not shared.”
While there were approaches about running from other quarters, he said there would be no point in allowing his name to go forward without the support of Labour.
“I did receive contact from somebody regarding receiving an outside nomination, someone who isn’t a member of the Labour Party, who I think is a member of Fine Gael. I also received a contact from a senior backroom person in Fianna Fáil nationally to know if there was anything they could do. That was kind of them and demonstrated that somebody held me in some regard but I said there was no point in me running unless I had the support of my own party.
“It’s very clear to me now that while I do enjoy the support of the Clare Labour Party, and they have been helpful in this regard, I don’t enjoy the support of the Labour Party nationally. Any of the senior figures, the chairperson, the general secretary, the leader of deputy leader; you can’t run in a Seanad election without the support of your party.”
A few weeks ago, Mr McNamara was hoping to retain his seat in the Dáil. When that didn’t work out, his next hope was to win a seat in the Seanad. Now that hasn’t worked out either and he will need a plan C.
However, on Tuesday, he said he hasn’t put much thought into his next move yet. “I haven’t really. As of now, I’m a married man without an income. Yes, I keep some dry cattle but there’s little income from that, as any farmer will tell you.”
Mr McNamara worked as a barrister before entering the Dáil in 2011 but he says he does not know if he will go back to the law.
“I gave up my practice to represent Clare, I have no regrets about that. It was a great honour to be elected by the people of Clare to represent them and I did it to the best of my ability. I had a couple of cases at the outset that I saw out but no more than a handful.
“I wasn’t actively seeking work or receiving work, so I don’t have a practice at the bar now. It takes a number of years to build up a practice, as any barrister will tell you, and it’d take a number of years to rebuild it.
“I’m a married man now with the responsibilities that come with that and I don’t have an income but I’m not unique in that. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people across Clare who found themselves in that position over the last five years. I don’t expect sympathy. I’m one of hundreds, if not thousands, who found themselves in that boat.”
He also said that he wanted to wish the Clare candidates who are running for the Seanad well.
By Owen Ryan