Former Labour Party Chairman and Galway East TD Colm Keaveney went on the Sean Moncrieff show on Today FM this afternoon to discuss his life in politics.
Mr Keaveney joined Fianna Fail in December 2013 six months after leaving the Labour Party amid unease with the leadership of Eamon Gilmore and the direction of the party.
The host began with the dark side.
Sean Moncrieff: “How dark is politics?”
Colm Keaveney: “It can be pretty nasty, it can be pretty rough, I mean when you pull the curtain back and you look at the sort of mechanics around it, you see what John Perry’s going through today, now John Perry’s not alone, I mean 30% of Oireachtas TDs and Senators have family spouses. You have to ask yourself the question, why is John Perry being singled out this way, obviously he is falling out of favour with the leadership of Fine Gael, the manifestations of, of that sort of dynamic, they just blow you out of the water. I’ve had very, very challenging situations in politics, when I spoke to Eamon Gilmore about voting against, you know, a budget involving cuts in child benefits, you know, It was a pretty rough discussion, it was pretty rough, I’m delighted I made the decision, but…”
Moncrieff: “Now, what does ‘pretty rough’ mean, for two politicians, is it ‘you, ye bollox, you’re going to vote for us,’ is that what we’re talking about?”
Keaveney: “You know, from the outset it has been verified, for one reason or another, you know senior politicians try to accentuate their own authority by singling people out to come down heavy on them, to look as if they’re big strong Stalinist ‘I can take them on’, and from the outset in politics my election in 2011 I was singled out as that person within the Labour Party, despite my commitment to what I thought was fairness, equality, represent my constituents and to give people a chance who were on the periphery to get on in life, and I fought tooth and nail for that, and unfortunately I had to vote against a budget and the consequences of that can be heavy on the family, yeah, and on the person.”
Moncrieff: “And, when you’re in the room with Gilmore, and Gilmore is saying ‘Vote or else’, what is ‘or else’?”
Keaveney: “There was a lot of eyeballing and ‘are you with or agin me, because when you walk out that door, life is going to change for you.’ Your family, everybody, you know. The media, you know. Because by the time I got home I had photographs, my children were being photographed in the school playground, they were writing stories about my wife, they write stories about… so, yeah, the full rigour of the pro-government media will come down and wallop you.”
Moncrieff: “Was it implied to you that that would be orchestrated?”
Keaveney: “By the time I got into the car onto the M50 it was in process. I was told going into that meeting ‘you’re going to get your neck measured, you’re going to walk the, em, you’re going to walk the plank here, when you’re pushed off that plank your life is going to change’.”
Moncrieff: “‘You’re going to get your neck measured,’ was that the phrase used?”
Moncrieff: “Jesus, that’s a scary phrase.”
Keaveney: “It is a scary phrase, but I’m only giving you the soft stuff. I mean, bullying is endemic in many employments and, you know, politics is no different, it’s a a rough trade, em, the veneer of politics, the bit you see, the cuddly parts of it, are constructed, really what happens behind the scene is that you have an authoritarian system of whipping people to do what they don’t want to do telling people that there will be consequences for you, your constituents if you don’t draw the line, there’s no space for dissent, critical analysis, looking at the fairness or the impact, at the consequences, the human impact, the consequences of decisions. There’s no time for that in politics, you’re either for or against, and when you’re against, you’re a threat.”
Moncrieff: “But didn’t you always know that? When you got into politics, didn’t you always know that?”
Keaveney: “Again, I’m blessed to be a politician, I wake up every morning, I pinch myself, going, I’m blessed to be given that jersey, I’m not going to dishonour my constituency, they sent me in to articulate, to represent the views of vulnerable people, a vast number of people in 2011 were going through incredibly difficult times, I was knocking on doors on minus 10, minus 15 in that cold February and i was coming across houses that were knocking down their own staircases to feed the fire so it was a rough time and I have a very vivid memory of the difficulties that people had and I was going to remain faithful to articulating that.“
Moncrieff: “How come you were the only one, Colm.”
Keaveney: “I’m not going to say that I was the only one but I was the only one that made the choice, I made a deliberate choice.”
Moncrieff: “But why didn’t others make the choice, does that mean that every other politician…”
Keaveney: “Because political parties by their nature are about climbing, and climbing to the top and those people who have co-operated with the austerity and co-operated with the, the convenient loss of memory around commitments given to child benefit, third level fees, the respite grant, cuts to mental health, they’re all ministers today.”