Eamon O’Cuiv and the curse of the Deputy Leader
Last August I wrote in the Irish Independent that Eamon O’Cuiv might be apprehensive of taking up the role of deputy leader of FF as it seems to carry a curse. Fianna Fail has something of a mixed record when it comes to deputy leaders.
Its first official occupant Joseph Brennan did not suffer and only left the role to become Ceann Comhairle and as such might be termed a success. He was followed however by George Colley. Colley was Fianna Fail aristocracy and a man with a powerful record. His ascension to deputy leader came as his career was about to near its end and a series of rows with party leader Charles Haughey saw Colley finish his stint embittered and in the wake of the 1982 election he was to lose his position on the FF front bench. He died suddenly in 1983 while receiving treatment for a heart condition.
Ray McSharry then took up the role and history shows that he certainly suffered no ill-effects by being Deputy Leader but then again few politicians were made of the same stuff as McSharry. Notably, McSharry only held the post of Deputy Leader for one year before Brian Lenihan Senior took up the position. During his tenure he had to undergo a life saving liver transplant and having overcome this seemed set to become President of Ireland, but in the 1990 campaign controversy engulfed him and he lost not only the election but his ministerial post and his position as deputy leader.
John Wilson replaced him for two years as the veteran Cavan politician was to retire at the 1992 election. Bertie Ahern took up the mantle for the next two years and while his career went from strength to strength after this, it is striking that the controversy that plagued him as Taoiseach with regard to payments, tribunals, dig outs and inexplicable accounting stem in the main from the period he served as deputy leader. Perhaps the curse had struck again after all.
When Ahern was elevated to the post of leader he appointed Mary O’Rourke as the new Deputy leader. O’Rourke was well known and a hugely influential figure in Fianna Fail therefore it was something of a shock when, as FF was enjoying one of its greatest electoral victories, its Deputy leader became the blot on the copybook as she unexpectedly lost her seat. She was replaced by the formidable Brian Cowen who was perceived as the strongest politician in the Dail at the time. The role didn’t seem to hamper him as he was elevated to the position of Taoiseach in 2008 when the curse caught up with Ahern. However, maybe the curse was just catching up with Cowen too as from the moment he took over as Taoiseach he was rocked by one crisis after another and inexplicably he became a shadow of the man that people had seen up to that point. The powerful oratorical skill disappeared and his star fell among much head scratching and disillusionment. Cowen appointed Mary Coughlan as Deputy leader who went from up and coming Minister to PR disaster zone overnight and lost her seat in the general election.
As Micheál Martin took over the reins of leadership he looked to another heavy hitter to become his deputy, Mary Hanafin. She duly lost her seat in the general election. She was replaced by Brian Lenihan jnr who followed in his fathers footsteps to fulfil the role and tragically succumbed to cancer this year.
So Eamon O’Cuiv was granted the role. He seemed an obvious choice given his heritage and history. But O’Cuiv and all the De Valeras have had a hesitancy about the EU for some time. Self sufficiency and small nations staying out of the affairs of larger ones remain strong traditions. Irelandhappily plotting its own course maybe with a few maidens less at the crossroads these days but still there as a vision. Had the government been able to avoid a referendum this matter would never have been an issue for O’Cuiv. Alas he should have known as Deputy Leader of FF he would not get away with that and forced to make a choice between family and party he has gone with the family tradition. Another deputy leader down.