He may not be as long on the scene as Éamon Ó Cuív, he’s not quite the ‘new kid in town’ that is Derek Nolan, and he may not be as outgoing as Noel Grealish, but Sean Kyne has become the quietly emerging figure of Galway politics, who this week took his first steps on the national stage.
To put it mildly, it took a long time for the Galway West count to be completed, but no-one had as long a wait to be elected TD as Fine Gael county councillor Sean Kyne.
The count started at 9am on Saturday February 26 and it was not until the morning of Wednesday March 2, including a marathon 18-hour session on the Monday/Tuesday and two recounts, that the 35-year-old was finally proclaimed the winner.
“It was very gruelling and intense,” the now Deputy Sean Kyne tells me, as we sit in the Hotel Meyrick for the interview on a Tuesday afternoon. “I went in on the Saturday at 9am as I like to watch the tallies and see the votes coming through, but I didn’t think I would still be there at 8.15 on the Wednesday morning.”
Both recounts were a challenge to the lead that Dep Kyne had established over his closest rivals for the seat - fellow FGer Fidelma Healy Eames, who was 56 votes behind the Moycullen man, and Independent councillor Catherine Connolly, who was just 17 votes behind.
He proved victorious on both occasions but enduring two epic recounts and being run so close to the wire, especially by Cllr Connolly, the experience must have been highly stressful to say the least.
“We had done the tallies and knew we were getting solid transfers from Fidelma Healy Eames so when she went out we knew we had those votes,” says Dep Kyne. “What we hadn’t predicted was that she was also transferring well to Catherine Connolly.
“That put Catherine much closer to me so the gap was now in double digits, not in the hundreds. That was stressful as it was so close, but everyone was telling me that the gap could not be closed by then as the votes had all been checked so thoroughly.”
This week officially saw the start of the 31st Dáil, with Enda Kenny becoming the 13th holder of the position of Taoiseach. For Dep Kyne, along with his Fine Gael colleagues Brian Walsh, Ciaran Cannon, and Paul Connaughton, and Labour’s Derek Nolan and Colm Keaveney, their first day in Dáil Éireann will also be their first day as members of the new Government.
Connemara cannot live on its beauty alone and the need for the bypass is crucial.
“The former county manager Pat Gallagher, who had been a TD in Laois-Offaly, told me that he regretted not starting off in the Dáil as a member of the Opposition as you need a few years to get to know the system and how things work,” says Dep Kyne, before adding with a laugh, “I was first elected to the county council in 2004 and we have always been the majority party since that time so I’ve never been in Opposition, but it’s the same for all new Fine Gael TDs.”
The new Fine Gael/Labour coalition has inherited a monumental mess from Fianna Fáil, a party whose legacy to Ireland is a shattered economy; unemployment; the return of emigration; a dead, broken, and zombie banking sector that has swallowed up billions upon billions of taxpayers money; and our Republic at the mercy of the EU/IMF.
“It’s daunting,” admits Dep Kyne, the solemnity in his voice is unmistakable, “but the expectations people have of the new Government is that they don’t expect miracles. They want the Government to provide stability and get on with rebuilding the economy.”
The programme for Government agreed between the two parties has received a guarded welcome from most commentators, but Dan O’Brien in Monday’s Irish Times noted that some parts of it “contravene the terms of the EU-IMF bailout”.
Yet many argue that unless the bailout terms are renegotiated Ireland is heading irreversibly towards sovereign default, and certain statements from leading EU politicians appear to recognise this and acknowledge that renegociation of some terms will have to take place.
“It’s quite clear that Enda Kenny has stated that the interest payments from the bailout have to be renegotiated,” says Dep Kyne. “We have been clear that we are good Europeans, maybe too good at times, but we cannot do it all on our own.
“We need help and to get out of our problems there are things that we need to protect like our corporation tax. If the EU threatens too much on that, it will hinder the economic recovery. That would not be good for Ireland and it would not be good for the EU.”
Dep Kyne also believes that Fine Gael’s links with major EU parties will also help Ireland’s cause.
Enda Kenny has stated that the interest payments from the bailout have to be renegotiated
“Enda Kenny is the vice-president of the European People’s Party and has a good relationship with Angela Merkel,” he says. “At the Ard Fheis in 2007 he read from a letter from Angela Merkel calling on the Irish people to support Fine Gael.”
The new Government enjoys a majority of 30 seats which in Irish political terms is massive. The cabinet posts were allotted yesterday, but the majority of FG and Labour TDs will have to be content with life on the backbenches. Yet Dep Kyne does not believe this means a political life of simply ‘just making up the numbers’.
“There is always seniority in politics when you are starting off and there are people who have given 20 years of their life to the party and to politics as backbenchers for much of it,” he says. “It’s the aim of all TDs to serve their constituency and at the end of five years to have made an impact. With 76 Fine Gael TDs and 36 Labour TDs there will be a huge majority so it will be difficult, everyone will strive to make their voices heard and that will be the challenge.”
One of Dep Kyne’s main objectives as a TD will be ensuring that the Galway City Outer Bypass finally goes ahead and that Connemara’s natural beauty is protected. However, many will argue that this vision is contradictory and that construction of the bypass will only serve to damage the region’s special landscape.
“Connemara cannot live on its beauty alone and the need for the bypass is crucial,” says Dep Kyne. “When people say you shouldn’t touch any Special Area of Conservation I can’t agree with that. Connemara has thousands and thousands of acres designated SACs so if small parts are set aside for the bypass, a new coast road, and for improvements to the N59, that is a sacrifice worth making. Improved infrastructure will bring economic benefits and get tourists in and make the roads safer. There has to be a common sense approach.”
It seems that Dep Kyne’s life revolves around politics, even his leisure time is taken up with it.
“I’m interested in politics and farming,” he says. “I grew up with farming and I like helping out on the farm with my uncle when I get the chance.”
He notes a general interest in music: “I like dance music and remember Vagabonds back in the day in 1998, 1999, 2000. I wouldn’t say I have a favourite band, but I like chart music, popular music, and some of the classics like U2.”
However his chief personal passion is reading, especially if it’s a good book on politics.
“I like political biographies, particularly on American politics and presidents,” says Dep Kyne. “The last one I read was on Lyndon B Johnson, who is a person I would admire.
“LBJ is often castigated for the Vietnam War but it was Kennedy who started it. LBJ had great achievements such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that was difficult for a Southern president to get through, and he also initiated the health care programme.
“It is very difficult to find a politician who has not made mistakes and often they are remembered for the bad things, but there are always positives.”