Really-Rae?: The Healy Raes know nothing of working class struggle

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

With recent discourse surronding the Healy-Rae family, Michael Tuohy shows us who they really are.

Recently in the Dáil, Duncan Smith TD levelled a chain of shots towards the Healy Rae Brothers, TDs from Kerry. The row took place during a Dáil motion on The Labour Party’s “National Aggressive Suppression Strategy” for Covid-19, which called for the “maximum suppression” of the virus. The Healy Raes had set about attacking this motion. Smith later criticised the contributions of the Kerry-based brothers, accusing the pair of pretending to understand sections of society they were not from. “They said that we [The Labour Party] didn’t understand working people and said we didn’t understand a carpenter coming to the house having to fix a job,” he said. “Well, I’m the son of a carpenter. I’m not the son of Fianna Fáil privilege and millions and millions of Euro.” “…they drive their Mercedes into their big plant hire shops walking past all of their machinery worth hundreds of thousands, to count all their money?” Smith said. “I don’t have to put on a political costume and a caricature to pretend I’m working class like some”. The Labour Party do have their issues, and absolutely can be criticised by the working classes for not supporting them, but not by the millionaire Healy-Rae brothers. 

The more Dublin snickers, it seems, the better for the Healy-Raes, who alchemise metropolitan disdain into votes at home

Ireland has a tradition of mocking people from Kerry as clueless hillbillies, a baseless caricature repeated in a thousand jokes. The Healy-Rae family has fuelled the ridicule – intentionally or not – by creating a political dynasty in the county with PR stunts, outlandish proposals and controversial statements. They lead tractor convoys and torch-lit processions, dance jigs on car bonnets, and argue for the right of rural people to drink and drive. Many Dubliners scoff at the mention of the family. But the Healy-Raes, who hold three county council seats and two seats in parliament, tend to have the last laugh. They are savvy populists who have not lost an election since entering politics four decades ago – a remarkable record given the fact they run as independents. The more Dublin snickers, it seems, the better for the Healy-Raes, who alchemise metropolitan disdain into votes at home. 

It all began with Jackie, the Healy Rae father. He was a farmer and County Councillor who quit the Fianna Fáil party, won a Dáil seat in 1997, and distilled the Kerry-man archetype – flat cap, melodic accent, folksy phraseology – into a potent formula. He opened the plant hire business and owned the pub that his sons now run. In 2007, Jackie signed a Confidence and Supply agreement with Fianna Fáil, the details of which were never made public but ended up with Jackie voting for controversial cutbacks and austerity measures which only made the financial situations of those he represented worse, while his plant hire business made even more in profit than it previously had. Michael and Danny now emulate their late father’s approach to helping constituents 24/7 with matters big and small – medical cards, heating allowances, cataracts, planning permissions, phone bills, internet connection. A permanent campaign. 

The family has elevated patronage and personal connection – venerable traditions in Irish politics – to high art. “The first commandment in Healy-Rae land is: thou shalt not turn off thy mobile phone” Donal Hickey, wrote in a biography of the family. Michael and Danny have a kinetic schedule of constituency clinics, canvasses, speeches, media interviews, ribbon-cuttings, lobbying, and funerals - lots of funerals. Irish politicians often show up at wakes, removals and burials but the Healy-Raes attend so many they are said to have the gift of bilocation. The Irish Times reported in 2016 that the Healy-Raes bring their own pens – green and red – so their names stand out when they sign condolence books.

The Healy Raes aren’t all “kissing babies and making appearances” though. They’ve both had their fair share of absolutely idiotic moments and hold downright immoral views. Danny has publicly denied global warming, is pro-life, and against same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, calling it unnatural for a gay couple to adopt a child. He’s also highly in favour of drink-driving, which I am sure is purely coincidental with him being a publican. Danny isn’t really the brains behind the operation though, and largely can be ignored, which is sadly very dangerous as we shouldn’t just have to ignore someone who votes daily on the laws that affect our nation. 

The brains behind everything is Michael. Michael inherited the farm, the plant hire business and the pub. Michael also owns 21 other properties which are available for letting or rental. He owns a shop in his local area, and owns another pub which he’s trying to turn into a co-living apartment, the planning permission for which has been knocked back on several occasions due to the 6 rooms he wishes to build “lacking in personal space and natural lighting, and not living up to amenity standards.” The plant hire business is contracted to work for the HSE and also provides fuel for the Kerry County Council. He also owns a 25% stake in “The Skellig Hotel Experience”, which owns a hotel that is being let out for use as a Direct Provision Centre. He is yet to admit he owns this stake, despite it being the law that all shareholding investments over €13,000 be declared to the Oireachtas Register of Interests. Nothing there that would affect his and his brother’s voting records. No companies that they use to leverage their positions in their local area. And that’s not the end of it. Michael has been involved in his own controversies, like in 2007 when he took part in a reality TV Show on RTÉ and a phone in Leinster House made 3,636 votes for him over 31 hours at a cost of over €2,600 to the taxpayer. His two sons were convicted of assaulting a British tourist on multiple occasions on the same day in 2019 and got away with suspended sentences, with Jackie Jr. refusing to step down from his seat as a Councillor after the conviction. 

Before the assault, Kevin Healy-Rae stated “This is My Town”, and that sums up the Healy-Raes in general - delusions of grandeur, brought up in a world away from the area they live in. They are millionaires that use their millions to leverage their position in Kerry in order to further their positions as politicians and drive cashflow into their family through government contracts. They’re homophobic, anti-choice, and only work to preserve their own positions. They know nothing of the struggle of the working-class. They put on false accents, wear their farmers' caps inside the Dáil so that the “common man” can see their typically “common outfits” and then are driven home in their large expensive estate cars. 

It will be a great day for Kerry when they finally lose their hold in the region. Their constant rhetoric of “Us vs Them” against those that live in the large cities and towns of Ireland serve only to further their own careers and do nothing for the people of Kerry. Farmers in rural Kerry have more in common with most people living around North Central Dublin than they do with the Healy Raes. Until their dynasty is run out of the county and these people are guided through the constant false messaging and can find the common ground, they hold with the lower classes living day to day in the cities of this nation by some intelligent party which does not yet exist, the working classes of Ireland will struggle to find any strong foothold to drag ourselves up with.