" I'VE ONLY BEEN here for the last fortnight," said Gerry Collins disarmingly. Never has a honeymoon been less needed. The new Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Commerce and the Gaeltacht lost his political virginity years ago. Gerry Collins has' always, so to speak, been on the job.
He is still a part ofU.C.D. mythology, the man who invented the Machine. He is modest about this. The credit for any machine in U.C.D., he feels, properly belongs to Bullet Kearns. "I got involved in the S.R.C. by accident. . . I was co-opted on by the council." But even then he was plagued by political conspiracy. "When I was seeking re- .election to the Presidency, a majority of my opponents, led by the outgoing President, Michael Kehoe, decided to make it a tough year. But they failed." However, time heals all wounds, " we all turned out the best of friends afterwards," said Mr. Colley's young man. "As a matter of fact we still are."
Others still in exterior darkness, believe that his lengthy college career was an epic serial production of The Prince, with committees ranging from the S.R.C. to the Geography Society standing in for Renaissance princes. It is said of him that he even rigged the Stamp Collecting Society, for the sheer pleasure of observing how experienced techniques of manipulation could bring even this chaste group to political organism. He himself more mundanely remembers the founding of the powerful Fianna Fail cumann, the Kevin Barry Cumann in U.C.D., which had its small, but certainly not unassuming beginnings in the Singing Kettle. "I'm a great believer in organisation. . democratic organisation, of course."
His deserved reputation as a political organiser followed him into national politics. It also gave him the reputation of being a Blaney man. "No, I'm a Collins man . . . wait, I don't want it to seem as if I'm making a bid for leadership, let's say I'm a Fianna Fail man, a party man."
Nevertheless, Blaney was very much there in 1967, when Gerry Collins deployed his extra-curricular U.C.D. experience across the battlefield of the West Limerick constituency. To this day Fine Gael party workers mutter sullenly about the blitzkrieg of propaganda, sentiment and ruthless in-fighting that brought him his father's seat. Highlight of the campaign was the burning of an effigy of his dead father by a mysterious group of men, who for purposes of the by-election were members of" another political party." With tears in his eyes Gerry re-burned the effigy up and down the constituency
until the ashes choked Fine Gael. Even now he holds his father's memory dear. Did he object to anecdote about his father's description of a certain continental prayer-house. 'Jasus, that's a fine whure of a cathedral.' ? "
" My father was no saint, but I mean this honestly, he was a very religious man. "
Today Gerry holds his father's seat as closely as his memory. There was no trouble in the general election and nobody was surprised when Jack Lynch gave talent its due. The day that I interviewed him, on his first big Dail outing he had discomfited Garret Fitzgerald, by suddenly switching to Irish and launching a first-class debate, which in passing, revealed the discrepancy between Labour's mastery of Irish and its second-class policy on its revival.
How did he feel about the possibility of being responsible for the only area where Fianna Fail got any bit of an electoral fright."Mac Ionomaire's
1,600 votes isn't in any way worrying." Anyway he didn't think he'd have much to do with the Gaeltacht as he felt Colley was particularly interested in this area himself. Asked about the policy of giving public money to private hoteliers in Kerry, Galway and Donegal, he thought it was an excellent idea and thought the government would continue this policy.
He grew much more animated about industrial problems nearer his own political base and denied that the industry he had brought to Newcastle West, a branch of Golden Vale and an international company called Skanglo, wouldn't recognise trade unions, " I'm a strong union man myself, I was thrown out of a job in England for trying to organise one."
He feels Colley's policy of attracting foreign capital is a good one and he was dutifully loyal about its worth" Potez has been blown up out of all proportions," he said.
Has polished manipulation alone brought Gerry Collins a high office at the age of 30, and the loyalty of so many constituents? Is there any more to him than the party man? Of course there is. There are his large brown limpid eyes, and his slightly flaccid face. There is the shy way he tells you things, confidentially and' off the record.' About how car sick he has been, since due to his appointment, he is now driven everywhere. With delightful sheepiness he shows you the bottle of Milk of Magnesia he carries around. About how embarrassing he and his new bride of February find it, always driving in the presence of a garda. Did I sympathise with him? Of course I did. After all, the most successful political manipulators always seem as if it all just happened to them.
"THE LEMASSES ARE no Kennedys. We only get together at Christmas." The speaker was Noel Lemass. We were sitting in his spacious Georgian office in 51 Stephen's Green, second next door to the houses due for demolition at Hume St. corner. He looked spruce, trimly moustachioed, a slighter version of his father, Sean Lemass, in fact " I feel a new man," he said. We were discussing his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance in charge of the Board of Works. "This job is a new lease of life to me." And he looked it. It is now over thirteen years since he was first elected to the Dail and this is the first office that he has held. He didn't agree
that his father had overshadowed him to any enormous extent, but he admitted, "while my father was in high office, I couldn't accept any appointment."
However, when his office came it was a good one. The appointment to the Board of Works is an important one. It has been training ground for such political successes as Johnny Donnellan and Donough O'Malley. At the age of forty Noel Lemass might be considered a little old for training. But this in no way deters him from making a determined' clean start.' He disclaimed any truth in the rumour that himself and Mr. Haughey did not get on well together. "I can't think of anybody better than my brother-in-law," he said, and he went on talkatively and enthusiastically about Haughey's foresight in buying the legendary house. "We all thought he was mad when he bought that house, a big falling down, dilapidated old place. He did it up by degrees. He had no idea then, that the green belt" was going to extend so far out."
The telephone rang on his desk. "Do you remember the case you mentioned to me recently," he said to the caller, " Is he a married man? Yes, a pity. There's a job going for an unmarried man." Obviously Noel Lemass is still looking after his constiruents. One of the joys of his appointment is, " It gets rid of split loyalties." He has given up his job as sales representative for Star Plastics Co. Ltd., to devote all his time to party work.
And the Board of Works should be a full time job. The Administration yearbook and diary lists the offices under Public Works.They include such
politically strategic offices as Drainage, Property and Rentals, Marine Works, Divisions and Parks, New Schools, Engineering and Architecture and involves the dispensation of many vote valuable jobs. "I'm going to do something special about monuments and parks. I think the State should take them over and preserve them. I've been promised new laws by the Commissioners, but of course, that will take some time." He visited the Newgrange excavations recently and was very excited by them. "Weare one of the most ancient civilised peoples in the world," he enthused.
He definitely approves of Haughey's tax concessions for creative people. " I'm for every kind of cultural development." Then anticipating the next question, he.1aughed wryly, "I know I'm going to be in terrible trouble with Hume St. But you know that house on the corner is going to fall down and kill somebody any day. One of them has a bulge in it. They're finished and will have to go !" Involuntarily we glanced around his own solid) rather plush Georgian office.".
"As John Healy says,he declared stoutly, "I'm a philistine on town planning."
This brought us immediately to the question of the Grand Canal, a subject on which Noel Lemass has never hidden his opinions."There is nothing
cultural about the Grand Canal. The only part that is aesthetically beautiful is from Leeson St. to Mount St. As for the rest, it's just a hazard to my constiruents from Crumlin. Of course it will be my job to carry out the government's plan, that is, if there is a drain, to see that it is navigable."
His own view, as with his view on Hume St., would bring despair to the heart of any preservationist. "It should be possible to bring all these boats up the Liffey. The Liffey should be linked with the canal at Lucan, that's the 12th lock, I think. A new link should be made with the Midlands and the canal should be filled in for a highway. The clue to the traffic problems is to link the Grand Canal to the Royal Canal at the Ring road, with a high level plan."
His opinions are certainly controversial, probably philistine, but he delivers them straightforwardly. In fact he speaks responsibly most of the time. On topics such as Taca, indirect taxation, programmes for economic expansion, coalition governments, the reason for the appointment of two parliamentary secretaries from Galway, Fianna Fail and the republican tradition, he could be a government spokesman. Even his choice of recreation is respectable. He likes the theatre, Ray McAnally and Donal Donnelly. In Fianna Fail circles his preferences might be considered a little risque, for example he liked the MUlldy Scheme.
So where is the man with the reputation for living in the shadow of his political relatives and for drinking too much. He denies any real knowledge of the latter reputation, but admits it might have found its origin in the fact that, " I used to drink a pint of stout in different pubs in my constituency, with a. prominent person, at least once a month. It was really only to show my constiruents that I was available."
In any case, reputation finds life in rumour and rumours there were plenty. But they will have a difficult job surviving in the face of the cleanest lea that was ever rurned. It is quite probable that the new man emerged even before the election. After all, not many sitting T.D.s would leave a safe constiruency to fight for a shaky seat in Dublin South West.
I got up to leave. He rose eagerly to see me down to the door of the Office of Public Works. Then he remembered, " I think it might be better if my private secretary saw you down." Noel Lemass is no longer a salesman for Star Plastics Co. Ltd.