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Idler, illiterate and door-to-door salesman Hugh Twomey was elected to Waterford City Council in the 1985 local elections proposing firstly to keep the old gas metres for the people who want them, reducing Garda numbers along the border (‘The place of the Gardaí is on the streets of Ireland, if Maggie Thatcher wants a border there, she can police it herself’) and finally, the development of waste ground on John’s Hill into a park for children and old people.

Hugh was kept going by people who would give him a pound’s recognition, the generosity of homes in which he was always welcome for a bit of lunch and the few quid he got each week from Fianna Fáil TD Paudy Buckley, for doing circuits of the city for three hours each week-day, bearing on his shoulders a sandwich board, one side advertising Buckley’s betting shop, the other, his pub. The sandwich board had nothing to say on Buckley’s Memorials, which sold gravestones, graveside accessories and was managed by one of Buckley’s three sons. Buckley’s taking on of Hugh as an employee was of a part with his philanthropy; he had fostered a young woman from the county home in Dungarvan run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and put her to work as a maid in his seven-bedroom house.

Buckley was invited to give a speech on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the opening of Waterford’s Institute of Technology on the lower floor of the library; bookshelves and desks were cleared to make space for ten tables and a four-course gala dinner. The content of Buckley’s speech should have been straightforward, everyone for coming thanks, this happy occasion, young people are the future, but Buckley instead held forth on the Irish legal profession, the stranglehold which they held over Irish political life, with their non-transparent practices, judges doling out favours, payments to cronies, rate-fixing, squatting on vacant land, making things harder for squeezed working-class businessmen such as himself, the many times on which he had spoken on this issue in Leinster House, the enthusiasm for judicial reform and tackling vested interests that Charlie Haughey shared with him.

Buckley secured a nomination for his eldest son, Paudy Buckley Junior, as the second Fianna Fáil candidate running in the 1985 local elections. Buckley spoke to The Waterford People, a staunch outlet with unrivalled weekly distribution, of the historic resonance of this election, given Buckley himself had made this seat his own at the beginning of his political career. This story was edged from the headlines onto page four, in favour of a photograph of Twomey, bearing his familiar scutcheon emblazoned, not with Buckley’s business portfolio, but his own name, likeness and slogan, ‘The People’s Choice!’ In the paperwork Twomey submitted to city hall he identified himself as an ‘advertising agent’, a position Buckley’s nullified on hearing that Twomey was to appear on the ballot.

Homes in Lismore, Ballybeg and Mount Pleasant had leaflets through their doors on which Twomey lifted aloft a pint of Guinness and a thumbs-up before Buckley seemed to have even engaged the lock cylinder of his electoral machine. Buckley’s bookies carried odds on the local elections, putting Donal O’Rourke (FF) on 9/1, Michael Raleigh (FG), a local barrister, on 8/1 and Buckley Jnr. 1/2 to secure the third seat ahead of the Labour candidate Billy Dunphy. Twomey’s odds were listed on the first day as 100/1; before these odds were trimmed and the ticket closed to all future bets, five separate men had put £1000 on Twomey. From that point on Patrick Buckley’s nickname—‘the idiot son’—would enter into more general circulation.

On the second week of the campaign Twomey again made the front page of The Waterford People, with news of the statement Guinness had issued emphasising that they had nothing to do with Twomey’s campaign and did not endorse him. A senior Fianna Fáil man from the area was anonymously quoted in the article as saying though he would love some of Twomey’s backers as PR men, he does not think he has a chance of being elected.

——I’ll give it to him this. He has a well-run campaign. Very beautifully produced.

Voters of Waterford you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write yourself into the chapters of history.

While all the parties blame each other for getting us into the mess we are in you can finally have something to boast about after eight hundred years.

Give Waterford back to its people, vote number one, Bernard Twomey, you will never vote better.

Anyone who doesn’t vote for me must be off their game and you know I’m right.

Voters tuning in to Waterford Local Radio, a pirate radio signal which presented more community-focused news stories and advertising found the regular rotation of Donna Summer or Celine Dion interrupted by a four-piece céilí band playing a song called ‘Twomey’s the Man’:

The boys are plotting in the something
To make the politicians squeal
They’ve found the man to fit the bill
Who can it be but Twomey

In response to the question posed on the eve of the poll—when Twomey appeared on the back of an articulated lorry at The Mall with marching bands, cheerleaders and hundreds of supporters—as to whether or not prominent members of the legal profession in Waterford were behind his campaign, Twomey said he had nothing to say.

——To what do you attribute all your success here this evening?

——The people of Waterford want me on the council because they like me and because they know me! It’s as simple as that.

O’Rourke was elected at the first count with 1508 first preferences. Over the next number of counts, the Communist Party candidate, four Independents, second, third and fourth Gaelers were eliminated, until Raleigh and Dunphy came in on the eleventh count, Twomey on the twelfth and Buckley Junior just 118 preferences behind him.

The occasion of Twomey’s accession to the seat, a rank outsider facing down a political dynasty and winning, was described in the national press as one of the biggest electoral upsets in the history of the state.

——Do you have any ambitions now that you have taken office?

——The closure of Ford’s and the tyre factory amid the recession here in Waterford has made me sick and I intend to go to Brussels and to the United States to see if I can work out any sort of deal with anyone willing to come here and to create jobs.

——How do you feel about some of the local politicians who you’ve beaten here today?

——I’m not going to criticise anybody.

When Twomey was asked if he had any further comments to make, one of his supporters moved vociferously to obstruct the press, for which Twomey rebuked him. Twomey’s supporters then chanted here we go here we go here we go and lifted him on their shoulders out onto the street, to a victory rally at The Mall with hundreds of people, where he posed for photographs and sang The Wolfe Tones’ ‘We’re On The One Road’ before being whisked away in a black Mercedes to a party in the city centre.

Paul McCarthy, Twomey’s election agent said he was only disappointed that Twomey had not topped the poll. Pressed on who the vested interests behind Twomey’s campaign were Mr. McCarthy said he had acted as Twomey’s election agent, had made no secret of that or of his support for him.

When asked for comment at the setback to his son’s political career as well as the heavy losses his betting shop suffered, all Buckley wished to say was that there were a large number of bets placed by members of the legal profession. In response to questions, Dr. Raymond St. O’Neill said the Waterford Law Society was not in any way involved in Twomey’s election, despite the insinuations and accusations which have been appearing on radio and television.

At an impromptu speech at the opening of a new building at Waterford GAA club, Buckley accused Dr. O’Neill and the legal profession of the most outrageous blackguardism and said that if there are people in Waterford who have engaged in skulduggery or subterfuge than he is for the first time, ashamed to be a Waterford man.

——Twomey is a nice and gentle man who I have had many dealings with over the years, both socially and from the point of view of my business terms but with the greatest of respect to him he has no contribution to make to public life and as he has been known to say himself doesn’t know the first thing about politics or about policy. I have not yet proved this definitively, but I am saying now that I am damn well out to find out if there are solicitors involved in this and that there will be hell to pay if there is and that they are blackguards. I have no respect for the electorate after this, they have a lot of responsibility for this, they are full of entitlement and demands and they have taken all the goodies that are being doled out by the corporation, housing estates, parks and by this government and they have no respect for the people who have worked hard for this city who pay their taxes and get nothing back in return for it. I do not wish to talk Mr. Twomey down, I often meet him, but he has no experience of governance. He is as entitled as anyone else to stand for election but he is being pushed into governing by people who could not give a damn. The people responsible did not have the guts to stand for election themselves and to tell us what it is that they really wanted, they are playing Hitlerite games with politics and with Waterford’s business community, the record of myself and of my family is superb, we enjoy a record that you would not find anywhere else in the world, I would not be surprised if my son did not leave politics and public life for good now. Twomey the sandwich man has been used coldly and callously for the ends of others and I can name names in the Dáil at any times that I choose and I plan to do so.

After taking office Twomey travelled to New York and along the east coast of the United States to collect money, at first for those in Waterford who have been left unemployed after the closing of the Ford car factory and as he began to find that Republican rhetoric went down better with American audiences, ‘the struggle for Irish freedom’. On his return to Waterford, many spoke with admiration of Twomey’s new set of teeth.

Twomey’s leaflets produced for the 1987 general election contained:

1. quotes from many of the incumbent candidates’ speeches in which they said that the people of Waterford were a disgrace, that people should be ashamed of themselves, that if Twomey stood for a fifty-five seater constituency in a civilised country, he would not get a seat.

2. That his favourite people were Mother Theresa, Jack Lynch, Pope John Paul, Che Guevara, John Stalker, Bob Geldof, Frankie Walsh.

3. That when he was 15 years old his father died, that his family was evicted from their home, that his mother had a nervous breakdown, died in an institution, that he was separated from his siblings who were taken into care, that he himself had been left unloved in the streets, has only been re-united with them with his entry into local government after almost four decades in which he has known only loneliness, that he has slept in doorways, ditches, parks, poorhouses, that he has lived hand-in-hand with the most abject in Irish society but has never given up, has never done harm to anyone, that there were many hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people like him in the history of this nation, illiterate, forced to emigrate, the hungry masses yearning to breathe free, that he was witness to how the American dream could work.

4. That he would put new bathrooms into all corporation houses and flats.

5. That the president should use the executive power granted to him in the constitution to dissolve the Dáil, to liquidate this election and to create a national government.

6. That the bloodsucking of Irish society had to end

7. That Irish abattoirs, slaughterhouses and meat factories should be opened to end the export of live cattle

8. that the Seanad should be abolished

9. that the office of the president should be abolished

10. that TDs and civil servants should pay PAYE like the rest of us

11. that Ryanair should be moved to Waterford

12. that All-Ireland finals would no longer be played in Croke Park

13. that Section 31 should be repealed to end the IRA once and for all through rational argument on the national airwaves

14. that he would donate his Dáil salary to Cork charities to be decided upon by the church hierarchy

15. that the number of TD’s in every constituency should be reduced by one.

A few hundred attended Twomey’s polling night rally. He polled 684 votes, 0.8% of the ballot.

In 1991, Twomey talked to the Worker’s Party about standing for them in Waterford.

The phone rang in Buckley’s constituency office. Mags was off sick and Buckley walked from behind his desk to pick up the receiver. Buckley could not say hello, his throat felt stuck, gripped. The momentum of his vocal cords too stalled as he tried to clear the blockage, Buckley was able only to investigate the extent of his paralysis while listening to the sound of someone taking a bite of something, chewing.

——There is a wall. When you come off the M7. On your left. It’s gray. That wall is you. You’re the whitewash on it. You’re nothing.

Buckley’s feet lifted from the floor, the receiver and the outlet on the wall drifted with him towards the starch panels of the drop ceiling.

——If asked your wife would agree that having sex with you is not unlike the style of football that Jack Charlton will bring to the Irish football squad. Running. Running. Running.

The voice on the phone grew fingers and pawed into parts of Buckley’s mind and memory; a father with a bullwhip, its handle lacquered and brown revenging itself on something white and hanging, maybe by a limb, from the oak in the back garden.

——Every night for the rest of your life you will dream of everyone you have ever know in every place you have ever been.

The fingers reached further, into the circuits of the brain-stem and its outlays, its ground-work to excavate circles within circles, human lives measured in railway lines.

——1999. Terry Keane on the Late Late Show.

In an article entitled ‘A rock and a hard place: Prospects for the two-and-a-half party system in the Republic of Ireland’ published in the quarterly journal European Elections and Representation, lecturer and psephologist in NUI Galway’s department of political science Liam Butterly wrote:

Since the 2011 general election, Fianna Fáil’s days as the natural party of government in the Republic seem to have come to an end. However, there a clear path ahead for Fine Gael, heir presumptive to political hegemony, with their more Atlanticist outlook and more competent avatars of political stability untrained by associations with corruption and the economic populism of the past, drawn as they tend to be from the propertied and privately educated ranks of society. We should not however regard this moment as any sort of definitive break or rupture; along the road to this juncture it is possible to identify many instances in which the electorate—often under acute economic stress—have sought to administer the political class with a kick. As the poet Patrick Kavanagh once said, of such local disputes was Homer’s Iliad written.

Twomey died in 2005. The local tradition of leaving a bottle of porter at his grave in Kilbarry Cemetery is still observed today.