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Fine Gael’s youth wing is helping to rebuild the party in Cork South West

November 18th, 2020 10:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Present and past – the youth branch reforming online,

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After a poor general election showing earlier this year, Fine Gael know they have a lot of work to do in West Cork. Part of their strategy is a strong youth wing, and a recent online meeting was met with enthusiasm

THE Fine Gael youth branch in West Cork was reformed via Zoom on October 28th last.

Senator Tim Lombard – who was on lockdown at the time, pending his second and final test for Covid-19, after he was deemed a close contact of a confirmed case in the Seanad – described the meeting as ‘inspiring, given the calibre of the 29 participants, many of whom will, one day, be leading the party.’

‘There has never been a better time for people with a genuine interest in politics to make their voices heard, so it was readily agreed that we would re-establish the West Cork youth branch,’ Senator Lombard said.

The Cork South West constituency is traditionally a Fine Gael stronghold – the party having held two seats in the three-seater from the mid-1980s up to 2016.

There was just one blip in 2002, when the late Paddy Sheehan lost out to Fianna Fáil’s Denis O’Donovan, who is now a senator, and, again in 2016, when Beara’s Noel Harrington failed to retain his seat.

Senator Lombard, Cllr Marie O’Sullivan from Kinsale, Skibbereen’s Cllr Karen Coakley, and former TD, Jim Daly, attended the Zoom meeting and assured the 29 youth members that their contribution will be important in terms of shaping the party’s future, as well as helping to make ‘balanced decisions.’

A new committee of five people was elected to steer the CSW YFG branch. Liam Byrne from Clonakilty was elected chairman, and Audrey O’Leary from Ardfield was elected vice-chair.

Cian Minihane from Bandon is the new committee secretary. Marian McGrath from Belgooly is treasurer, and Catherine O’Donoghue from Bandon is the PRO.

The election was conducted online, but with just one candidate put forward for each position there was no contest. Nevertheless, Liam Byrne (23), who studied history at Trinity and is now doing a masters of common law at UCD, told The Southern Star: ‘It was probably everyone’s first real taste of active engagement in youth politics.’

It was, in fact, Liam who instigated the re-establishment of the branch with a view to strengthening support for Fine Gael throughout the constituency.

‘It was the day after I finished my final exam on Medieval Judaism, in May, that I contacted JJ Walsh to discuss the prospect of setting it up and he – like all of the other public representatives in West Cork – was nothing but supportive.’

Initially, Liam said there were concerns that Covid-19 restrictions would prove too great an obstacle, but there was a great deal of momentum behind it and the young members – who can range in ages from 15 to 35 – proved more than adept at using modern means of communication.

The chairman explained that there has been no Fine Gael youth network in CSW since 2015, and he agreed it was ironic that they managed to reactivate it during a Level 5 lockdown.

‘Re-establishing YFG will be a challenge given the fact that the majority of the 21 new members have never met before,’ he added. ‘We are, however, encouraged by the high attendance at the AGM on Wednesday night.’

Several events will be held between now and Christmas to help the members to get to know one another a bit better.

There are plans too to network with other like-minded people throughout Munster. YFG CSW has even started working on hosting a Christmas party via Zoom.

More young members are being encouraged to join. Liam said they are especially keen to sign up new members on each of the three peninsulas.

He said more members from the Beara, Sheep’s Head and Mizen peninsulas would create ‘a better regional balance because, at present, the vast majority are from the eastern side of the constituency.

‘A broad range would be important in terms of developing policy and supporting the party structure throughout West Cork,’ he said.

A dedicated Facebook page called Cork South West Young Fine Gael has already been established, and – within its first 24-hours – had recorded more than 3,000 engagements. The national website is yfg.ie.

This week Patrick O’Donovan TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, revealed he had hosted a Zoom call last month for Fine Gael members in the constituency. He said he had been assigned to ‘assist the Fine Gael organisation in Cork South West’.

He is familiar with the constituency and has a sister and a brother living in Bandon.

‘Having no Fine Gael TD in the constituency is a big setback for the party and the membership locally. I am willing to assist the membership of Cork South West in whatever way I can,’ he said.

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