Fine Gael election strategy forces Fitzpatrick into gender switch

Vanity Fair Dundalk edition cover

Dundalk is in a heightened state of chassis. Where mere weeks ago the town’s workers would relax around their local diesel smuggling silo to share Provo Tinder profiles and buy An Phoblacht, these days those very same workers pass each other by in silent shock. You see, no one is sure what to think, who to trust or what to believe in anymore.

When they saw it for the first time, locals stood agape, jaws hung low, eyes glazed, like Meathmen looking at girls on a street. Factories missed orders, cows went  unmilked and Northern Bank notes went unlaundered at the dog track. The cause? The politician formerly known as Peter Fitzpatrick Teachta Dála, who in an exclusive interview with the Dundalk edition of Vanity Fair magazine, announced himself herself as Caitlyn Fitzpatricia, Ireland’s first transgender TD.

But what lies behind this gender U-turn? Are these the brave steps of a woman breaking free from her manly form or is there cynical gender gerrymandering or ‘gendermandering’ at play here in the run up to next year’s general election? The Faa Side’s gender affairs correspondent Ollie Laycock investigated.

Gender Quotas

Passed into law in July 2012, gender quota legislation has long been the Vesuvius the main political parties have been camped beneath. The legislation links the state funding of political parties to the requirement that female candidates account for at least 30% of those parties’ total candidates. As things stand, Fine Gael (FG) holds two seats in Louth, an unusual state of affairs and one party appartchiks are keen to build on. But such a move would mean shoehorning a woman onto the ticket. Adrian Kavanagh, lecturer in Maynooth University’s Department of Geography and well known gender quota harbinger explains.

Fine Gael selected 104 candidates to contest the 2011 General Election: 16 females (15.4%) and 88 males (84.6%). If they were to run the exact same number of candidates at the 2016 General Election, the stipulations of the gender quota legislation means that they would need to select at least 32 female (or male) candidates at the next general election.

After receiving a Snapchat message explaining the new lay of the land from the FG election team, Fitz declared himself a non-runner. He calculated, rightly, that being the focus of a very public constituency threeway with Fergus O’Dowd and either Ardee Cllr. Dolores Minogue or Bettystown belle Cllr. Sharon Tolan would not benefit the party. The likely result being a diluted FG vote beneficial only to housewives’ favourite O’Dowd, leaving the other participants with the unfulfilled air of a washed up fluffer. But great political minds don’t follow, they lead.

Fitzpatrick to Fitzpatricia

Friends say the first shoots of womanhood had been threatening to break ground for some time but had been pruned by the FG chief whip. Perhaps it was in the army where the seeds of gender doubt had first been sown. Trained as a killer, Fitz found himself suited to playing on a Louth GAA team often more involved in the fisticuffs than business end of things – no surprise for a man who cites Gladiator as his favourite movie. After taking the Louth football team to within a sludden of a Leinster title, the following year saw Fitz run for office with Fine Gael. The former military man identified with their Blueshirt past and rode a slow wave of sympathy past the post after three days of vote tallying to become the only sentient Dundalk based TD.

Though not a prolific speaker, Fitz does bring a lighter air to Dáil proceedings with his funny mid-Louth voice and more recently, the Birdmanesque jazz drums that have spontaneously accompanied his utterances since December last year. As a result, Fitz prefers to submit written questions, usually regarding gun clubs and the lack of cheap generic drugs for the constituents of Louth.

Flip Flop Fitz

Fitz’s announcement that he would neither seek nor accept the FG nomination to run in next year’s general election was greeted with panic in her home town of Dundalk and her surrounding laundering belts. On the Taoiseach’s orders, a FG negotiating team was helicoptered to the Fitzpatrick constituency office in Dundalk. But during the talks, sightings of Louth County Board kingmakers as well as  CCC bigwigs being shuffled in through the back door made their way onto social media. The rumour mill went into overdrive. “Fitz was being leaned on over alleged financial arrangements in the aftermath of the 2010 Leinster Final,” the mud slingers alleged.

Fitz is eager not to repeat the same embarrassing gender related selection issues that Richard Bruton recently underwent.

A naïve Jobsbridge intern let it slip that the Taoiseach was pressing Fitz to go trans, unwittingly opening the Pandora’s Box of the LGBT community. The Bs, as usual, are up for anything but the Ts are suspicious that the whole affair is a cynical charade that merely highlights the crass opportunism of Irish electoral politics while the Ls feel they are being sidelined by an issue that was meant to bring about more gender balance across the political spectrum. The Gs though, are already hailing Caitlyn as the biggest gay icon since Johnny Logan. Cllr. Minogue took to LMFM to say that Fitz was ‘shafting’ mid-Louth though if anything, his voice in itself brings jobs to the region with Pixar promising to establish an accent and animation centre in the area if Fitz will commit to doing voiceovers for their characters.

Ask not what your county can do for you, but what you can do for your county

Cartoon voices are one thing.  What these dissenting voices did not realise is that politics is the art of compromise. Before long, Kenny and Fitz had come to an arrangement. The time was right, Fitz pitched, for Ireland and Louth to have her first transgender TD.

“Why run a third female candidate just to meet the gender quota when you have me so you do. With just me and Fergus on the ticket, well, that’s 50% man, 50% lady. I’m giving you an extra 20% off the gender quota for free even. So the question is Taoiseach, what can you do for me and my constituents?”

An emotional Fitz extended his hand, palm down…

“Call me Caitlyn, Taoiseach. It’s who I am so it is.”

Initially skeptical, the Taoiseach perhaps thought he recognised a fellow political chameleon and opened up to Fitz. He admitted that his appointing a non-gaeilgeoir as Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs had been a gross error of judgement…an error he would not be repeating when appointing the very first Minister for the Department Gender Research and Rural Accents.

Beyoncé or Dame Edna?

Doubts still remain about Fitz’s gender commitment; she has already flip-flopped once, what’s to say she could flip-flop-flip? Aides say that the transformation is genuine and that Fitz has toiled tirelessly behind the scenes in womanly fashion. But there is a nagging feeling that the cold gaze of political opportunism is at work here, especially after footage emerged of him forgetting to un-mic after a recent UTV Ireland interview…

“It’s best to do these things now as the hormone treatment takes a while to kick in. And I don’t want to be on the campaign trail in that messy twilight phase between the sexes.” – Caitlyn Fitzpatricia TD speaking on UTV Ireland.

All eyes will be on Thursday’s Fine Gael election selection convention. Will it be O’Dowd and Fitzpatricia on the ticket or will FG’s female born cohort rebel? Or could revelations about the aftermath of the 2010 Leinster Final emerge to scupper Fitz’s election plans? Friday could see us wake up to a different Louth.

*The Faa Side will refer to Caitlyn Fitzpatricia as Fitz throughout this article to avoid confusion.