Housing estate turns into No man's land


The Libertas leader won plenty of support despite canvassing on Saturday evening, writes KATHY SHERIDAN

A CANVASS at 7pm on a Saturday? Everything about it spelt shambolic. Lisbon (again) with its articles, weightings, competences and subsidiarity versus that Saturday evening feeling, that first calming glass of wine, deliberate avoidance of news, settling in for the X Factor? Declan Ganley’s crew was going to get short shrift.

The Ráithín estate in Mullingar is home to what union leaders and politicians call “ordinary working people”, the men and women most vulnerable to job losses and benefit cuts, the ones presumed to be the most fearful and amenable to “it’s the economy, stupid”.

So in theory, a No crew at the door plus general irritation equals a quick rout and home in time for the X Factor ourselves with a bit of luck. Except Ganley arrives in his 06 G Mercedes, crackling with energy, humour and mischief, radiating unreasonable doses of verbiage and aftershave and no deadline. It’s a big estate and in quick order, is parcelled out between the half dozen local canvassers, who include Mick McCauley, a taxi driver.

So why be a No man, Mick? “The Government is sinking us deeper and deeper into recession. They’ve squandered all the EU money that’s come into this country. . .”

Like it or not, for whatever reason, Mick is a No and he is putting his back into it. His clients he says, are also Nos with “a couple who are undecided”. His brother Noel, another taxi driver, says: “If Fianna Fáil want me to vote Yes, I’ll vote No – and you can quote me on that.”

Okay, put the brothers down to general taxi driver antipathy.

But how to explain all the others? An “undecided”, a courteous nurse, weary after working five nights in a row in a Dublin hospital now being canvassed while “making the dinner”, apologises for looking sleepy. But she listens with increasing interest as Ganley delivers the usual spiel: Ireland’s voting weight halved versus Germany’s being doubled; an “unelected” president and foreign minister of Europe; the “diminished” power to nominate our own commissioner.

“There is no upside. We are giving away a lot of our freedom and sovereignty. We give up a lot and get nothing in return,” he says calmly.

The nurse is now on full alert. “I must sit down and study it,” she says. “And they have their hands in your pocket now with the levies”, murmurs Ganley sympathetically. “I’ll study this,” she repeats earnestly with a nod at the leaflet.

Nearby, a relaxed young man announces that he too is an undecided, but is wavering towards a No. Next door, a young woman takes one look and says: “I’ll be a No.” Why? “I don’t see why we’re voting again.”

The next two are undecideds, veering towards a No. A young woman says: “I’m still wavering. I’m reading everything that’s coming in the door.” Ganley hands her a leaflet: “We quote [treaty] articles; they [the Yes side] say it will be good for kittens. Don’t be taken in. If you hand over those powers, you’re never going to get them back again.”

It’s working. She reaches for a second leaflet for her friend in the house. Do you mind saying how you voted last time? “I voted Yes the last time, but I don’t think I knew enough about it. So now I’m not sure. I’m thinking about it.”

The next is an abrupt “I’m votin’ No,” who won’t even trouble herself with a leaflet.

A content-looking middle-aged man at the next house nods knowledgably at certain points as Ganley ticks off his list. Particular nodding points coincide with the “unelected” president and the French and Dutch votes. He is more than leaning towards a No.

A young part-time hotel worker/farmer is thrilled to find Ganley on his doorstep: “You done well the other night,” he says about the Prime Time debate with Michael O’Leary. So why is he a No? “Dad said he’s voting No because of you,” he says happily.

After an hour of canvassing, during which there is just one gruff dismissal, questions arise. Have we been set up? Or have people perfected a way of getting rid of canvassers: just agree with them and they’ll go away? Or is there something else stirring?

The first is a non-runner: the inhabitants don’t recognise Ganley for the most part, still less his local escorts. The second is always a possibility but since many of the responders admit to being undecided, that merely invites engagement. As for the third, Ganley simply insists that the No vote has “hardened”.

“Galway is the same,” he says. He talks about the enormous amount of money being ploughed into the Yes side.

“And who’s funding it?” he asks, without blinking.

You of all people have the cheek to ask that, says a slackjawed Irish Times.

“I like saying that,” he says with a great guffaw. “It’s nice to dish it back.”

Does he feel hated? “Yes . . . ”

How? Long pause.

“I sense it – in their tone, in their approach, in their fear.”

How does it manifest itself?

Quite unexpectedly, his head rears, his jaw clenches and for a moment, he seems to fight for control. There is certainly a tear in his eye.

“It’s there,” he says finally, through the clenched jaw. But he feels unable to talk about it.

“I love my country and we are doing it such a disservice. Talk about a lack of hope. This is a fight for the soul of Ireland.”

Meanwhile, his little troop is winding up the canvass and they have a quick exchange. “One Yes in the whole estate,” he pronounces. “One Yes.”