Endangered species Mary Fitzpatrick meets voters with long memories

How Fianna Fáil navigates ‘the grey area of the overlap’

Mary Fitzpatrick: Fianna Fáil candidate canvassing in Stillorgan, yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Mary Fitzpatrick: Fianna Fáil candidate canvassing in Stillorgan, yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Mary Fitzpatrick is a rare breed politician. Consigned to the Endangered Species Enclosure in City Hall thanks to the disastrous council elections in 2009.

Quite the comedown for Fianna Fáil in Dublin, a party which once roamed in boisterous number around the lucrative plains of local government.

There are six FF councillors out of 52 in the capital now. But at least they survived the cull. Endangered, but not protected. Those that are left, and those coming through, will be hoping that past party notoriety will not be an indicator of future results.

This time out, Fitzpatrick is hoping to move to fresh pastures. She has her eyes on the European Parliament. Victory would be a triumph for Fitzpatrick and a minor miracle for her party leader, Micheál Martin, whose political future depends greatly on Saturday’s results.

While Fianna Fáil hasn’t had success in the Dublin constituency for a decade, it is praying Mary might just nip in at the last moment and take the third seat.

It’s a tall order. Going by the opinion polls, Fitzpatrick will be fighting it out with Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and Labour’s Emer Costello. She is adopting the same “out with the old and in with the new” approach of most of the FF candidates.

It’s all about the future, she says, as the past stubbornly refuses to shift.

The late Liam Lawlor, under pressure in the tribunal witness box, once tried to dismiss embarrassing evidence by explaining it fell into “the grey area of the overlap”.

As Fianna Fáil tries to move on, their grey area of the overlap keeps tripping them up. Mary Fitzpatrick has a foot in it. She has been a councillor for 11 years and her father was a TD and senator for the party in Dublin North Central.

Ironically, her connection to that constituency is one of her selling points. When she ran for the Dáil in 2007, she got twice as many first-preferences as Bertie Ahern’s sidekick Cyprian Brady.

But in a sneaky eve-of-election move, Ahern’s Drumcondra mafia instructed his supporters to transfer to Brady. As a result, Bertie’s human surplus powered past Mary to snaffle the prize. People still remember how she was hard done by.

Out canvassing yesterday, she is surprised that people still remember. Almost on cue, an elderly man rounds the corner at Baggot Street bridge and makes a beeline for her. “I’ve been watching politics since before you were born,” he declares, clutching her arm. “And what Bertie Ahern did to you wasn’t right. He was disgusting. He was dis-gus-ting.”

A more damaging issue for Fitzpatrick lies in that grey area of the overlap – Fianna Fáil faces from the past surfacing just as polling day looms.

As she pushes her message of renewal, how does it feel when she sees Brian Cowen, for example, photographed on the front pages while canvassing in Offaly? Fitzpatrick sidesteps the question.

No such reticence from a fifty-something man in Stillorgan Shopping Centre, who goes out of his way to tell her she has “16 solid votes in my family”. A dyed-in-the-wool Fianna Fáiler? ”Oh, yes. Dyed in the wool. Through and through. All my life,” he says with passion.

But that doesn’t mean he’s happy with the party. “I’ll tell you this for nothing. If we could shoot the old f****rs of my own generation it would make one hell of a difference. Give it up. Leave it to the younger people now.” His name is Eugene. He’ll go no further than that. “I’m going to quote the bard to you now. Charlie Haughey. ” That’s a new one.

“No. Charlie Haughey and the rest of them with their: ‘I have done the State some service’ line, me arse. Well, weren’t they well-paid for it? And don’t they have their fat pensions now? Get off the pitch!” Micheál Martin’s ears must have been burning. Still, 16 votes is 16 votes.

Back down at Baggot Street bridge, Mary has two people on her team.

Ciaran Bolger, a seasoned campaigner who has taken leave from his job in Brussels to help out, and Aoibheann McMahon, chair of Ógra Fianna Fáil in Dublin Bay North.

Micheál was out with them earlier, but has gone off to Dublin West. Given the party’s hopes for her, one might have expected to see a few heavyweights lending a hand. Then again, she’s probably better-off without too many figures from the grey area of the overlap to spook potential voters.

Mary explains to a woman that she is the only candidate “with actually a business background”. They have a long chat. Mary tentatively wonders if there might be a vote for Fianna Fáil. The woman smiles apologetically “Well . . . you do have to think. You made an awful lot of mistakes . . .”

A few feet away, young Aoibheann is getting it in the ear from a guy brandishing a filled baguette. “I’m in negative equity because of what you lot did!”

Afterwards, he tells us he used to be a member of Fianna Fáil, but left in disgust. Now, he doesn’t know what way he’ll vote, because he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. “I joined Sinn Féin last year. But I left them too,” he says, with a rueful laugh.

But he may vote for them yet. Or perhaps go for Independents.

“The equilibrium has been upset with this election, and maybe it’s a good thing. We could do with a proper left and right in politics.”

It’s a hard slog for candidates. Mary began at the crack of dawn at the Luas and Dart and finished after last night’s Prime Time debate. She has three children, aged 13, 11 and 4. “You know, I’m 14 years married today and this is the way I’m spending my bloody anniversary.”

Fitzgerald talks about Fianna Fáil needing a “10-year plan” to recover in Dublin. Ten years? That should be enough time to erase the grey area of the overlap.