Labour’s Dr Feelgood cannot heal voter pain
Tough engagement at doorsteps for Eoin Holmes in Meath East
Labour Candidate Eoin Holmes (right), canvassing Godfrey Donoghue, at Rathoath, Co. Meath. Photograph: Eric Luke
Like a robed champion boxer about to enter the ring, Eoin Holmes steps out of the car with massive earphones on and his black parka’s furry hood almost pulled over his head. He’s taken the last few minutes to sit in the car and relax, to focus on the battle ahead.
There’s about a dozen Labour canvassers out today, including the irredeemably decent Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan. They are about to go through an estate in the commuter town of Ratoath called Old Mill.
Celtic Tiger estate
It’s a real Celtic Tiger estate, big detached houses, cobblelock driveways, many adorned with two cars. But you will soon find out that behind the white picket fences, there’s a lot of pain going on in paradise. And the overriding sentiment for Labour at the moment is definitely not Come Back and Love Me Baby .
Dominic Hannigan won 20 per cent of the vote in 2011. Labour’s vote share is expected to plummet. But then they have not reckoned on Eoin Holmes. To describe him as an unconventional candidate is to make eccentricity seem uniform.
With a smiggy grey beard, Hector the Intellectual glasses, big black coat, jeans and black boots, he looks every inch the film and TV producer he is in his day job (he also owns two small cafes).
He is a political Dr Feelgood of irrepressible optimism and enthusiasm, full of banter and chat.
He’s the ideal byelection candidate. Sadly, it’s not the ideal byelection. But the more hostile they are, the more determined he is to win back their votes. Unfortunately, not with any evident success yesterday.
Holmes gathers the team around at the start for a huddle. "This is what we are going to say to them. As the junior partner in Government, we have a major opportunity here to have a say in Government direction over the next three years.
"As far as Fine Gael is concerned, an opposition TD getting elected is business as usual. If we get it, we can have a louder say at the table. When we say that, they are engaging with us at the doors. Tell them, if an opposition party gets in, Enda Kenny will be delighted.”
No group hug
There’s no high fives, no group hug, but the address does have an effect. The line does indeed get engagement at the doors, but not all of it wondrous.
As the teams spread out Holmes begins sprinting every time he sees a door open. Early doors. A man telling Holmes he has not thought about it yet but he will keep it in mind.
Holmes tells him about his small business, his young family (four children), the practical problems and about how the smaller party can influence the bigger.
O’Sullivan pipes in to add: “He is too modest himself to say it [no, he’s not Jan, no he’s not!] but he is an excellent candidate.” As they leave, you ask the man will he vote Labour? “Not a chance. I was just being polite.”
Holmes’s company produced TV series like Bachelors Walk , episodes of the Clinic and Rásaí na Gaillimhe .
Love/Hate might have been useful to prepare for an election campaign.
A woman out to collect her children from schools asks pointedly: “What difference are you going to make?”
Holmes explains the USC, wealth taxes, a bit of growth. more jobs.
Her reply: “My husband is the only one working. There are five of us. We feel we are paying for everybody. Every year there is less and less.”
Another door, and a woman saying she is really dissatisfied. “I’m not going to vote for any of the main parties. Labour has not done a good job of standing up for us.”
There is more of that. Another man points to his bald tyres and his unpaid car tax, angrily declaims he will not vote either Fine Gael or Labour until “that clown Kenny is gone”.
We come across a man making a door on a workbench in his driveway. His name is Godfrey Donohoe and he listens as Holmes tells him about himself and how he opened his cafes in Navan and Drogheda where he created seven jobs.
“Are there any for me?” asks Donohoe quickly.
‘Kick up the arse’
“I had my own business for a number of years. I got unemployed and I got a kick up the arse.”
Donohoe, who trained young people in a variety of skills from fishing to woodwork, gives an account of his fruitless efforts to find work and his frustration at not being entitled to do courses. All he has been offered is €50 in petrol money.
“How does that help me get back on the first rung of the ladder?
“I have to go and ask my wife for money. I’m not being sexist but in this world a man wants to go out to work," he says ruefully.
He gets empathy from Holmes, who asks for his vote. A forlorn hope. Donohoe is very unhappy.
“Let me think about it but I’m not happy with the house tax either,” says Donohoe.
“Well, think about me,” says Holmes. He’s certainly not one to give up.