Merciful absence of rancour in Ming’s EU canvass
Luke Ming Flanagan is running in the Euro poll because Europe ‘has gone too far’
The canvass was supposed to kick off at 11am in Cavan town. At 10 he texts to say he’ll be 45 minutes late. It’s after midday when we finally track him down, up a deserted hill with an agitated voter bending his ear.
Luke Ming Flanagan is easy to spot.
The trail starts at his dusty 99 CE Almera with the unmissable Ming livery and there he is – he’d got no further than 20m – with the waist-length, greying ponytail and narrow beard that makes one Cavan man “want to give him a slap”, but triggers indulgent smiles in others.
Women over 60 are his biggest fans, he says. He also has 18,000 Twitter followers (compared to say, Marian Harkin’s 3,700) and 21,000 “likes” on Facebook, which suggests a serious youth following. In a few weeks, he’ll find out if social media love-ins translate into actual trips to a polling station.
Up close, he looks healthier, fitter and more relaxed than many of his stressed-out rivals. And stop the sniggers: it’s not the pot, since he never touches the stuff in Ireland now, he says. Four convictions were enough.
The healthy glow may be down to the sparse breakfast of two bananas and cornflakes and the relentless effort to outpace the “black dog” (his lifelong depression) with 10-mile runs. This mild, unflappable man is a long way from the shrill, nervy, pothead caricature of the newbie TD in 2011.
That first year was “savagely difficult . . . The expectations of me were phenomenal. The music [ringtone] on the phone would throw me into a spin of depression. There were times in the chamber when I might have looked, yeah, a bit distressed.”
It’s now 12.30pm and he vanishes again to do an interview. But the garda whistleblower, John Wilson, is happy to chat. Wilson, who underwent bowel cancer surgery in March, had intended to run as a Mingist independent candidate here (there is an actual inky Ming stamp of approval, bestowed on 15 approved local election candidates) but has just withdrawn for health reasons. He remains Ming’s “deeply proud and honoured” first sub for Europe.
“I’m pro-life and anti-drugs – I’d ban tobacco if I could”, says Wilson, “but he still chose me. He’s just a really genuine, decent individual . . .”
What about the cringey, quashed penalty points saga?
“He’d made me aware of his own situation beforehand . . . He had intended to go public about it . . .” Later, Ming says morosely that “it was all part of a very foolish episode on my part. I let a lot of people down . . .”
Speaking of foolishness, he denies saying anything derogatory in the Dáil about Mary Mitchell O’Connor. “Listen to the tape . . . I didn’t say any of that stuff.”
Anyway, he claims she started it by giving his beard a little tug and asking him what he was going to do about his clothes.
It’s 12.50pm and we are finally on the move – slowly. People gravitate towards him, horns are honked enthusiastically; at least three non-Ming-approved, local candidates crowd him and cling to his aura.
John Wilson proves to be a natural canvasser. “This fella is a Leeds United scumbag,” he says, introducing a grinning voter. “He’ll do what I tell him.”
A 50-something man whispers slyly in Ming’s ear that he wasn’t averse to a spliff himself. In the swarm, Ming’s anti-EU platform barely registers, though the fallout from the closure of the army barracks clearly rankles.
Still seething after the Taoiseach’s visit – “I said to him, ‘hello Mary Lou, goodbye YOU’,” says Breda Guilfoyle – women are complaining loudly about liars and greed when Ming quietly drops a bomb: “I give away half my wages . . .” The women stop: “I might vote for him after that,” says one. To escape the enthusiasm, he takes a backstreet back to the car.
Where does the giveaway money go? About €29,000 to the local playground, he says later; €10,000 for cast-iron heritage street signs for Boyle; a chunk to fight the current High Court case on behalf of bog- owners. Sums have gone to sports clubs and there is a sizeable amount on offer for a swimming pool roof if the county council would take it. About €10,000 is going on election expenses. Total election costs so far are €32,000.
Europe gone too far
He’s going for Europe, “because no one else is representing the view that it’s gone too far”. But has he actually achieved anything here in Ireland?
The acceptance of an independent policing board, “thanks to the Dáil’s independents”, he says; a practical countrywide solution to the bogs impasse; a considered Bill to protect small schools; a contribution to the mental health debate; national pressure to resolve the poisoned drinking water crisis via “pisswatergate” in the Dáil.
Next day in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, where Niamh Moran, a 24-year-old environmental studies student, is the Mingist candidate, the ground is more challenging. After a few brief encounters, he finds local barber, Barry O’Donohoe.
“You’re a little bit too parochial for me . . . It’s this resentment of government, this thing with rural Ireland reacting against anything that comes from the EU or the Dáil,” argues O’Donohoe, “but the EU has served this country fantastically well.” A lengthy, respectful debate ensues. Back outside, Ming says happily, “after 23 days of canvassing, I haven’t had a discussion like this . . .”
Then he runs back to tell O’Donohoe that he should vote for Marian Harkin.