Vote No to canvassing, say battle-scarred campaign teams


Green heavy hitters have trouble finding Yes votes - and locals - as the campaign heats up

YE SHALL know them by their accoutrements. The Greens bring bicycles and packs of surly small children, Fine Gael a samba band and a crane, Libertas armfuls of treaty tomes, blue pens and a wariness of The Irish Times.

In the midday maelstrom of a fine Sunday on Dublin's Grafton Street, the common challenge is to find an Irish citizen. "I'm trying to pick out the Irish," says a canvasser. "The problem is they don't stand out anymore now they have the right teeth, the perma-tan and the Gucci bag."

"Vee haf our own problems," says a Swiss woman to Trevor Sargent. For example? "Too many-right ving people vanting to shoot out people who only vant to come and vork."

"I was in Holland when they voted no," says Stefan Kaemf (28), a German engineer. "I think they were afraid they would lose their identity. Now Ireland have the vote for all of Europe. I would definitely vote Yes if I had a vote."

Kirsty, Carrie, Keira and Kate - "one lawyer, two GPs and the bride's a ho'" - are a roaming hen party seeking whom they might devour. Pinned to the bride, charmingly, is an invitation : "Boys - Fancy a Shag? 00781 . . . call me now."

"We don't know what the referendum is about," says Carrie. "Neither do we, love," sighs a media man.

Trevor Sargent locates a dapper Irish citizen but Louis Flannery is an immutable No.

"The whole thing is in disguise, in the words of Giscard d'Estaing. I'm objecting to the transfer of sovereignty to Brussels." Right.

Minister for the Environment John Gormley is showing classic signs of cabin fever. "First of all, we can't meet an Irish person, and the last few days we've been out, it's been total confusion. It's been fairly eye-opening stuff."

For example? "You hear this stuff about abortion," he sighs. And what do you say? "Oh you just cut it short and say it's not in the treaty. The Yes side has been on the defensive for far too long." Yep. Looks like Thursday can't come a moment too soon.

But then we meet David Shaw (22), a trainee accountant.

"I was an undecided but after seeing all the spin by the No vote about militarisation and tax, I had a look at the white paper and I'm now a Yes. You keep hearing about how the Dutch voted No and that seems to be the marker for people. But why shouldn't we do our own thing?"

After that oasis of positivity, Gormley finds a cheerful Cork woman, Anne McCarthy.

"I was a Yes, then became a No because of all the unanswered questions. But now that I've met John Gormley - who is a man I would trust - and he's asked me to read these leaflets. So I'm going away to think again." See? Canvassing works. Sometimes.

Then Minister for Communications Éamon Ryan finds another Irish woman - only she turns out to be a European Commission employee who has lost her vote. Anyway, she would have been a bit No. "The Dutch voted no - and THEY weren't punished for it," she says, with a meaningful gaze.

After which there is the ritual stand-off with half a dozen folk from Libertas, who are liberally distributed around Grafton Street.

Down at the Molly Malone statue, a "flash mob" of about 60 Young Fine Gaelers is limbering up, armed with "cheer cards" - "Yes for Jobs" - surrounded by No posters saying "Don't be bullied".

Ready to lead them to Stephen's Green is a stomping samba band directed by the cool Simeon Smith, all facial piercings and rejectionist band stickers - "Popular Culture Sucks" and "Suicidal Tendencies" - on his drum.

The sight of Simeon's Masamba band swaying behind the beshirted and suited Enda Kenny and Gay Mitchell and assorted councillors, plus Lucinda Creighton, brings Grafton Street to a halt. Bemused tourists stand slack-jawed with their cameras.

"You mean this is about a vote? And that is your Opposition leader?" asks a Dutch man.

A 60-something woman sidles nervously over, asserts darkly that she's never seen a march on a Sunday before, then furtively slips me a No leaflet as if it's a bag of coke. Who is she with?

"I was coming out of the church this morning and was told we'd be handing over our Constitution if we voted Yes. And I thought, this is serious."

Finally, we reach the crane in Stephen's Green where we anticipate a Jim Larkin-style peroration from 30 feet up by Enda. Alas, it's for the cameras to look down on the YFGers and their elders making like a heart.

It's a tedious process but they are troupers. Senator Frances Fitzgerald is told to remove her red jacket and swiftly obeys. "That's rude, I wouldn't do that for them," says a female, sensitive on behalf of any woman who has to expose herself.

Thursday can't come a moment too soon." We can't meet an Irish person. And the last few days, it's been total confusion