Barrett believes immigration will be key issue


Campaign trail: Women who are pushing prams or buggies are a particular target of Justin Barrett and his campaigners as they repeat their message of the importance of family values, writes Carol Coulter.

"It's hard to push a buggy with one hand, and hand out leaflets with the other," said Ms Bernadette Barrett, wife of Mr Justin Barrett.

They were campaigning with Michael, their 15-month-old youngest child, and were talking to voters in Drogheda's main street to garner votes in the European elections.

They were accompanied by some local people, including Ms Philomena Byrne and her son, Charles, from Drogheda.

She got to know Mr Barrett through her son's involvement with him in the anti-abortion group, Youth Defence. "He has always campaigned for life and family values," she said.

She introduced the candidate to a woman shopping with her daughter and grandchild. "There is a need for support for families with young children," Mr Barrett told the woman.

Mr Gerry McGeough came to the Barrett campaign from Sinn Féin. "Like hundreds of republicans, I'm very disillusioned with the current leadership. They have betrayed the ideal of a united Ireland. I don't believe the ordinary decent rank-and-file supports the radical pro-abortion stance Sinn Féin now adopts.

"There's a big disenfranchised community out there. It's Catholic, extremely nationalist, pro-life, EU-sceptic, and disgusted by the sleaze in Irish politics. Justin Barrett is the only man to represent that at the moment."

Immigration is a major issue on the doorsteps, he told The Irish Times. "I have nothing against foreigners myself. I'm married to a non-national. But people feel very strongly about bogus asylum-seekers. Genuine political refugees deserve an open-arms policy. But people have a problem with immigrants coming in as asylum-seekers.

"Someone pointed out that the last time we had economic migration was after 1690. They never assimilated. They refused to call themselves Irish. They spit on the name of Ireland, and on the Catholic religion 300 years later. That shows what we're setting in store for ourselves now. For many of these people coming in, 1916 is no more than a stolen pin number."

He stressed that neither he nor the Barrett campaign were racist. "I abhor racism. I abhor xenophobia. But I don't want my country overrun."

Mr McGeough also stressed he was concerned about the anglicisation of Ireland, and the loss of Irish place names.

A man outside Dunnes Stores was worried about the homeless.

"€340 million a year is going on bogus asylum-seekers," Mr Barrett told him. "It's being taken out of Irish schools and Irish hospitals. The Government can find places for anyone who arrives into this country, but not for the homeless or for Irish emigrants living in poverty in England."

He admitted that many people were cynical about all politicians, but tried to tell voters he was different.

Women pushing prams or buggies were a particular target of the Barrett campaigners, repeating the message of the importance of family values. This was not the case, however, if the mothers were black or brown. Eye contact with an obvious immigrant was studiously avoided, and they were not offered leaflets.

Mr Barrett does not think immigrants should have the right to vote in Irish elections.

In Ardee, there are no black or brown faces, and the campaign is met again by some local people, including Ms Joan McMahon (84), a veteran of anti-abortion campaigns. This is the dominant theme of the Barrett campaign in the town.

She is indefatigable, rushing around, dragging the candidate into shops and pubs, introducing him to people, pressing leaflets into hands. She tells the campaigners she has a large pot of soup on, and everyone is invited. Where does she get the energy?

"I don't know where I'm getting it," she said. "It must be from a higher power. I've just moved house too. I'm doing this for my great-grandchildren," she said.

"I'm very interested in pro-life issues. I'm the grandmother of a single parent. We could have lost that baby. I would like to keep some kind of Christian standards. We see them slipping away."

Fine Gael's Ms Marian McGuinness is a native of Ardee, and a number of voters say they are giving her their number one. Mr Barrett asks for a high preference. He hopes to get at least 7 per cent of the first preference vote in the East constituency.

Most people are non-committal as they take the leaflets, saying they will think about it. A few say they will give Mr Barrett their number one.

Not all are non-committal, however. One of the shops visited is the local bookshop. "This is Justin Barrett. We're looking for your number one," local man Mr Donal McDonnell told the owner.

"Not a hope in hell," he replied.

Mr McDonnell then tried the hairdressers, where he approached two young women waiting for their appointment. "Those little girls will give you a good comment," he said confidently. However, when he had gone, the girls told The Irish Times they were unlikely to vote.