'Fianna Fáil? I would rather stick pins in my eyes. You are a load of gangsters'


ON THE DOORSTEP:Fianna Fáil candidates are getting it in the neck from the party's own supporters, writes HARRY McGEE, Political Correspondent

ONE OF Mary Hanafin’s canvassers had just commented chirpily that there had been little negative comment that day. The group was standing at the gates of Carysfort national school in Blackrock, Co Dublin, canvassing parents arriving to pick up their children.

At that moment the observation seemed reasonable. The only discernible disapproval of Fianna Fáil was being expressed subtly, in the refusal to take a flyer, perhaps with a small murmur of “no thanks”. But then the pattern of the day was shattered spectacularly by one parent as she guided her young child through the gates.

“Hi, I’m Mary Hanafin,” the Dún Laoghaire TD greeted the woman. “I am looking for your support.”

“Fianna Fáil?” the women asked. And before Hanafin could reply, she snarled loudly: “I would rather stick pins in my eyes. You are a load of gangsters.”

It was dramatic and stunning. There was an awkward silence. As the woman marched off in the distance, Hanafin quietly said “oops” and gamely regrouped the cheery meet and greet.

Getting abused at the doorsteps is an occupational hazard. But Fianna Fáil candidates are getting it in the neck more often, more directly and more mercilessly than ever before – even from the party’s own supporters.

On four canvasses with four Fianna Fáil candidates in Dublin – north side and south side, in working-class estates and in leafy suburbs – each of them were confronted with similar “moments of truth”.

For PAYE workers and pensioners, it’s the universal social charge (USC) which crops up most often, with voters telling politicians the exact amount being deducted. But all major issues come up: bank bailouts, the IMF, bondholders, developers. And the specifics that pushed voters over their respective electoral cliffs: Bertie Ahern, ministerial perks, Ivor Callely’s High Court victory.

Hanafin accepts it’s been difficult. “The canvass is slower than ever. People ask questions. You have to listen.”

It’s not all one way. Two or three voters express disdain for Enda Kenny, and certainly there is huge personal warmth for her among voters.

Elsewhere in Blackrock, a man has a list of questions prepared on burning bondholders, the IMF, the four-year plan and reform of parliament. Hanafin answers them one by one. Then his wife says she is concerned about their son. “He is in serious negative equity. He bought in 2007. He has one small income and a huge mortgage.” She says Fine Gael has proposals. Hanafin critiques the proposals.

She has been at the door for 10 minutes now. “After answering all the questions, I hope you vote for me. I am hoping not to be the shortest-lived deputy leader of Fianna Fáil ever,” she quips.

Across in Dublin North West, Pat Carey is working his way through Finglas Park, a pristine estate with a high proportion of pensioners. A small woman with sparrow-quick movements opens the door and before the inoffensive Carey has a chance to get a word, she lets fly. “You have destroyed the pension. The universal social charge is shocking,” she complains.

Carey begins gently pointing out that Labour are planning more taxes. But it cuts little ice.

“I have a €130 cut on a very modest pension. I can hardly live on my pension. I am shattered,” she rails. “I hear Micheál Martin on radio. He would not give up his disappointment money [€90,000 in ministerial severance]. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it’s unreal.” She is a former Fianna Fáil voter.

Afterwards, Carey reflects that the USC has been the roughest thing on the canvass. “I argued for keeping the election on hold until April. I always knew that USC would be the biggest issue in a January or February election,” he says ruefully.

Still, the Fianna Fáil core hasn’t disappeared completely. “This is always a Fianna Fáil house. If your old reliables stay with you, you will walk in,” a woman tells him. “That Enda Kenny, I cannot stand the man, he is so false.”

A lot of old reliables in Cabra too, where Mary Fitzpatrick is canvassing, accompanied by her father, former TD Dermot Fitzpatrick. The easygoing “Doc” and his daughter have a strong cachet here: “Cyprian Brady doesn’t even know where Cabra is,” says one voter.

Fitzpatrick stresses her local and business credentials. But there is open dissent too.

When John Murphy from Anally Road opens his door, he has a couple of things on his mind.

“Your party leader wants to make changes in the Dáil. Why did he not do that 20 years ago?” And then for good measure, he adds: “Your pal is going around by Mercedes and his €3,000-a-week pension.”

It’s a reference to Bertie Ahern. Fitzpatrick gamely replies: “I am not a pal of his.”

The reply is not a game-changer: “It’s a pity that you are in the wrong party. You should have ditched them when you had the chance.”

Over in the working-class estate of Corduff in Dublin West, David McGuinness also meets his Alamo on the issue of the USC. For an hour in pitch darkness and in a piercing wind, we have been covering the home turf of the 24-year-old McGuinness with a posse of young supporters, including two of his brothers.

McGuinness bucked the trend in 2009 in taking a seat on Fingal County Council when Fianna Fáil was in freefall. This is clearly his base. Everybody knows him and he has loads of charm, self-confidence and energy. He is trading on his being a local, his work in the community and the fact that he is too young to have lived through the Fianna Fáil version of the Troubles.

“No problem, Dave, you got my vote,” is the refrain from the hallways. There is hardly any reference to the national situation. When there is, McGuinness returns to his default line that he is a candidate for the future, not the past. But then a woman who works part-time in the nearby Blanchardstown centre buttonholes him over the USC, which is costing her €54 a month from her part-time job. It has left her and her family struggling.

McGuinness quotes the Fianna Fáil catechism and says Labour will take more. She is not confrontational but is having none of it. “I am so disillusioned that I do not know who I will vote for.”

Back in Finglas, another man, in his 40s, tells Carey that he’s voted for Fianna Fáil all his life but can’t any more.

He turns to the subject of bondholders and asks why can’t they be burned. Carey replies that credit unions were among them.

“Those bondholders knew what they were doing,” responded the man. “If I put €20 on a horse and lost I could not go back down to Paddy Power and get my money back.” There is no answer to that.