Heated arguments send mercury levels soaring in Meath and Offaly


REFERENDUM TRAIL:Shane Ross’s decision to vote No and Richard Bruton’s gaffe are recurrent themes, writes HARRY McGEE

YESTERDAY, THE afternoon temperatures rose to the mid-20s in Dunshaughlin and the pleasant Meath village seemed taciturn in the midday heat. But the mercury was also rising high in the large housing estate adjoining the village. This time it was from the heat of argument and debate.

Meath East Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty and a small team were working their way through Supple Park, a manicured estate.

Doherty, a new TD, described how the campaign has been going: “The majority of people are positive, though Tuesday was very difficult after the Frontline debate.

“People were complaining about all the shouting on the programme and saying they were sick of it. There were people who said they were Yes voters but were now thinking of voting No.”

Doherty’s experience and the two canvasses joined by The Irish Times yesterday (the other one was in Tullamore with Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen) bore out the reality of a volatile campaign, where people’s views can be swayed by events or gaffes.

Yesterday, the recurrent theme among the public was Shane Ross’s decision to vote No, with a high level of assent. Richard Bruton’s gaffe also cropped up, as did the failure of France and Germany to ratify. Several people complained about politicians’ pay and expenses, and the fact that no banker had yet been brought to book. And, as has happened elsewhere, there was a frisson of anger and annoyance and of people (mostly paid from the public purse) saying they would vote Yes because they had no choice.

“You do not have to convince me on this. I am there already. I am a public servant and have to vote Yes,” an off-duty garda told Doherty in Dunshaughlin.

The canvass team was confident of a Yes vote. Local Fine Gael councillor Gerry O’Connor said that the village, with a population of 5,500, is strongly cohesive. “There are 800 houses here and it’s largely Yes. We have got about five people who would not take a leaflet,” he said.

At the doorsteps, all the engagement was with the waverers.

Catherine Mahase had been in the garden enjoying the sun. She paused for a moment, deliberating whether to engage or go back to the garden.

“What is still annoying is the tax burden on the Irish people,” she began.

Doherty tried to give reassurance. “The plan is for a stable euro and better discipline. All of those things will encourage foreign direct investment and that will create jobs. That will bring people into work and will help reduce the tax burden.”

Not wishing to oversell it, she delivered a line she uses a lot: “I am not saying it’s a panacea. It’s the lesser of two evils. There is no magic wand.”

Mahase articulated a view shared by others: “There is so much conflicting information being put out. It’s difficult to make the right choice . . . It would make it more palatable if somebody was made accountable for the mess we are in.”

Down in Tullamore, it was also a day from heaven, and Barry Cowen was canvassing the main street with a veritable hurling team of supporters, including Offaly hurling legend Cllr Danny Owens. It’s a country place and there is a big Cowen franchise here. It was evident from the easy familiarity. Cowen has just recovered from illness and virtually everybody he met said it was great to see him back.

The message he delivered with his machine gun voice was a simple one: “You will get a bit of certainty with Yes, a bit of uncertainty with No.”

A man in his 30s said he was voting No because it was an “absolute joke”. He was one of a number who cited Ross and asked why not wait until the whole treaty was finished. “You are selling us out,” he said to Cowen, to which the politician replied phlegmatically: “We will agree to differ.”

In McKeown’s shoe shop, manager Michael Barry told Cowen that for the first time ever he had not made his mind up. But the outbreaks of foot-in-mouth that have beset the Yes campaign have clearly had traction. “I know Richard Bruton made a mistake when he said there would a second vote. But the ball is thrown out there. Is there a chance that there’ll be a second time?”

Across the road in its compact newsroom, the Tullamore Tribune was being readied for publication. Cowen said hello to editor Gerard Scully. The last time the Tribune gave an endorsement it was for Fianna Fáil in 1932. Since then it has refrained from making any recommendations to its readers. Scully reckons Yes will prevail in Laois-Offaly but it will be tight.

What is Cowen’s own assessment? “I’d say it’s Yes but it’s a bit closer than opinion polls suggest. It will come down to convincing the people who are undecided.”