Election 2020: Kenny believes his stand on immigration will not affect his chances

Voters in Carrick-on-Shannon are looking at the Hs – health, housing and hyper-inflation

Children from 33 nationalities attend Scoil Mhuire primary school in Carrick-on-Shannon, the town where Iraqi-born youngster Zak Moradi learned how to play medal-winning senior hurling.

Today politicians of all parties and tones canvassing the Leitrim town are likely to encounter "locals" with Kurdish, Syrian, Polish and Lithuanian roots to name but a few.

Given the fire-bombing attack upon his family car outside from his home in late October after he criticised anti-immigration campaigners, many of them know who Sinn Féin's Martin Kenny is.

Few of them, however, have the vote unless they have Irish citizenship.

The first two people canvassed by Kenny are Polish and Nigerian. “I know your wife,” he told the Nigerian man, delighted to make a connection.

“Thank you for your support,” replied the man who the Sinn Féin entourage acknowledged might not have a vote but who promised to “spread the word” about the Kenny campaign.

Inside a nearby charity shop, the manager Lola Gonzalez Farrell, Panama-born and married to an Irish man, also promised to put in a good word.

"I cannot vote, I am not a citizen yet," said Gonzalez Farrell, the chair of Leitrim International Community Group. "Martin has come to our meetings, and he is a great support to many communities."

One of her customers, a woman living near Ballinamore, was more sceptical, telling the TD that she was unhappy about the "sneaky underhand way" the State had gone about bringing asylum seekers to her town.

The two engaged in a lengthy but civilised discussion. Later the woman, who opted not to give her name, said she believed some people had been too quick to label others as racist.

Despite her differences with him, she had respect for Kenny. “But I could not vote Sinn Féin. Mind you, I won’t vote for any of the main parties either.”

Snap of a finger

Immigration is not a topic for everyone. "It's all the Hs – health, housing and hyper-inflation," Frank Heslin, owner of an antique shop on Bridge Street, told the TD. "My rates went up from €1,200 to €4,000 at the snap of a finger."

Elaborate plans backed by “EEC money” for the refurbishment of the town centre leave Heslin cold. “Fifty car parking spaces gone.”

Over in Carrick Angling Centre people complained about a "300 per cent" increase in their rates, and about vandals who had ripped most of the plants from the window box outside.

“They say hens and stag parties are helping the economy of the town, but they’re only helping a few,” one man told Kenny, although the latter appeared not to be anxious to be drawn into the pros and cons of the issues.

Kenny was also told that his party could not do any worse than the outgoing Government. "I hate the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, " said a man who also wanted to stay anonymous.

“They say they won’t do business with Sinn Féin, but they’ll go up North and deal with them there, and shake hands with Sinn Féin and the DUP. I don’t think they will have any choice about doing business with Sinn Féin.”

Health is on the minds of many voters. Outside a store on the outskirts of Carrick, local resident Mary O’Rourke shook hands with the Sinn Féin TD, but said she had lost faith in all politicians.

“They’d need to do something about this hospital crisis. You can’t get to see a consultant. God help us all,” said O’Rourke, whose sister had to wait three years for a back operation. “The pain was unreal.”

Better hospitals

Tom Slattery is voting for Kenny. "The Government is doing damn all and Fianna Fáil will do less. We need better hospitals and we need more houses. There are homeless in Carrick."

Yet not everyone is supportive. One well-dressed woman ignored the outstretched hand and Sinn Féin literature, walking quickly past.

“That was a frosty one. You get an odd one like that,” said Kenny.

He seeks permission before he enters shops, and he does not kiss babies, probably much to the relief of a Polish woman pushing a double buggy. She said she did not know about the election, but she would tell her friends she had met him.

Kenny was probably not expecting a voting pledge as he entered a women’s clothes shop, The Magnet, belonging to Fine Gael councillor Finola Armstrong McGuire. However, she did shake his hand warmly for the cameras.

In another shop a woman tried to run away from the camera, saying “my husband will divorce me. He’s mad Fianna Fáil.”

Speculation is rising that Kenny will be Sinn Féin’s only candidate in Sligo-Leitrim since running mate Chris MacManus may pull out. This leaves 3,000 or so Sinn Féin votes up for grabs in Sligo.

Kenny believes his stand on immigration will not affect his chances. “I think there are people who voted for me before who won’t vote for me now. And I think others who didn’t vote for me, will now. And it will probably balance out.”

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland