Leo turns to Jed and Harry for inspiration during referendum canvass

Strength of support for repeal noticeable across all age groups but apathy is the enemy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar poses with a member of the public while canvassing in Rathfarnham on Friday for a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar poses with a member of the public while canvassing in Rathfarnham on Friday for a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

If Leo Varadkar’s canvass in Rathfarnham yesterday is anything to go by, his main enemy in the campaign in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment is apathy.

Meeting shoppers on the sunny start to the May bank holiday weekend, the Taoiseach repeatedly used a line attributed to an array of politicians – from real US president Harry Truman to The West Wing’s fictional commander-in-chief Jed Bartlet – to encourage those supporting Yes to show up on May 25th.

“There is a line in politics that I really believe in,” he told Jackie Cullen, a Yes voter working behind the counter at Day-Today News in the Rathfarnham Shopping Centre. “Decisions are made by people who turn up.”

Varadkar was joined by Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, also a Dublin South West deputy. Mary Lou McDonald was supposed to be there too, but her appearance was cancelled.

Talk of coalition

It was feared the focus would have been on the Sinn Féin and Fine Gael leaders side by side at a time when talk of a coalition between the two parties is increasing.

“We felt it would then not be about the referendum but about Fine Gael-Sinn Féin,” said Varadkar.

Varadkar, Brophy and Zappone asked Cullen if many of her customers were discussing the referendum. “Not a lot,” she replied.

The Taoiseach acknowledged, as he did with others, that abortion was not an easy subject.

“It’s not the nicest thing to vote on,” he told John Cahill as they stood in Cahill’s menswear shop. Cahill was another Yes voter, and Varadkar seemingly didn’t meet one supporter of retaining the Eighth Amendment during the roughly hour-long canvass.

“I’ve never bought a Magee suit,” said the Taoiseach as he perused the rails. “I always associated Magee suits with older people.”

Middle class

The strength of support for repeal was noticeable across all age groups, from 85-year-old Teresa McGreal – “They shouldn’t have to go to England” – to younger voters such as Claire Murray, who also raised the CervicalCare controversy.

Then again, it is a solidly middle class area of Dublin: a perfect demographic for advocates of repeal. Varadkar was on safe ground, but still mixed and chatted easily.

It is often said by those around politics that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has an easier way with people than the Taoiseach, an advantage that could come to the fore during a general election campaign.

But on yesterday’s evidence, Varadkar, while not of the Bertie Ahern school of whirlwind canvassing, is not always the awkward character many assume him to be.

“There must be an election coming on!” Dorothy Harris from Firhouse jokes as she sees the Taoiseach approach. “Micheál hasn’t told me when yet!” comes the sharp reply.

“I only got my fade done last week,” Varadkar says, indicating towards the neat haircut on his temple, when asked by Graham Daly of GB barbers if he’d like a free snip.

“He’s very handsome,” Carol Fitzpatrick remarked to her mother-in-law, Eileen, as Varadkar passed while they enjoyed a cup of coffee.

Bad news

“I like him,” said Eileen. “We’ve had a lot of older guys, and the Taoiseach is younger and he speaks the language of younger people.”

In Metro Music, manager Sean O’Reilly also asks about the health service.

Varadkar counters that only bad news makes the front pages.

“There’s lots of good things happening. More people are surviving cancer than ever before. People are living longer than before.”

As he leaves, O’Reilly shouts after him.

“Just sort it out, Leo!”

“I will.”

Asked to clarify what exactly it is he wants sorted out, O’Reilly says: “Everything.”

No pressure, then.