Election 2016: On the canvass with Peter Mathews

Independent TD who lost Fine Gael whip has scorn for banks and bureaucrats

Independent Peter Mathews and his brother Mark canvassing outside Dundrum Town Centre: “I’m not far-left, or far-right.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Independent Peter Mathews and his brother Mark canvassing outside Dundrum Town Centre: “I’m not far-left, or far-right.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Peter Mathews is doing what he always does: talking and talking and barely drawing breath.

He is railing against the European Central Bank, lashing out at spineless Government backbenchers and criticising the greed of banking executives.

The Independent TD is standing outside the Dundrum Town Centre plaza, accompanied by family members and his campaign team, handing out the “Mathews manifesto” to shoppers.

A bone-chilling wind whips across the plaza.

He will happily tell prospective voters of his plan to cancel €25 billion in promissory bond notes which would raise enough money to cancel out water charges, property taxes and provide billions for housing, health and education.

What he doesn’t tell them is he has just been for treatment this morning at St James’s Hospital for oesophageal cancer.

“I’ll be doing somersaults in September! That’ll be me,” he beams, deflecting discreet inquiries about his health.

After campaigning is done this afternoon, he will return to the hospital for another round of treatment. He’s under doctor’s orders to take it easy, look after himself and relax.

But you get the feeling he’s treating the cancer diagnosis with the same disdain he has for the “bullying bureaucrats”, as he puts it, who are bankrupting the country. He exudes energy and enthusiasm and has to be asked by his campaign team to keep out of the cold when we interview him during the canvass.

Diagnosis and cure

John Reynolds

He is receiving radiotherapy five times a week and chemotherapy once a week.

“It’s cutting-edge and world-class treatment,” he says. While he is canvassing during the day, he takes a rest in the evenings. His campaign team, on the other hand, swarms across the constituency on a nightly basis, knocking on doors and handing out leaflets.

“Do you know how many houses they knocked on last night? 1,078. They’re great.”

The old Dublin South constituency proved fruitful territory for Fine Gael in the last general election, when the party secured three of the five available seats. Mathews, who took one of them, now serves as an Independent TD, having lost the Fine Gael whip over abortion legislation in summer of 2013.

At a time when most were struggling to comprehend the eye-watering sums of money involved in the bailout after the last election, Mathews was one of the few on national radio and TV who was able to make some sense of the mess.

As a chartered accountant and consultant, he spoke with authority about misleading balance sheets, reckless lending and promissory notes.

With his south Dublin roots, he was also well-known. His brother had a major GP practice in Deerpark, while the family home was in Mount Merrion.

Outside the shopping centre, it’s a quiet afternoon. The schools are back and numbers are thin on the ground. Those who stop to talk are polite, but engage only briefly.

When you ask constituents later, several say they admire his independent spirit.

One confesses to finding him a bit difficult to listen to (“he goes on a bit, doesn’t he?”), while another says she wouldn’t share his view on abortion, which aren’t listed on his campaign leaflet. (Mathews says he hasn’t listed them, on the basis that he doesn’t want to make it into a big issue.)

Most, however, are positive and say they will find a vote for him somewhere on the ballot paper.

Property tax and inheritance tax thresholds are hot topics here, particularly among voters who have reached pension age.

The foundation stone of Mathews’s manifesto is cancelling the €25 billion promissory bonds.

On one level, many of its pledges wouldn’t be out of place in the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit literature.There are also pledges to ensure multinationals pay their fair share of tax and universal health insurance.

So where does he stand on the political spectrum? “I stand for fairness – transparency, accountability,” he says. “I’m not far-left, or far-right.”

Mathews also happens to be in the same constituency as Shane Ross, another Independent who has built much of his reputation criticising the recklessness of the bankers. While some might look at Mathews as being cut from the same cloth, he insists they’re not.

“No, we’re very different,” he says. “I’ve spoken on the climate change Bill, for instance. Our fashion styles are different, but I have a lot of time for Mick Wallace and Clare Daly. The Dáil has hugely benefited by their membership.”