Renua deputy leader Billy Timmins drives a battered, mud-splattered 2003 Mercedes with a bandaged steering wheel and 480,000km on the clock. "I bought it off a friend in the Army," he says. "He minded it like a baby. I'd say he wouldn't be too impressed if he saw the state of it now."
Timmins drives from Kilmacanogue in the north of his Wicklow constituency to the remote townland of Ballyraymond, where another former Army man and old school friend, John Carroll, has volunteered to canvass with him.
Timmins takes an old Thermos from the boot of the car and coffee is passed around as the view of the Sugarloaf mountain is admired. Carroll advises Timmins to ditch the chugging Merc temporarily, insisting the CV joint is about to go, so they hit the road in Carroll’s car.
Up in the townland of Kilmurry they pull into a sheep farmer's yard where talk quickly turns to Timmins's late father, Godfrey, a long-serving Fine Gael TD. Billy won the seat in 1997 but lost the Fine Gael whip after voting against abortion legislation in 2013 and signed up to Lucinda Creighton's Renua last year.
“It’s a long time since your father was in this yards,” the farmer, Dick O’Connor, jibes good-humouredly. “I remember him coming here a long time ago. You never come at all. You’ve deserted us.” Timmins ventures: “I stuck to what we were about, I felt.”
O’Connor prods further. “It’s a pity you’re not Fine Gael now, because if you were I might give you a vote. But now I wouldn’t consider you at all. Who are you with now, Renua or something?” he asks. He clearly knows more than he lets on.
Fine Gael candidate Andrew Doyle is mentioned favourably, but the exchange ends on a positive note for Timmins. "It would seem unusual not to vote for you because we always voted for a Timmins," O'Connor says.
Former Independent TD Mildred Fox, a relative by marriage, was also supported “when she was going”, he says.
He thinks some Renua policies might be a bit “hairy” but wants to give Timmins “the benefit of the doubt” and hopes the party ends up in coalition. “I will do something for you. What are you going to do for the sheep farmers?”
Timmins assures O’Connor that Renua has a comprehensive agriculture policy and runs back to the car to get a copy, before realising he has left it in the Merc. He promises to post it out. Afterwards, Timmins emails himself a reminder to post the document.
‘Deserted’ the area
The Baltinglass-based candidate dwells on the charge that he had "deserted" the area, reflecting on the fact that he was elected along with two Fine Gael running mates, Doyle and Simon Harris, in 2011. "When I was in Fine Gael we'd split the area," he says.
Now he has a lot more ground to cover on his own. He canvasses rural areas during the day, “at this time of year it’s not practical to do it after dark”, and towns at night-time and weekends.
Timmins has an unpushy canvassing style, saying he prefers to chat rather than demand number-one votes. At some houses, politics is barely mentioned and all the focus is on GAA, sheep and, sometimes, planning permission.
A young farmer asks Timmins if he thinks he’ll retain his seat. “I could do okay, I could bomb. It’s hard to know,” the candidate shrugs. “Will I take a few leaflets off you anyway?” the farmer asks.
At another door, an older woman admits she did not know Timmins was no longer with Fine Gael and asks if he has gone Independent. She says she will vote for him again because she voted for his father, and “I go with the names”.
Elsewhere, a young woman who comes to the door carrying a baby is pleasant but non-committal, saying Renua is new. Timmins says he is conscious it is cold as he strokes the baby’s nose and the woman promises to read up on the party.
Back in Ballyraymond, Timmins watches Pat Molloy’s dog Shep rounding up his flock, which includes two black sheep. Timmins laughs that the next government might try to “round up a few strays”.
Rural canvasses proceed slowly. “If you were to go to every house in Wicklow it’d take you a year and a half,” Timmins says.