‘Shovel-ready’ Emer pauses Eurospeak to take a dig at poll frontrunner Sinn Féin

Labour’s Euro hopeful is fighting hard in face of possible party meltdown

Labour’s European candidate Emer Costello canvassing on Grafton Street, Dublin, with Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Labour’s European candidate Emer Costello canvassing on Grafton Street, Dublin, with Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


The Charge of the Labour Brigade. (as not imagined by Tennyson).

Into the valley of debt rode the underfunded.

EU to the right of them. ECB to the left of them. IMF behind them.

Theirs not to make reply.

Theirs not to reason why.

Theirs but to do and die . . .

No matter how much they argue the actions of Fianna Fáil and the troika’s diktat forced their hand on policy, it looks like Labour is going to be slaughtered on Friday.

Sinn Féin is going all out to disappear them.

And everyone else is piling in through the gap.

The way people have been talking, you’d be afraid to leave any of them near a naked flame. Meltdown, it seems, is imminent.

Is it too late to avoid destruction?

Outgoing MEP Emer Costello hasn’t given up hope. She is fighting hard, but her message is firmly focused on Europe, and her record in parliament during the past two years.

She talks passionately, and at length, about “trying to Europeanise the European elections”.

As a member of the employment and social affairs committee, she points to an innovative youth employment project they have put in place along with her leading role in bringing about an anti-poverty strategy.

Martin Schulz in Cabra

On the doorsteps she is trying to sell Labour’s links with MEP Martin Schulz – “a good friend to Ireland” – who is running for the presidency of the EU Commission on a growth and jobs platform.

But who the hell is Martin Schulz? And where might he be when those water bills slide through the letter box?

Even some of her team had to laugh at a recent tweet from a party worker: “Great response to Emer Costello and Martin Schulz on the doors in Cabra.”

Sure, it should be about Europe, but the people she needs to convince are more concerned about their pressing problems at home, and Labour’s role in bringing them about.

It’s not going well.

So yesterday afternoon, when the other party candidates were busy being hothoused by handlers and swotting up on their lines in advance of a pre-recorded debate with Vincent Browne, Emer was canvassing on Grafton Street.

Joan Burton came along to lend support. She was wearing a casual brown leather jacket over her smart dress. Earlier in the day, at a Women for Emer Costello meeting at Buswell’s Hotel, Joan arrived wearing the exact same red jacket as the candidate.

“I just ran into Marks yesterday and bought it,” she explained, mortified.

In deference to the candiate, the Minister removed her new purchase. This meant that both she and Lorraine Mulligan, the party’s candidate in the Dublin West byelection, were dressed in black.

Not a good sign in a campaign of ominous signs for Labour.

“The last time that happened to me was at a press conference when Mary Robinson was going for the presidency,” said Joan, striking a hopeful note.

Among the women at the meeting were Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council, singer Mary Coughlan, former Independent senator Mary Henry, former senator and Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, Margaret E Ward of Women on Air, artist Margaret Corcoran and Jillian Van Turnhout, the Taoiseach’s nominee to the Upper House.

Why was she there? “I want to support people who want to comprehensively and robustly engage with Europe and I think Emer will do that.”

The atmosphere on the streets was far less supportive.

Alex Wright has just come from having coffee with some fellow accountants and isn’t inclined to accept a leaflet from Ivana Bacik.

“I don’t think you’re doing the job you were elected to do,” he tells the Labour Senator. “I really don’t know who to vote for.”

He warms to his task, particularly annoyed about the aftermath of the bank guarantee.

”When did any of you put up their hand and cry halt? Enda Kenny didn’t object.”

”We voted against it,” said Ivana.

‘Lost direction’

“And what about Pat Rabbitte. He’s a gobshite. He said on television that everyone lies at election time.

“I’m disgusted with the three main parties. Absolutely disgusted.

“I’ll vote for Independents and then I’ll vote Sinn Féin as a protest vote.”

He adds he would have voted for the guarantee “because I think we should pay our debts”.

While he wouldn’t like to see Sinn Féin in government, he thinks the current lot have “lost direction”.

Joan, meanwhile, is getting quite a good reception. Peter from Ballyfermot is out of work, having returned from abroad.

“Before I went away, the social welfare exchange was an awful place. I went back the other week and it’s been totally transformed for the better.”

Joan beams. Then he tells her he feels people aren’t recognising what Labour have done in Government by trying to curb the excesses of their senior partners.

Joan is close to levitating. She tries to beckon Emer across, but she’s still embroiled with Alex.

Then Araz from Kurdistan buttonholes Burton and asks for a photograph with her. “I’m six years here and I recognise her from TV. I’m very interested in politics. I think she’s brilliant.”

Joan nearly bursts with joy.

Emer is still eager to talk Europe, in terms of “trilogues” at the “hemicycle” working as a “rapporteur” and stuff like that.

That’ll go down well with Vincent at the debate with the candidates bristling to take Labour out over taxes and charges and the austerity.

Optimistic Joan thinks the coming debates might shed light on the “fantasy” policies of some of the contenders.

Costello, meanwhile, when dragged away from the voter-unfriendly Eurospeak, takes a swipe in accessible language at poll front-runner Sinn Féin.

“You can be punchy. You can have soundbites. You can talk the big talk, but the reality is that Sinn Féin are aligned in Europe to a group of protest – the GUE/NGL. They vote against everything.

“They’re just like Ukip [United Kingdom Independence Party] – they sit away to the right and Sinn Féin’s bloc sit away to the left and when there’s a vote you see the banks of red lights coming on from both sides. All the compromise and decisions come from the centre.”

As voters hurry past, shooting dirty looks at the Labour canvassers, Costello says she has learned from her two years in Brussels.

And then, perhaps not the best analogy: “I’m like a shovel-ready project. I’m ready to go back there and continue the work.”

There’s an awful lot of shovels at the ready in Dublin.

And they’re pointing towards the junior partner in Government.

Into the valley of debt, and all that . . .