Upbeat candidate who believes women's vote can be her trump card


A couple of weeks before you take to the election ????????hustings is no time to have a verruca removed from the ball of your foot. But that little problem has not stopped Sinead Behan's campaign in the housing estates of Cork South-Central where she is making a significant impact.

The 29-year old Fianna Fail candidate in the Cork by-election is focused and assured, and believes she will be there with a real chance when the polling booths open tomorrow week to find a successor to the late Mr Hugh Coveney.

She has a jolly disposition and easily articulates her views on a wide range of subjects. Above all, she is good with people and it shows on the doorsteps.

This is her first outing as a candidate and she is enjoying every minute of it.

"It's been a very positive experience so far. I am loving it. Politics is all about people and their problems and I'm in politics because I feel I can make a difference. I know that's somewhat cliched but I do believe I can be a voice for people. In my work as a solicitor in Cork, dealing with family law, criminal law as well as labour issues, I have been at the coal face. I have also served my time in the junior ranks of Fianna Fail so I think I have something to offer," she says.

The Fianna Fail campaign managers believe this is a straight race between Ms Behan and Fine Gael's Simon Coveney. Ms Behan herself, more or less, acknowledges this too. Their youth and their ability to face the issues in confident manner means that they are remarkably similar candidates. "People are drawing comparisons but I am too busy concentrating on my own campaign," she says.

Last night a real and tangible issue emerged in the campaign - the plight of poorly-paid home-helps who earn a miserly £2 an hour for their efforts. There are more than 2,000 of them working within the Southern Health Board system. They want at least £3 an hour. Not too long ago, they went into the homes of the elderly and disabled for just £1.70p an hour.

The money they are earning is an insult, says Ms Behan, and she aims to do something about it if elected.

Everyone believes this election will be about transfers. Ms Behan thinks that she has one extra card to play - the women's vote. If elected she will be the first woman to have represented Fianna Fail in this part of Cork since the 1950s.

That fact is striking a chord on the canvass. And if Mr Coveney expects to muster the young vote, so does she. "I hope to have the support of lots of young voters and the women's vote as well," she says. And here's where the steel kicks in, but with a smile: "I was a runner - I ran for Ireland at Under 16 level and held All-Ireland as well as Munster records. I lost very few races - once, I beat Sonia O'Sullivan in a county championship meeting. I don't expect to lose this race either."

"You'll get my vote but there's no way I am going out there in front of the cameras", said one voter she met on yesterday's canvass. The candidate replied: "You're great, I really appreciate it."

In another house, she was met with the admonition - "Get rid of them fellows fiddling the income tax." And she was on to it like a flash. "It's a serious issue and it must be addressed immediately", she told the voter, who promised her a first preference.