Sunday 23 October 2016

On the canvass: Just when FF thought it was safe, protests return

Published 23/02/2016 | 02:30

Micheál Martin is met by anti-austerity protesters as he prepares to canvass with FF Councillor Catherine Ardagh in Crumlin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Micheál Martin is met by anti-austerity protesters as he prepares to canvass with FF Councillor Catherine Ardagh in Crumlin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

There was pep in Micheál Martin's step as he bounced out of the car, ready to enjoy another spring morning on the canvass.

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With just three days to go until he can pack the pedometer away and take out his calculator everything appeared to be going the Fianna Fáil leader's way.

The opinion polls showed the party closing fast on Fine Gael, his personal approval ratings soaring and Fianna Fáil candidates have begun to emerge from the shadow of the economic crash.

But then on the streets of Crumlin, Dublin, the past re-emerged for six loud and awkward minutes as Mr Martin switched from the hunter to the hunted.

It was an ambush in the old-fashioned sense, although not in numbers.

Two, then three and eventually six people who said they were "different factions" of the local anti-water charges brigade surrounded the former minister on the street.

Mr Martin wasn't up for a fight, choosing to duck back into his car rather than risk a confrontation that could become the news story of the day - but they wouldn't go away.

The local candidate in Dublin South Central, Catherine Ardagh, couldn't hide her embarrassment.

Her leader had managed to make it all over the country without incident and now he was trapped in an Audi outside her solicitor's office in Crumlin.

The small crowd of anti-austerity protesters made a big noise, chanting: "Labour, Blueshirts, Fianna Fáil, jail, jail, jail them all."

Passing shoppers looked a bit bemused.

It was all a bit energetic for a crisp Monday.

With the car hemmed in by a cheaply made banner on two bamboo shoots, Mr Martin threw his arms up in frustration.

He was having his very own 'Joan Burton moment', seatbelt on but unable to move.


These are the sort of decisions political leaders in Ireland face in 2016: sit and hope they back off or make a run for it.

He made his move, quickly opening the door only to be cornered by Brendan Barron, who wanted to know what Mr Martin was going to do about Irish Water.

For a moment the politician thought he had the answer: "We're going to abolish water charges."

But it wasn't enough; Mr Barron turned his attention to Ms Ardagh, demanding answers for her "poor attendance" at some city council meetings.

There were no gardaí present but Mr Martin was flanked by around 10 Fianna Fáil canvassers as he attempted to walk down Crumlin's main street, before this time trying to find sanctuary in a newsagents.

They wouldn't give up. "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."

A quick strategy meet in the shop and Mr Martin's driver was told to move up the street and be ready for take-off.

And then once more unto the breach he went, all the while trying to keep his cool.

He tried to reason with them - but telling protesters they are being "undemocratic" is a rookie mistake.

But there was finally no option except to finally accept defeat and flee the scene.

Picking up pace he made a dash around the corner to the car, but they stayed hot on his heels.

Thankfully for Mr Martin, there would be no protracted standoff and off he sped as the protesters laughed in his wake.

"Now, didn't ye get a bit of news," declared one of them to the handful of reporters.

"The Government of this country sold the people out. That's Fianna Fáil and Micheál Martin. That's Fianna Fáil and Brian Cowen. That's Fianna Fáil and Bertie Ahern," said Gavin Howard, one of the members of the group.

Perhaps it's a sign of the times that two years ago the media wouldn't have even bothered to chase such a small shemozzle - but it was a cinch of colour in a dull campaign.

The canvass moved on to the local school.

At least the schoolchildren were on their best behaviour.

Irish Independent

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