Team Kenny takes on dogs and doubters at the doors
As Enda Kenny fights the national battle, his Mayo canvassers work to return the Taoiseach for a second term, writes Philip Ryan
Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30
Enda Kenny isn't home much these days. At most, the Taoiseach visits Castlebar, Co Mayo, for two half days and possibly one full day a week.
Kenny's handlers tell him his time is better spent roaming the country repeating campaign slogans ad nauseam at stage-managed events rather than engaging in the hand-to-hand combat of local canvassing.
Last Wednesday, this involved launching a policy in an old folks' centre in Sligo, looking at people make beer in Leitrim and rallying the troops in Maura Hopkins's constituency office in Roscommon.
The Taoiseach ended the day on home turf in Ballyhaunis, where outside PJ McGarry's women's clothes shop in the town centre he delivered a speech to a group of die-hard Fine Gaelers, including his wife Fionnuala.
Then it was home to Castlebar for the evening, where the Taoiseach was briefed within an inch of his life by strategists ahead of Thursday's leaders' debate on TV3.
But, while Kenny is being shuttled around the country by overprotective advisers, a loyal group of hard-working supporters is pounding the pavements of Mayo in the hope of making history by returning a Fine Gael Taoiseach to office for a second term.
They would like to see more of the 'boss' in his hometown, where he could defend accusations from locals that he's done nothing for Castlebar as Taoiseach.
Some blame the advisers in their "Dublin bubble" who won't let the Taoiseach near "real people" but they also realise that Enda no longer belongs just to Castlebar.
Fionnuala and the children, Aoibhinn, Ferdia and Naoise, take up the slack most evenings and can be regularly found knocking on doors in their hometown.
"It might say something about my social life, but I really like canvassing and going out and meeting people," Mrs Kenny said as she waited for her husband to arrive in Ballyhaunis last week.
Later that evening and in the absence of the Kenny clan, his election team assemble at 6pm sharp in an office that serves as campaign headquarters on the corner of Tucker St and New Antrim St in the town centre.
Around 20 supporters in 'Enda Kenny'-branded high-vis jackets are told to wrap up and given their canvassing packs, which include campaign leaflets and forms on which to take complaints from constituents.
Many of those in the small, makeshift office supported the Kenny brand since his father Henry was the TD, but there are also fresh faces who have been taken in by the Islandeady man's success.
There is Kevin O'Malley, who is the longest serving member of 'Team Kenny', and for his troubles was given the honour of signing the Taoiseach's election's nomination papers the following morning in Castlebar.
Kathleen Coady, who is the widow of the Taoiseach's close friend and former driver Liam Coady, came out of retirement from canvassing to help Kenny get a second term.
But there is also Joyce O'Boyle, a young woman in her late 20s, who arrived for her first night of canvassing for Fine Gael, despite a strong tradition of Fianna Fail support in her family.
Asked why she got involved in the campaign, the qualified engineer simply replies: "because of Enda".
Before leaving, the crew gathers around Fine Gael's local director of elections, Brendan O'Dowd, who gives the troops their marching orders before sending them into the trenches.
Brendan wants every door in each of the 130-plus housing estates in Castlebar "knocked and canvassed" by this coming Tuesday.
Ger Deere, who runs the Taoiseach's constituency office, and Noreen Heston, a former councillor, bundle into Padraic Corcoran's car and head for the affluent Maryland estate on the Station Road.
Ger and Noreen are both former Castlebar mayors and seasoned canvassers, while Padraic is a lifelong friend of the Kenny family.
Ger knows everyone. Before he even knocks on a door people are shouting hello.
Most people who answer the doors know Ger from sorting out hospital beds, garda clearance, passports or any other task that's asked of him.
Ger knows the lines and delivers them well, but you get the feeling that if he has to tell many more people to 'keep the recovery' going he might crack.
Noreen is equally well-liked by the locals, and her commitment to the campaign includes acting as a urinal for local dogs.
"I was canvassing one house that brought me in for a cup of tea and they had a dog and then I went a few doors down and they had a massive dog, who smelled the other one, and next thing you know, he's peeing on me" she laughs.
The canvass gets off to a shaky start when an older woman is asked if she'll vote Kenny number one.
"I'm not very happy with him. I voted for him last time but I don't know if I will be this time," she says.
She says it's "horrible" how older people and those with special needs have been stripped of supports.
"A lot of that has been restored with the economy improving," Ger ventures.
"I know, but why tackle the most vulnerable who can't help themselves," she asks.
"Well, he inherited a broken country," Ger responds.
"Oh I know he did and he has done a good job overall. I'm not against him personally," the woman says.
Before leaving, Noreen asks if there is anything she would like relayed to the Taoiseach.
"You can tell him he has done a lot for the country but he hasn't done a lot for Castlebar, you hear that all the time," the woman says bringing an end to the conversation.
On balance, they get a good response on most doors.
Teresa Waldron complains she is "sick of getting into rows" with people who say the Taoiseach hasn't delivered for Castlbar like "Michael Ring has for Westport".
And Mary Kyne insists Castlebar is seeing the fruits of the recovery.
"Initially, it was quite sluggish but it has taken off and the confidence is there," she says. Ger is irked that the good news doesn't filter out and is quick to tell anyone who will listen about the new IDA park.
Near the end of the canvass, Noreen asks an older women if there's anything they can do for her.
"I asked you to do something before and you didn't do it, but I'll let that rest in peace," the woman says.
Noreen stays behind to have a quiet word with the woman, while out of ear shot Ger says "that's over abortion".
"We still get a bit of that and it's an awful sensitive issue" he says.
Just before 8pm, with the cold setting in, Ger says it time to wrap things up as parents are putting kids to bed.
But there's one last house and he can't resist. He gives the bell a ring, waits a couple of seconds and gives it another go. A gentleman with an Australian accent barks: "Bad time guys, I've kids here," and closes the door.
"What did I tell you," Ger says as Padraic pulls up in the car to bring them back to HQ.