Saturday 25 March 2017

Aine Kerr: A two-pronged assault may be FF's double-edged sword

Aine Kerr Political Correspondent

A STATIC crane on the site of a half-built shopping centre in Naas provides the eerie backdrop to the canvassing of two competing Fianna Fail TDs, locked in an intense internal party battle.

In Kildare North, TDs Aine Brady and Michael Fitzpatrick are competing against a plethora of opposition candidates -- and each other -- for a diminishing pool of votes likely to return just one Fianna Fail TD. If they return any at all.

In separate canvasses in Naas, the lifeless crane is a constant reminder of the bust: the 26 shops in the commuter town that have closed in just six months and the lost era of the "breakfast-roll man" who helped swing the last election in Fianna Fail's favour.

It was the "breakfast-roll man", on the site of those once bustling construction sites, who helped secure a series of second seats in 2007. But those second seats are now vulnerable.

Fianna Fail's two-candidate strategy in Kildare North is risky as it has the potential to split the vote and leave the party without a single seat. Sitting TDs across the country are dealing with stark reminders -- like the static crane -- of the heady 2007 days, the recession that followed and the punishment that awaits. All hope they will win a "personal vote" that will steer them ahead of their colleague and away from the party's national slump.

Similar to many of the other Fianna Fail battlefields where colleagues are in direct competition, Kildare North is an open canvassing field for the junior minister and the backbencher and they work off a strict schedule, allowing each other to dip in and out of the same areas at different times.

"With the polls at the moment, and the percentages we are at, we will only take one seat in Kildare North.

"And to get that one seat, we will have to be up around the 20pc mark," says Mr Fitzpatrick.

On the streets he reaches out to people with his left hand, owing to the motor neuron disease he was diagnosed with last year that now affects his right arm. Some locals are uncommitted and promise to study his lengthy A3 folded leaflet. Others refuse it.

One woman stops to ask who he belongs to and when the answer comes, she raises her walking stick and says "bye bye".

Theresa Hayes is typical of the devout Fitzpatrick supporter, claiming there is "no better man". John O'Donoghue is typical of the committed but doubtful supporter, pledging a vote but telling Mr Fitzpatrick "you'll get it hard enough".

Angela O'Donnell, however, is atypical of those on the streets of Naas.

"It's better the devil you know than the devil you don't," she says.

There is no mention of a second preference for Ms Brady, a pattern repeated by her on the doorsteps on the fringes of the town in the estate of Ashgrove. Here almost one-in-five houses have door signs warning politicians against knocking, advising against "political canvassing" or leaving "junk mail".

Door-to-door, the reception is cordial but uncommitted. But for every occasional sign of support, there is someone who wonders where their "protective clothing" is, someone who won't be photographed with the candidate, someone with a hard-line response.

"I'm afraid you won't be on the list. Fianna Fail has made too much of a mess for me to forgive them," one resident says.

Another tells Ms Brady: "You've probably had plenty of abuse ... I won't add to it."

But despite the impending reality that only one of them will succeed this weekend, both insist there is no "in-fighting".

Instead, they have given each other the nod to hammer home their first preferences votes while nervously looking over their shoulders.

Irish Independent

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