Liadh hopes smiling face of Sinn Fein will be vote winner
The euro candidate for Ireland South was politely approaching people in Blackpool Shopping Centre, proffering a campaign leaflet. Some recognised her, and made reference to her well-known father. Smartly clad in a summery blue and white dress, she chatted with a pregnant journalist who was covering the canvass.
"I have three children myself," she said in a soft-spoken lilting Cork accent. This, however, was not Fine Gael's candidate Deirdre Clune but Sinn Fein's Liadh Ni Riada, who formerly worked for RTE and TG4 and is now employed as Sinn Fein's Irish language development officer.
Liadh, along with fellow candidates such as Lynn Boylan in Dublin and Matt Carty in Midland-North-West, is a member of what could be classed as the Mary Lou Wing of Sinn Fein – articulate, middle class, a hard-working SuperValu shopper unencumbered by any of the (metaphorical and literal) bloody baggage hawked about by longer-serving members of a party associated with the Provos.
In short, they are shiny, angry people perfectly placed to catch the roving eye of the shoals of floating voters who will most likely dictate the results of next week's local and European elections. And it's working – in Ireland South as elsewhere, Liadh looks set to take a seat, probably at the expense of a sitting MEP.
Liadh's famous father is composer Sean O Riada who died when she was a young child. And many of the retirees walking about the Cork shopping mall recognised her name immediately. "I have a few of your father's records," local man David Ryan told her. So would he consider giving Liadh a vote? He nodded. "I used to vote Labour but they're dead and gone," he declared.
Time and again as she stopped to talk to people, she was assured that Sinn Fein would get a vote. "I think Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are two courageous men – before now I've never voted number one for Sinn Fein before," said Brendan Quinn.
Carmel O'Sullivan quizzed her closely on how she could make a difference if elected to Brussels. "I've lost faith in my country, to be honest with you," she said. "Can we trust you if you get in?"
Liadh was unfazed by the grilling. "Our councillors work 24/7 and some of them live in council houses – they are very much in touch with the grassroots," she explained. "We're a very cohesive party, and this is a team effort. Have a read of my leaflet which may help you to make up your mind," she suggested to the woman who accepted the literature.
Sinn Fein are indeed making a team effort to present an unthreatening face to an electorate who are minded to punish the Coalition – and Liadh insisted that not even the recent travails of party president Gerry Adams had taken the gloss off them.
"I believe it's not having an effect on our position in the polls. People are very angry, they're looking for a change, and someone who is of the people and who will work for the people," she said. "Gerry Adams is a very popular leader, and he will continue to do so and has a lot to give".
Nonetheless, Liadh's careful diplomacy didn't prevent her from having a dig at the government parties. "There's a huge anger out there, not just towards Labour, but Fine Gael as well – people see that Fine Gael are the big buachailli who have the big stick, and Labour are following on like a lapdog," she reckoned.
A few miles to the west in the town of Bandon, Deirdre Clune was speaking softly too – but there was no big stick in sight.
The senator was touring a corner of her meticulously-controlled demesne – Fine Gael is running three candidates in this sprawling constituency which encompasses six counties and the cities of Cork, Limerick and Waterford. And with Fianna Fail's Brian Crowley cruising into the first seat, Liadh Ní Riada tipped for the second and party colleague MEP Sean Kelly most likely to fill the third, Deirdre may end up scrapping with Wicklow TD Simon Harris for the final seat.
But at least she has no turf-wars to fight in Cork – as part of the Barry family dynasty Deirdre is well-got among the well-heeled denizens of the Rebel County who still have high regard for her father, former Tanaiste Peter Barry.
Despite many government representatives meeting with disapproval out on the hustings, Deirdre had a pleasant stroll around Bandon on a warm and sunny Thursday, bustling in and out of boutiques and food stores chatting easily to groups of women – although she hesitated at the door of a bookie shop before venturing inside.
"Sure I know who you are," observed one woman. "You've a nice day for it," she added. "It's lovely," agreed Deirdre, before holding out a leaflet. "You might mention me to someone else," she suggested politely.
In a shoe shop, an elderly lady took a leaflet. "You're a nice girl, best of luck," she told the candidate who helpfully advised her on which pair of sandals to pick.
And Deirdre Clune is indeed a mannerly person – so much so that she balked at criticising her rivals, despite being in the middle of a close contest. When asked how she would persuade a floating voter to give their tick to Fine Gael rather than Sinn Fein, Deirdre suggested: "I would tell them to look at Sinn Fein's policies on taxation and how it might affect them."
It might be a dog-fight in Ireland South, but it's not a mud-fight, as far as the women are concerned.