Voters defy all obstacles to have their voices heard
Published 26/02/2011 | 05:00
ONE man was on his way to his father's funeral, six or seven in wheelchairs were nursing-home patients, two whizzed slowly in on motorised carts and another woman carried a newborn. What they had in common was the steely glint in their eye that overcame any obstacle and a pen in their pocket -- just in case.
The polling station at the Virgin Mary Boys National School on Shangan Road in Dublin's Ballymun had one of the two lowest turnouts in the entire country in the 2007 General Election.
Just marginally above the Custom House in Limerick, which saw a turnout of 29.1 pc, Ballymun district C1 saw a turnout of 29.5pc back then.
And that was pretty good, according to polling station supervisor Nora Bowden.
"We could be as low as 11pc sometimes," she reckoned.
Yesterday it was a different story. Even in an area of traditional voter apathy such as Ballymun, the electorate had made efforts to mobilise. By 4pm, turnout at the station stood at 27pc and that was before the usual strong evening burst.
"There has been someone at every table all day -- it's been very good," said Nora.
Broken glass and potholes pockmark the road into the school but someone has made an effort, planting daffodils to relieve the grimness.
Three people were waiting outside for the station to open at 7am, where a garda had been on duty all night to protect the integrity of the ballot boxes.
Turnout ebbed and flowed throughout the day, picking up at 9am with mostly elderly people, before falling off again until lunchtime. There were families in the afternoon with children and shopping in tow and then a spate of workers in cars towards evening.
Voter anger, like everywhere else, seemed to have a big part to play -- and in Ballymun, they have a few extra reasons to be angry. The regeneration of the town centre has stumbled and the rising tide to lift all boats has turned to a pool of stagnant water. Construction work on 124 new homes was halted after pyrite was discovered just as the project was nearing completion.
And if they needed any more reasons, right across the road from the polling station in the Virgin Mary school, stands the large, abandoned flat complex where young mother-of-two Rachel Peavoy died of hypothermia just last year.
Aside from the main roads, there was no sign of any Fianna Fail posters for candidate Pat Carey in what was traditionally a FF stronghold. Instead, a plethora of lamp posts are dedicated to the Sinn Fein councillor hopeful, Dessie Ellis -- and a large portion of those at the polling booth appeared to have given him the nod.
At 4.20pm, a car emblazoned with his face passed down Shangan road with a loud hailer that could be clearly heard from the polling station -- sailing dangerously close to anti-canvassing laws.
Earlier that morning, a 76-year-old woman, who had just cast her ballot fervently, declared her hope that people would vote for "the right person". "Fianna Fail made a balls of our country," she categorically stated, angry and worried on behalf of her son who has a "big mortgage".
Another elderly woman handed the lead of a small excitable fluffy dog to the guard to mind while she went in to cast her vote. "If I don't vote, I don't have the right to give out," she said with a sharp laugh.
A man on his way to his father's funeral said he felt it very important to vote. "But they're all as bad as each other -- all crooks," he added.
First-time voters Kevin Olwill (19), from Santry, accompanied his girlfriend Ann Condron (18). "We're worried about college fees," explained Kevin, a fine arts student in Kilbarrack.
At lunchtime, Stephen Noone said he was very against the Fine Gael proposal to abolish compulsory Irish but said the new Government would have to tackle white-collar crime. "All these bankers -- there has to be some repercussions," he added.
Clutching a four-month-old baby -- her fourth foster child -- Ann Stout said she had been hit badly by reduced resources for the children, including play therapy. On top of that, her own five brothers had all been made redundant from the steelworks in Fairview. "I'm hoping for change," she said.