Wednesday 26 October 2016

'Ashbourne Annie' does exist. But struggling families don't need Labour to tell them that

Published 04/08/2015 | 02:30

Emer Michael, 35, mother to 3 children, pictured in Ashbourne town centre
Emer Michael, 35, mother to 3 children, pictured in Ashbourne town centre
Fiona Linnane and son Nathan

A young, blond woman in leggings and a T-shirt trailing two children waves cheerily across the road and I catch my breath.

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Could this be Annie?

But she - if it was indeed her - bundles her children into the backseat of the car that had pulled up alongside, before hopping in herself and heading off down Main Street, lost forever.

On a busy Bank Holiday Monday, you can't expect Annie to hang around. She has chores to do, people to see, places to go.

She's certainly not sitting there passively wishing for a weekend concert or a night out with her husband, as in Labour's fertile imagination.

There is a certain sense of foreboding about this mission of locating a named woman with a rather personally-revealing back story on the streets of Ashbourne, Co Meath.

But any fears were thankfully groundless.

Labour's fictional swing voter is the talk of the town. "Annie - now where would she be?" ponders one woman in her 50s, out power-walking with a friend.

"You won't find her here," she definitively declares.

"She'd be either in Lidl or Aldi," she decides.

Just one man thinks I am referring to an actual individual and gives me a terrified, side-eyed stare before his wife, who knows all about Annie, wearily steps in to explain to him.

But the first thing Labour should know is that her name is definitely not Annie.

Personally, I struggle to think of anyone by the name of Annie - apart from the lovely lady in whose Connemara farmhouse Santa brought me a red tea-set in 1980. It's also probably best to break the news gently to them that Annie will not be easily bought at the general election and thinks politicians are all full of empty promises in any event.

We do, however, find an army of women who readily tell us that they meet many of the vital criteria on the party's hit list.

And tell us that all their friends do too, having started their families and bought houses around the same time.

None of them are the passive, two-dimensional creature drawn up by Labour's "over-paid media gurus" as local TD Dominic Hannigan described them in disgust.

Heaving glass recyclables at the bottle bank, Emer Michael (35) identifies with the profile - except for the fact that she has three children, who are aged 6, 4 and 1, rather than the two children designed by Labour.

She and her husband bought their house at the peak of the bubble in 2006 and are still €100,00 in negative equity.

"Most people I know are like 'Annie'. Who is able to go out every evening for a meal?" she asks.

But she believes the exercise is a complete waste of time. "It's irritating. They should be focusing on other stuff," she says, revealing that there is huge pressure for school places in Ashbourne.

A friend's child was the only one out of her playschool group to secure a place for September.

"That's the sort of stuff they should be trying to fix - not fake stuff," says Emer.

She says she is "not really a political person" but concedes that the local representatives are "good" and that Ashbourne is a nice, family-orientated place in which to live.

Given that Labour have chosen this as Annie's hometown, they were negligent in not mentioning pyrite amongst her woes.

The scandal of faulty building materials hasn't gone away - and is still a major trouble in Ashbourne.

As she straps her two children aged seven and four into her car, Geraldine Gould tells us that she, too, is another Annie.

"It's so accurate," she says of the Labour floating voter profile. "Everyone is struggling."

With no extra cash, the family are living from "month to month" and rarely go out for a meal.

Like Emer, she and her husband also bought their home in 2006.

But within nine months, cracks in the walls had started to appear. Soon, they couldn't close their hall door because the floor had risen so much.

A year later, she heard the word 'pyrite' for the first time and realised what it meant.

Nine years later, an end is finally in sight.

The family are out of their house for the next three months, having been given funding to rent a place and to put their belongings in storage.

But the headache will continue, with the resale value of the house just a fraction of what they paid for it.

Fiona Linnane is out for a stroll in the sunshine with son Nathan (3) and new daughter Kathlin, who is six-weeks-old.

Nathan snacks on mini sausages as Fiona admits that, yes, here is yet another Annie.

Her husband is out of work and she is currently on maternity leave - but worries about the stability of her job.

They haven't gone on holiday in four years and day-to-day living is a struggle.

She has some hope that things will get better.

"We've been in recession for years now, things have to improve soon," she says.

But she's not sure about the politicians.

"It's all talk - they've made all the promises but I haven't seen any difference."

Labour's problem, and maybe even their opportunity, lie in the fact that there's a little bit of Annie in all of us.

Irish Independent

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