It's D-Day in The Déise as the War of the Left heats up
Published 07/11/2015 | 02:30
The cheers for the two Labour politicians rattled the roof, and the faces of Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan and Waterford TD Ciara Conway were both wreathed in smiles.
Alas, none of their fan club will be old enough to vote for at least another decade - they were the young pupils of Scoil Gharbháin in Dungarvan, and the minister had just announced that they were being spared any homework. If only the rest of the country felt so warmly towards their party, they'd be home, hosed and back in Government Buildings after the election.
Instead, Ciara Conway is one of many of the party's TDs faced with an uphill battle to retain her seat. Presently, the four-seater constituency has three coalition deputies - herself, and Fine Gael's John Deasy and Paudie Coffey, along with Independent John Halligan. Moreover the 34-year old Tramore-born, Dungarvan-based Ciara was the surprise winner in 2011, becoming the first female TD elected in Waterford for 59 years.
But it won't be so easy next time. Waterford suffered a particularly bad recession, with sky-high youth unemployment and the disastrous closures of Talk Talk and Waterford Crystal. The constituency isn't a traditional Labour stronghold, and the Left side of the field will be particularly competitive, with Sinn Féin's David Cullinane, John Halligan and People before Profit's Una Dunphy all in contention. But Ciara has no intention of abandoning hope. "We know that going into government comes at a cost, but if you want to push for an agenda you believe in, you can't do that from opposition," she said. "Look at what we're doing today, touring school refurbishments, all of which help families in the community. That's what politics is all about".
And despite the slump in the party's poll numbers, Ciara is confident that her clear stance on social issues will help her in the election. "I think Ireland is changing, and when it comes to issues in which Labour have led the way, such as marriage equality, the repeal of the 8th amendment, I think people want to be represented by a party with a progressive view of what Ireland could be, as well as looking after employment, infrastructure, health," she insisted. "I'm not under any illusions in relation to what still needs to be done in those areas, but we're on the right track".
As the battle of the Left heats up, the TD is scathing about her political opponents. "Sinn Féin think they have a monopoly on caring about issues, and they think we live in a bubble," she reckoned. "But I live on a very ordinary street, in a very ordinary house, with a very ordinary family," said Ciara.
Nor has she much time for those on the further reaches of the Left. "Standing on the fringes and shouting down everything is easy for the Trots. I know what they stand against, but I'd like to know what they stand for."
On the other side of the constituency in a cafe in Waterford Shopping Centre in Lisduggan, AAA-PBP candidate Una Dunphy was equally unimpressed with the local politicians, dubbing Fine Gael's John Deasy as a "crown prince with no leftie inclinations" and Independent John Halligan as "moving more towards the middle".
Una voted for Ciara Conway in 2011 - and now she's running against her. "I feel completely betrayed by Labour. I couldn't believe a party of the left would cut the children's allowance. That cut me six times," she said.
Una, who works in the youth outreach education centre, Subla, has six children aged 17 to six, and her life changed dramatically after her partner Nicky died following a fall six years ago when her youngest child was four months old. "You feel austerity more when you have less, I have an empathy for people who get stuck in bad situations," she explained. "Luckily, the house was paid for, but we still struggle and live frugally".
Una, a committed educator, emphasises that the AAA-PBP offers an alternative left to voters, even though the chances of the party getting into government are slim. "But you can affect change by being a good opposition, because you keep the government on their toes. And we know from last time that anything can happen in a general election".