Wednesday 7 December 2016

When it comes to volunteering, it must be a clean sweep for Mary

Published 30/09/2011 | 05:00

It was a grand sunny morning on the canal, and four of the Aras Seven were happily posing with all sorts of gizmos such as brooms and poles and the like.

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They would've happily posed with live snakes -- anything if it meant not having to talk about those bloody letters.

Not that there was any sign of the author of the controversial missives (perhaps David 'I see dead people' Norris was off communing with his pal James Joyce, as he revealed to Today FM's Matt Cooper yesterday evening) at the photocall to mark the National Day of Volunteering. Nor did Dana turn up to lark about with props on the canal bank either.

It was a shame the pair were as lathair for this jolly get-together, as it was the perfect chance for the candidates to start tiptoeing away from the frenetic shenanigans of the nomination process and towards the fuzzier, friendlier stuff. Less mud and custard pies, and more motherhood and apple pies.

There may be buckets of mud being stockpiled in various election HQs just in case this campaign decides to get its collective hands all dirty, but the candidates are keen to show that they can do the stuff that presidents actually do, such as shaking hands and launching things.

Michael D Higgins made a hurried stop en route to another engagement, and so it was Martin McGuinness, Sean Gallagher, Mary Davis and Gay Mitchell who brandished the red brushes for the cameras. (Mary actually did a bit of sweeping while the lads stood like road diggers around a hole).

There were lots of brush-related gags: "Who's going to clean up in this election?" wisecracked Martin.

When one photographer asked them to point the brooms directly into the camera, Sean remarked, "Willie O'Dea tried this once and it got him into trouble," in reference to the infamous shot of the then-defence minister posing with a gun.

But it wasn't just a larky photo-opp -- volunteering is a huge part of the social fabric of Irish life.

A recent survey by Volunteer Ireland showed that 70pc of those affected by the recession are more likely to volunteer.

And it's something which was highlighted regularly by Mary McAleese over the years -- so any incoming president would ignore this at their peril.

And also, volunteering has -- and may yet still -- played a significant part in the progress of Mary Davis towards the Aras.

For the jewel in the crown of her CV is her involvement as CEO in the Special Olympics, and for that event, a formidable network of community volunteers was put in place. "All my work has been involved in one shape or other with community development, with volunteerism and putting support systems in place in relation to training," she explained.

And this very network could play a considerable role in her campaign, "When you look at the number of people who are involved in Special Olympics Ireland today, there are 24,000 people in the database now," she pointed out.

And have many of them volunteered to work on her campaign? "Absolutely, many of them are giving their time to support me and I think that will be an added advantage for me," she reckoned.

No doubt it will -- and as an Independent candidate, she has the sort of numbers which must be the envy of the mainstream political parties. But one of the mainstream party candidates was putting in a bit of extra spade work. After the photo-shoot, Gay Mitchell strolled across Stephen's Green to where more than 40 stalls under the umbrella of Volunteer Ireland had set up.

He spent almost two hours chatting to volunteers from a range of organisations such as the ISPCC and Pieta House. And he was also eager to discuss his credentials on the volunteerism front.

"I started as a youth leader in St Joseph's boys' club, and I became treasurer then of the Council of Youth Clubs which had 20 clubs in Dublin," he explained, adding that he had met his wife Norma through the council.

"And then I joined Fine Gael, and what people don't realise is that the political parties couldn't survive without volunteers. They really do a public service".

And Gay reckons they could do the state of his campaign some service too.

"If anyone out there would like to volunteer to work on a presidential campaign, we're open for business," he added hopefully.

Mind you, the Fine Gael candidate may have to offer free sweeties or beer, if he wants to steal a march on Mary's Army.

Irish Independent

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