Thursday 25 December 2014

Why candidate Seamus Rodgers won't take no for an answer

The Labour Party hopeful who has been knocking on doors in Donegal for 54 years and been on the losing ticket 20 times. And he's not the only one...

Graham Clifford

Published 18/05/2014 | 02:30

Seamus Rodgers canvassing near Dunlewey, Co. Donegal this week. Pic: Declan Doherty
Campaign: Green Party's Donna Cooney
Ted Tynan canvassing Joanne Ridgeway and daughter Ruby in Cork City North. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Wind-swept and sun-kissed Seamus Rodgers is battling the elements as he goes door-to-door on the island of Arranmore off Donegal.

For an incredible 54 years the Labour Party candidate in the Glenties electoral area has been knocking on doors, engaging with voters, running from dogs and handing out election literature while on the canvass.

He is just one of dozens of serial-candidates who have already contested scores of elections and who'll be hoping to win a seat next week.

Sometimes successful, but usually ending up on the losing side, these veteran campaigners take defeat on the chin when the votes are counted and bounce back to fight again.

"I called to one man last week in Gweedore and he asked me 'What are you on, how do you maintain the energy to keep running for election?' I answered 'I'm jet-propelled'," says Seamus.

Since 1960 Seamus, who's in his mid-70s, has contested an incredible 28 elections.

While he was elected to the local council in his first election in 1960 at the age of 21 and held onto his seat for 39 years, he would go on to lose 20 further elections. He eventually lost his council seat in 1999.

In total Seamus has contested 12 Dáil, 11 council, two European and three Údarás na Gaeltachta elections.

Over the last six decades he's worn different party colours including Sinn Féin, the Sinn Féin Workers Party, the Workers' Party, Democratic Left and Labour.

The former trade union official and Chairman of the Donegal County GAA board told the Irish Independent that his ambition to seek election has not diminished over the years.

"In a way I suppose I have been in permanent election mode since I started all those years ago – but it's because I am passionate about my area and the issues facing the people in it. I've always been aware of the need for a strong left-wing political viewpoint here and all I want to do is help people – isn't that the whole point of getting elected."

In Clontarf the sight of the Green Party's Donna Cooney, whizzing around the area on her bicycle with party posters pinned to either side of the carrier, has become part and parcel of recent campaigns.

Standing for a seat on Dublin City Council the mother of four was co-opted on to the council in 1996 but has been unsuccessful in the last three local elections as well as two Dáil elections.

"Having been on the council from 1996 to 1999 I've seen first-hand how effective the Green Party can be in local politics.

"I think that candidates who keep running election after election show people that they are loyal to their political beliefs, are hardworking and haven't gone away."

In the last local elections in Clontarf in 2009 Donna was the first of the candidates to be eliminated securing 616 first preferences.

The artist and games developer admits defeat can be hard to take and this may be the last time she puts her name forward for election.

"I need to get elected this time really, it can be exhausting and you just can't keep putting yourself forward for failure. In saying that, I always think it's a bit like a mother saying the morning after she's given birth that she's never going through that again . . . and then a few years later she's back in the labour ward!"

In the Cork suburb of Mayfield I go on the canvass with election veteran Ted Tynan.

A sitting councillor, the Workers' Party candidate first stood for election in 1974 when Jack Lynch ruled the roost in these parts.

He was elected to Cork City Council in 1979, representing Official Sinn Féin "that's distinct from Gerry Adams' gang," he explains – but stepped down in 1982.

During his time in local politics the popular Mayfield man has put his name forward for 10 elections (four local and six general elections) with mixed fortune.

There was a 30-year gap between election victories for Ted who was jailed for five days in 1991 when he opposed the imposition of service charges.

"In 2004 I missed out on a seat in the council by just 34 votes, so to get elected in 2009 was fantastic," he tells me as we walk.

At the door of Joanne Ridgway he receives a warm welcome.

"We always vote for Ted in this house, he's local and understands what the people around here are going through," says the mother-of-four whose 10-year-old son Colm, who has special needs, has recently had his medical card taken away.

At another house he ends up talking insects, bumble bees and herons with a mother who is concerned that a proposed development will harm an area of conservation nearby.

"I never really stood for an election just to get a seat, I put my name forward to highlight issues that I was passionate about. The average working class families I talk to on the doorsteps are being exploited by the established parties and are angrier now than I've ever seen them. Someone has to give them a voice."

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