Thursday 29 September 2016

The Yates Anthology: Keeping gob-daws out of the 32nd Dáil

Published 13/02/2016 | 02:30

Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul O'Connell. Photo: Sportsfile

Irrespective of ideology, in every constituency across the political spectrum, there's an underlying opportunity to give the job to the best person, a person whom you'd hire as a professional advocate. One would like to presume that they might be literate, numerate and articulate.

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Parliamentary duties are complex; they require legal knowledge as a legislator, a rudimentary grasp of macroeconomics and then there's the prerequisite: political skills to master civil servants. A constant forensic focus on social problems is also needed.

What I am saying is we don't need more gob-daws from Ballymagash ('Hall's Pictorial Weekly', remember?) blathering a torrent of parochial nonsense.

Given that standards in all professions are rising, politicians should not get a free pass. Let's hope the 32nd Dáil comprises bright, smart people - and is devoid of cute hoors. We must separate the opportunist attention-seekers with an eye on a lucrative job, and people of genuine integrity whose aim is honourable public service.

Brass-neck survival guide for canvassers

Voters give out yards about household callers on the campaign trail. However irritating it is to get up off the couch to answer the door, it's far worse for the poor sods carrying out the canvas.

It's a thankless task, carried out by volunteer foot soldiers, generally unrewarded for their pains. Nowadays, it's more likely to be the friends or relatives of candidates who take on the role. They do so without customary party baggage or philosophical commitment, they're simply helping out.

Here's my survival guide of dos and don'ts for novices on door-to-door hustings:

● When the door opens, smile with sincerity and warmth, making full eye contact.

● The X factor is charm. Flattery is the ultimate sales technique. "Mary, you're getting younger looking"; "Betty, did you get the hair done especially 'cos I was calling?"; "Paddy, those flowers are amazing, howd'ya keep the garden so well?"; "Can't believe how grown up the kids are"; "How's your wonderful mother keeping?"; "Tell herself/himself how sorry I was to miss 'em, be sure to tell them I was asking for them".

● Always ask for a vote. Don't be pushy by insisting on No 1 - if they want to give it to you, they will. But the choice is theirs.

● Write out in advance on dozens of cards "sorry to have missed you". Imitate the candidate's signature. When popped in the letterbox of absentee householders, they'll think the candidate called personally and be so impressed.

● Bring a copy of the electoral register for every estate so you can do a name check with residents.

● Candidates should be accompanied by a local person who knows each householder (a postman is best). This enables a casual, false familiarity - it pays off.

● Be sensitive to zoning in on any local community or neighbourhood issue to nourish conversation and show concern (road repairs, public lighting, national school extension, etc).

● If you're accosted or abused by strong supporters of an opponent, defuse the situation and glide on gaily. Let them blow off steam. The best riposte is: "We knew you were unlikely to support us, but we didn't like to pass your door - it might be rude." This allows you to beat a hasty retreat and not lose valuable time on a lost cause.

● Always, no, I mean always, close the gate behind you. Otherwise, you leave an impression of thoughtless indifference.

● If they are watching their favourite TV programme at prime time ('Coronation Street', 'Fair City' or a soccer match), don't delay. Begin by apologising for the interruption, and briefly state your case.

● Carry a notebook and pen to write down any constituent's problem, so that the candidate's office can get a speedy letter of acknowledgement dispatched within days. Failure to follow up will cause any future canvasser to their door guaranteed grief.

● Provide details of how candidates can be reached locally through a constituency office, phone, email or local clinic appointments. "Only too delighted to assist in any way," suggests a dedicated social worker.

● Be aware of any recent bereavements involving householders or the extended family - if your candidate attended the funeral, you may be in luck.

● The maximum time at any door should be no more than 10 minutes. Conclude your chat by thanking them for their time and courtesy.

● Most of all, develop a hard, brass neck, impervious to all hassle. It's a thankless task, so don't take any of it personally, it should all be water off a duck's back.

To conclude, I would advise any canvasser to cultivate two things; a brass neck and a duck's back - there's nothing to it, really!

Rugby bids farewell to a true Irish legend

THE enforced and premature retirement of the best-ever rugby forward to wear the green jersey makes for a sad end to the extraordinary career of Paul O'Connell.

Unlike Brian O'Driscoll, who received a prolonged and rapturous departure, Paulie's finale was on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask, in agony.

The rupture of his hamstring in the RWC quarter-final match in France looked absolutely excruciating.

As a Leinster fan, I viewed his indomitable Munster successes in the domestic league and Heineken Cup through jaundiced eyes.

Having interviewed him, I got to appreciate what a truly top man he is - a genuinely class act.

Despite his formidable presence and physical strength, he carries himself as a sensitive, gentle man. All told, an exemplary role model. He is rightly respected with reverence in Limerick, where his affinity with Young Munster is famous.

His achievements as captain for the Lions, his country and club in lineout, scrum and maul, will scarcely be equalled.

Let's hope one day he becomes the Irish national coach. His attention to detail, preparation, passion, commitment to colleagues, professionalism, leadership and decency are qualities the IRFU will need to sustain his team's victorious record.

Irish Independent

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