Thursday 12 December 2019

Nicola Anderson: Martin is gingerly steering Fianna Fáil off the rocks, writes Nicola Anderson

Micheál Martin on the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross with FF candidates, from left, James Browne, Aoife Byrne and Malcolm Byrne. Photo: Frank McGrath
Micheál Martin on the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross with FF candidates, from left, James Browne, Aoife Byrne and Malcolm Byrne. Photo: Frank McGrath
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Bulleyes and apple drops are Micheál Martin's choice as he spoons them onto the weighing scales in Aunty Nellie's Sweet Shop on the Main Street in Wexford.

When it is put to him that they are an old-fashioned selection, his face falls.

"They're a sign of my age, aren't they?" he says with gloom. Perhaps batting off criticism that this has been a heavily stage-managed campaign to date - with few opportunities given to meet anyone other than the worshipping party faithful - the Fianna Fáil leader has taken to the streets of Wexford.

He fares quite well, considering that the Fianna Fáil posse go around interrupting the peaceful coffees of punters in cafes and barging into hair salons where women are getting their roots done.

It would make your toes curl at times but this is the mucky business of electioneering.

With him are local candidates Aoife Byrne, James Browne and Malcolm 'In the Middle' Byrne, occupying the nervous ground between the other two, who hail from political dynasties.

Aoife's father is the former Fianna Fáil TD, Hugh Byrne, while James's father is the outgoing TD, John Browne.

Aoife caused ructions when she was slipped onto the ticket at the expense of Cllr Michael Sheehan.

However, he is now said to be quietly canvassing for his party candidates.

Asked in New Ross if he had any advice for his son, John Browne says: "I told him to throw away all those iPads and laptops because you can't beat going out onto the streets to meet people."

"Television screens, as he calls computers," snorts James later. He has indeed been getting plenty of advice from his father, he says, adding: "Too much."

After a career spanning eight elections, in which he topped the poll five times, John has big plans for life after politics - and it doesn't all involve political parenting.

He is off to America to motorcycle down Route 66.

"Nobody will come with me because my driving is so bad," he chuckles.

Earlier, in Stepaside, in the Dublin South constituency, Micheál Martin stopped off at the controversially closed garda station to agree with locals that the decision had been ill-judged.

At the Talbot Hotel in Wexford, he says winning two seats in the constituency will be challenging but the party has a very good chance.

He tells us his daughter was "very upset" by Labour's inclusion of him in a 'No Direction' election spoof because she doesn't like anyone making fun of 1D.

There's a stop off to BoyleSports to check his odds of becoming Taoiseach, but it takes too long. "We'll be back," he promises - but he doesn't return.

Former businessman James Saunders is passing by the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross when he spies the political brigade.

He tells how he is on the brink of losing his family home - a 250-year-old schoolhouse he has restored - because it is being foreclosed by the banks.

He had re-mortgaged it to finance his IT firm, which then went into liquidation.

But he will give Fianna Fáil a vote, he says, adding that he blames Enda Kenny who promised: "No family will lose their home."

A man on the main street of Wexford town is equally sure Fianna Fáil can come back with strength.

"Time is a healer," he says sagely.

Irish Independent

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