Monday 21 May 2018

They don't fear me, but maybe they respect me more, says Hanafin

Mary Hanafin speaks to Jennifer Adams while canvassing in Sallynoggin, Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Mary Hanafin speaks to Jennifer Adams while canvassing in Sallynoggin, Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Mary Hanafin speaks to Mildred Hill while canvassing in Sallynoggin. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'They needed a pot of coffee when I was finished," said Mary Hanafin grimly, of her meeting with the Fianna Fáil National Constituencies Committee in Christmas week. She tore strips off them, asking if they wanted to apologise and suggesting they "never treat any candidate the way they had treated her".

The unseemly tussle over the selection process in Dún Laoghaire and the spurning of a "long-serving, loyal party member" had raised hackles and eyebrows alike. The former Education Minister lost out to fellow councillor Cormac Devlin at the party's selection convention in September - only to be swiftly added to the ticket.

One party member described the situation as "a complete joke" which made a mockery of party leader Micheál Martin's rhetoric about introducing new candidates.

Having called them out on the shambles, does the committee fear her now?

"No, I don't think anyone fears me but maybe they respect me a little more," said Hanafin with trademark demureness.

On the face of it, the 56-year-old former education minister should be the dream candidate for her party, with her dyed-in-the-wool pedigree. She is bright, articulate, educated - and most alluringly, perhaps, with all this talk of gender quotas, she is a woman.

If she was anyone other than a remnant of the disastrous last government, they would be beating down her door. But the taint lingers. There are plenty who feel she should take a leaf out of Mary Coughlan's book and sail off into the sunset with her €103,000 pension and not be bothering the public anymore with her presence.

She readily admits that she formed part of the government which brought the country to its knees and had to call in the IMF.

"I always claim responsibility for any role I might've had but people always acknowledge that I did a good job in my own ministries.

"But I'll never walk away from it. I was a member of the last government and there were decisions on tax and an over-reliance on stamp duty," she acknowledges, cannily adding: "But if you'd have given me more money for education, I'd have spent it."

She grew up in a house where the door was always open, with people coming and going to sign forms. Frankly, she misses it.

Now, in a pair of new, navy, lace-up, walking shoes and with a sheaf of election leaflets in the deep pockets of her waterproof trench ("In a good pair of shoes and some leaflets, you're ready for anything," she says), Hanafin has hit the trail with almost incomprehensible gusto, once again.

"It's what I do. I enjoy it," she explains of her decision to stand again.

"I enjoy public service and I think I'm a good public representative. I fight the corner, whether for myself in election or for the people."

She claims women in every sphere who have felt 'pushed around' in the past have come up to her to tell her that she was right to stand up for herself.

By going back to square one on the snakes and ladders board and becoming a local councillor, refusing to take allowances or expenses, she believes that she has demonstrated her commitment to public service - though readily admits she has a "good pension" which enables her to "give something back".

And local politics has turned out to have its own surprising benefits.

"I never thought I'd find myself excited about being able to put in a park bench but I am, because I know it means a lot to the community," she muses.

But she baulks at the suggestion that sitting on the local council is a form of penance for past transgressions, insisting: "This is something I really enjoy."

What she does not enjoy, however, is the element of personal attacks at local level, with fellow councillors making "snide, personal comments across the table".

I ask if this is something she experiences herself. "Not so much and I don't give it back," says Hanafin stoutly.

If she loses out again in the General Election, life will go on, she says. She will sit on the council until her term is up in 2019. But she won't stand again.

Again and again, as she hits the doorsteps on a canvass in Sallynoggin, Co Dublin, she cajoles, needles and badgers would-be voters in her quest to reap every single one of the 15,000 'number ones' she needs to get her Leinster House swipe card back.

"Will you get me in?" she demands of an elderly man who opens his front door.

"Course I'll get you in," he promises.

"Well, I lost last time."

"Well, it wasn't my fault, love," he quips, explaining later that Hanafin is "a neighbour's child" and so has his vote.

There are few individuals more persuasive, more downright determined than a former minister, grappling in crampons, on the steep and treacherous journey back up from the bottom of a cliff. And fewer still more steely than Hanafin, as she bounds up garden paths like the schoolgirls she used to teach.

Much to her surprise, she meets several from her Sion Hill days on Sallynoggin's Pearse Road - where houses are being refurbished and gentrified by newcomers relieved to uncover a somewhat affordable enclave in South County Dublin. Balancing a baby on her hip, Jennifer Adams recalls her as "stern but a great teacher".

Discussions on the doorsteps span urban foxes, the childcare situation and several householders share their A&E horror stories.

"The way this country is run, honestly," says one woman who answers her door.

"I'm not the Government," says Hanafin.

"She's not the Government," backs up one of her campaign volunteers.

"I'd be better off saying no more anyway," says the woman, shutting her door on Hanafin - who sighs and moves off again on her quest.

Irish Independent

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