Thursday 22 August 2019

Council hopefuls can't do much about price of a pint - but need to know how much it is...

  

Ploughing for votes: Mark Wall (left) and Aoife Breslin canvassing Seamus Harris, from Ballyroe Churchtown. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ploughing for votes: Mark Wall (left) and Aoife Breslin canvassing Seamus Harris, from Ballyroe Churchtown. Photo: Steve Humphreys
John Downing

John Downing

The man in the farmyard has a very simple set of questions for the two visiting politicians: "How much is a pint?"

"About a fiver," Cllr Mark Wall ventures wisely.

The farmer can get one in his local for €4.40 - but he's not quibbling about detail. He has a bigger point to make about the plight of the grain farmer.

"One hundred pints of porter would cost me €440. Wouldn't you think you could get that at least for a ton of the raw material?" the farmer asks, before moving on to the current plight of the beef farmer.

Mr Wall, of the Labour Party, canvassing alongside his Kildare County Council party colleague, Cllr Aoife Breslin, advises the farmer to vote for change. But the politicians are also keen to impress that they are canvassing for local elections about mainly local issues.

In the beautiful south Kildare landscape, people are worried about rural crime, especially the recurring theft of plant, tools and other farm equipment. The farmer agrees that the widespread text alert system has helped, and so has a stronger Garda presence.

It may surprise many urbanites that these Labour councillors got a good reception on the farms around south Kildare. But Mr Wall reminds us that the origins of the Irish Labour Party are hugely bound up in farm labourers' unionisation and quest for justice - and that many of those battles were fought in this very countryside.

It helps that Mr Wall, the grandson of a farm labourer, grew up in this picturesque area, close to the townlands of Castlemitchell and Churchtown. He sees himself as the inheritor, via his father Jack Wall, of the mantle of the great Labour figure of the 1970s and 1980s, Joe Bermingham, who came from that same parish.

Both Labour councillors operate out of the office in nearby Athy which they kept on after Mr Wall failed in his bid to succeed his father, Jack, as the local TD as part of Labour's electoral meltdown in February 2016. Along with local volunteers they kept things going and are hopeful they will keep their council seats in the election for five seats in the Athy area, which has a total of 10 candidates.

Ms Breslin grew up in Athy and began in politics working for Jack Wall. Her great-grandfather was Big Jim Larkin and her family came to Athy because her father was sent there as an official of Big Jim's FWUI union.

Both councillors argue that they are there to represent all the local people, on both urban and rural issues. For Ms Breslin the problems of the nearby towns are interlinked with the issues in rural areas and are often the same. Housing is a big issue. Mr Wall says Kildare has among the highest rates of refusal for one-off planning permission in the country, running at 50pc-60pc.

"If young people cannot build homes, these small communities cannot survive," he argues. In unison, they both utterly reject suggestions that Athy is for some "a tough town" - but argue it has on occasion got "a bad press".

"It has the largest number of top musicians, athletes and other high achievers.

"It is a great community," they say, citing names like Jack L and Joey Carbery, among many others.

Irish Independent

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