Sunday 16 June 2019

John Downing: 'Knowing the 'body language' is key in this battle mixing local and national'

 

On the trail: Fine Gael candidate Pádraig Joe Joe Mac an Iomaire at the door step of Lorcan Brophy and Bairbre de Barra in Spiddal, Co Galway. Photo: Hany Marzouk
On the trail: Fine Gael candidate Pádraig Joe Joe Mac an Iomaire at the door step of Lorcan Brophy and Bairbre de Barra in Spiddal, Co Galway. Photo: Hany Marzouk
John Downing

John Downing

The first lesson of campaigning comes on the third door that is knocked. The welcome is enthusiastic, warm, bordering on the effusive.

Then en route to the next door, some sardonic looks are exchanged in the canvass team, and the words "Fianna Fáil" are silently mouthed.

Perhaps by osmosis, we silently agree to hold all the corny one-liners about this local undertaker, turned first-time council candidate, being "the last one to let you down".

We have linked up with Pádraig Joe Joe Mac an Iomaire near the church in An Spidéal, in Connemara, on a fine May evening as he and his team prepare to hit the local election canvass trail in various places outside the town itself. He is a long-time Fine Gael activist and his canvass team includes a former local councillor, Joe Lee, so there is no shortage of experience.

This is a distinctly country canvass, where the pace appears a little more relaxed, many would-be voters' allegiances are well known, kind words are more usually the norm, but body language tells you most of all.

"This is a fair enough campaign in its tone. There is nothing ugly about it, or unduly tough. I'm optimistic that I have a good chance. The reception is very good - and that's a help," Pádraig says.

On his canvass team: Pádraig Joe Joe Mac an Iomaire (centre) is helped by former Galway county councillor Joe Lee. Photo: Hany Marzouk
On his canvass team: Pádraig Joe Joe Mac an Iomaire (centre) is helped by former Galway county councillor Joe Lee. Photo: Hany Marzouk

We broach the question of one of his day jobs, undertaking. "Yes, I suppose it is helpful for this campaign. You get to know people through arranging funerals and they know you subsequently," he says frankly.

But his campaign team point out that he is also known through long involvement in the Mícheál Breathnach GAA Club, where he has been treasurer for 15 years, and through his ownership of the popular local bar, An Poitín Stíl. His family also have deep roots in the area and his grandfather was a county councillor for many years flying the Clann na Poblachta colours.

While the pace of the canvass appears relaxed - that is deceptive. There is huge terrain to be covered across this five-seat South Connemara electoral area in which the Irish language is still spoken by most local people. So, the canvass is also bilingual with canvassers and potential voters moving seamlessly between both languages.

With little over a week left, Pádraig's team are happy with the amount of ground covered but there is a lot yet to be canvassed. Yet the canvassers must show that they have time for people.

At one door, an older man frankly tells the candidate that he is only visiting relatives and does not have a vote in this area. Still almost 10 cordial minutes are passed in a discussion of hurling and the GAA season ahead. Let's hope the man gave a favourable report to his relations.

Proximity to Galway city makes the area something of a dormitory suburb. There are a lot of new homes and people moving into the area with young families.

Education and sports facilities are a big issue in this area. At one door a man asks about a long-planned children's playground. This one has a difficult history, but a breakthrough may now be close.

"Yes sports, play and other facilities for young people are a key concern. Planning permission for young people to build homes, the cost of getting started on a new home, sometimes up to €20,000 even before a block is laid, are all big matters to be faced," Pádraig Mac an Iomaire explains.

For the older generation, getting on in years, home help services are a pressing issue. "We have to use what influence we can here to improve and keep up services," he says simply.

South Connemara is a busy place on a fine early summer evening. Many people are not at home but out with their children taking them to hurling, football, rugby or other sports and social engagements. Two standard leaflets are pushed into letterboxes, a standard at a glance canvass card and second which says: "Tá áifeala orm nár bhuail mé leat" (Sorry I missed you).

The canvass team says that local issues predominate, though sometimes people ask about more national controversies like broadband or the housing crisis. Pádraig Mac an Iomaire's local sense that there is no great anger among prospective voters towards the Government or the big parties is also reflected in reports coming back to party headquarters.

That is reassuring for the main party strategists. But it raises concerns about the dangers of low turnout on May 24.

Irish Independent

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