Monday 24 June 2019

Poll call: Rising FF star with eye on the Dáil in doorstep debut

  

Fianna Fáil candidate Olivia Buckley chats with Anna O Flaherty while canvassing in Dundrum.
Photo: Frank McGrath
Fianna Fáil candidate Olivia Buckley chats with Anna O Flaherty while canvassing in Dundrum. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

If Fianna Fáil put out an advertisement looking for election candidates, it would probably read: young, female, rural and able to mix it with the lads.

Olivia Buckley ticks all those boxes, but there's a quirk: the Offaly woman wants a seat in south Dublin.

The rural/urban divide isn't brought up once, though, as she bounces around Ballinteer on a sunny evening.

The issues are predictable: housing, transport and health are all on the minds of residents in the Dundrum ward.

But there is also discussion of line dancing, communion parties and that "tulip" Shane Ross.

"It's a new experience," the first-time candidate says. "Fundamentally, it's about listening to people, hearing their views and giving them a flavour of what you'll bring to the council."

Buckley is an interesting candidate for many reasons - but her progress will be watched more closely by party headquarters than most other doorstep débutants.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin knows he has to make gains in the capital if he is to be Taoiseach after the next general election. Buckley hasn't been selected to run for the Dáil, but there is little doubt it's on the cards, provided she gets on to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council first.

There is a gap on the ticket in Dublin Rathdown following the decision of Justin McAleese, the son of former president Mary, to pull back from politics.

He was expected to challenge sitting ministers Ross and Josepha Madigan, as well as the Green Party's Catherine Martin. So Buckley is now very much in the frame, joining a list of "weather vane" candidates on the party's "watch list" that also includes Cllr Paul McAuliffe in Ballymun-Finglas.

As Bertie Ahern, in his political heyday, summed up: "If you don't have councillors, you won't have TDs."

Speaking of Ahern, Buckley worked closely with him between 2003 and 2007, before moving to the Irish Tax Institute.

As head of Fianna Fáil's press office, Buckley had a reputation among politicians and journalists for being able to hold her own in what was an even less female-friendly environment.

With family ties to Fianna Fáil, her political pedigree is well-proven - but what do the voters think?

"Sometimes, people say it's only the local elections. I think it's much more than that. The world begins on your doorstep," Buckley says.

On hand as she takes to canvass a short distance from Dundrum shopping centre is former Government chief whip Tom Kitt.

Kitt, the local TD from 1987 until 2011, makes it very clear that he is passing the baton "to this lady".

"We have Shay Brennan (son of the late minister Séamus) as well, so we're really hoping to get two in," he says, with unashamed optimism.

There are 14 candidates, including five sitting councillors, for the seven seats in the area.

Constituent Matt Curran is more than keen for a chat, but he's not wildly interested in Buckley's policies.

He wants to know what she makes of Shane Ross, who he less-than-affectionately calls "some tulip".

"He has to have a hard neck. He'll get back in, I'm telling you," he laughs. Buckley laughs along, but decides better of taking the open goal.

At Damien O'Farrell's house, the talk is of bigger days out. "A general election is what we want. None of this Mickey Mouse stuff. Let's just get on with it," he says.

By time she gets to the home of Anne Fitzpatrick, Kitt has not only a foot in the door but is making his way into the living room.

They are a proud Labour family but "they always looked after the Kitts" and are now promising to give Buckley a chance. But there is little time for policies, either, as Anne and her friend are in a rush to line-dancing.

"I'm finding less engagement now than a few weeks ago," she says. "People have things going on, and are in deciding mode."

Eventually, though, the hard topics do crop up. One woman is furious about the housing situation.

"Deposits are the big problem," she says. "Do I really want my children living with me forever?"

Buckley is quick to point out Fianna Fáil wants to treble the budget for affordable housing. But the conversation flips on to "foreign investors". "The whole of south Dublin is going rental," the woman complains.

The issue of so-called 'cuckoo funds' buying up big complexes is a hot topic.

"Housing at a whole range of level and across age groups is coming up," says Buckley.

The welcome is broad, but one woman runs the canvass team with a tone that mixes politeness and impatience.

"I don't do Fianna Fáil, I'm sorry," she insists at the sight of a leaflet coming in her direction.

The team quickly retreats, with Buckley accepting: "Not at all, that's democracy."

She insists the rejection is rare. "I think mood I have picked up amongst a lot of voters is they'd like new blood, new thinking, fresh ideas," she says. "There's very little negativity. People are very happy that candidates come to their door and give them a hearing."

And the evening does finish on a better note, with a member of the Defence Forces revealing he's already submitted his postal vote, with Buckley "number one".

That's a start - but she'll need 1,000 more.

Irish Independent

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