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Lise Hand: Eager Eamon proves being Green is for life, not just for Christmas

IF you didn't know who Eamon Ryan was, it'd be easy to mistake the figure ambling around a housing estate in Dublin South for one of the numerous Independent candidates running in this election.

Clad in a venerable duffel-coat, which one suspects saw The Clash play in Dun Laoghaire's Top Hat venue way back in 1979, he just doesn't exude the aura of an outgoing government minister.

Nor does Eamon wear the fretful air of a chap engaged in hand-to-hand combat with at least four other candidates for the final seat in this Group of Death five-seater.

Fine Gael's Olivia Mitchell and Alan Shatter, Labour's Alex White and Independent Shane Ross should all take seats.

This then sets up a massive scrap between Fianna Fail's Maria Corrigan, Fine Gael's Peter Mathews, Labour's Aiden Culhane and the Greens' Eamon Ryan for the last spot.

But notwithstanding the perilousness of the situation, the former Minister for Communications and Energy is in no hurry to speed-kiss babies or do drive-by handshakes with his constituents.

"I've never stood outside a church in my life, and only under acute duress will I stand outside a supermarket," he confessed.

"To be outside a church haranguing people about politics is just not my idea of how to do it. Personally, I'd find it difficult to do one of those cavalcades down the street, spinning left and right to shake hands with people."

He prefers to pound the pavements of the housing estates.

"At a door you're meeting people on their terms and on their property," he explained as he strolled around a well-heeled estate just off the Sandyford Road yesterday afternoon, deep in Olivia Mitchell territory.

"I think canvassing is the most important element of my campaign.

"If you spend four or five minutes at a door they get a sense of you, and that's important," he reckoned.

At the doors, Eamon is more than happy to indulge in lengthy conversations, even though in many cases the welcome he receives is polite or noncommittal rather than effusive.

"I'm annoyed you didn't pull out of government sooner," one woman told him, explaining that she was voting for Fine Gael.

Instead of cutting his losses and heading for the next house, Eamon laid out his reasons why the Greens hung in so long.

"Governments were in and out in the 80s, we wanted to give some stability and wanted to stay until the Budget was through," he explained, and not for the first time.

In fact, this charge against the Greens came up several times on the doorsteps.

"I voted for you last time, but you agreed with the bank guarantee and kept them (Fianna Fail) in longer than you should have," said one man.

To keep himself occupied as he tours the estates, Eamon likes to guess who will come to the door.

"I'd say this door will be answered by a retired man, maybe a teacher," he mused at one house.

And he was almost right -- the man was a retired public sector worker.

At another door -- where there was nobody home (or nobody answering) -- Eamon guessed it would be an older man.

"There's a walking-stick in the corner of the porch," he said. "It's a bit like Sherlock Holmes."

However, he's under no illusions that he's in a major dog-fight, and at every house he tries to persuade them to give him their No 1. Or failing that, anything at all.

"I'm in a battle for the last seat, it'll be a close-run thing," he explained to a Fine Gael stalwart. "If you can give a preference after Fine Gael I'd appreciate it," he said.

"I know I've an absolutely huge fight on my hands, it'll be very close and it'll be for the last seat," he admitted.

"It's 1 or 2 per cent either way. But it's like being in a line in the jungle -- the slowest walker gets eaten by the lion, so you need just one person a bit slower behind you."

But the electorate are in a bloodthirsty mood, and want to savage the outgoing government.

"We were damaged by being in government with Fianna Fail who were in power a long time," agreed Eamon.

"But we're just saying, don't throw out the green baby with the Fianna Fail bathwater."

Still, even with Eamon's indefatigable optimism, the numbers don't look good for him.

So has he turned his mind towards life after next Saturday, if he is counted out of the 31st Dail?

"My instinct at the moment is even if I'm not elected, I'll just keep going with the Green Party or working with NGOs. It's what I do, and what I enjoy most," he explained.

It seems being Green is for life, not just for Christmas.

Irish Independent