Monday 18 December 2017

Frances keeps fuming Simon cool as Fine Gael's tiff tests the water

Frances Fitzgerald on the campaign trail with Ireland South MEP Candidate Simon Harris in Bray Co Wicklow yesterday. Picture: Mark Condren
Frances Fitzgerald on the campaign trail with Ireland South MEP Candidate Simon Harris in Bray Co Wicklow yesterday. Picture: Mark Condren
Frances Fitzgerald on the campaign trail with Ireland South MEP Candidate Simon Harris in Bray Co Wicklow yesterday. Picture: Mark Condren
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

'I WAS upset," admitted Simon Harris. But, as the Fine Gael euro-candidate is a mannerly young man, he didn't express his upset in the way of individuals with less couth, such as flinging toys out of his cot amid a flurry of finger-pointing and a fusillade of effs.

The cause of Simon's angst was a four-page election leaflet which his party colleague and Ireland South rival Deirdre Clune placed in yesterday's Irish Independent for distribution not only around her own patch in Munster, but also within the Wicklow TD's supposedly exclusive territory of south Leinster.

For the leaflet included a letter from the Taoiseach urging people to give the Cork-based senator their Number One vote, which is all fine and dandy inside Deirdre's turf but not outside it, where both Sean Kelly and Simon are also competing for what's expected to be Fine Gael's haul of two seats.

Yesterday, while out on a canvass in Bray and Greystones with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle and a couple of local candidates – Mick Glynn and Sarah Wray– he expressed his disapproval.

"I'm not going to get embroiled in tit-for-tat, but I was upset by this because I think it undermines the work that everybody is doing, including Deirdre Clune who is also working very hard," he explained.

"But the rules are very clear, the divides are very clear," he added.

As he and Frances set off down Bray's main street, it looked as if the torrential downpour was determined to rain on his parade in the literal sense. The new Justice Minister was in a mischievous mood and persuaded the candidate to hold an umbrella and walk with her under a gushing water-pipe for the photographer, half-drowning the pair of them.

And she proved to be an indefatigable canvasser, bustling in and out of cafes and local businesses.

"You have your hands full, haven't you?" suggested one lady in a coffee-shop, adding, "We need more shops in the town. Jobs give people hope."

Simon assured her that if elected to Europe, he would try and access more money for town development from the Structural Funds piggy-bank. It was a view echoed by Liz Rooney, manager of the Enable Ireland shop.

"This town could do with a bit of law and order. The police have very little presence here as far as I'm concerned," she told Frances.

It was clear that these two towns were indeed Simon's home turf, with many locals greeting him by name. But he knows he's the underdog in this fight. "We have an uphill battle," he acknowledged.

The 27-year old is the party's youngest TD – and he happily plays the youth card, telling people, "We've never sent anyone as young as me to the European Parliament, it has been viewed as a retirement home for politicians – you go there if you can't get elected to the Dail," he said. "But this is not a ceremonial position. This is a policy position, a position with teeth."

And fresh-faced and fogeyish as he is, Simon isn't afraid to bare those teeth. He reckoned that Clune's leaflet "isn't fair" to the party leader, either. "He's worked his backside off to get the best result possible for this party," he said. "The Taoiseach isn't asking people in Ireland South to give Deirdre Clune their number one vote – the Taoiseach is asking that if you live in Cork vote for Deirdre, if you live in Leinster you vote for Harris and if you live in the south-west, you give your number one to Kelly".

Outside Greystones DART station in the early evening, Frances and the team were busy handing out leaflets. But the candidate was nowhere in sight. Then Simon dashed around the corner in a fanfare of apologies.

"Sorry, but I just met a man who actually wanted to talk about the EU," he explained, wide-eyed in wonder. That cheered him up no end.

Irish Independent

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