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Fianna Fail candidates take the flak as they steel themselves for poll slaughter

In what has been described as the most national local elections in history, many are predicting a purge of biblical proportions of Fianna Fail candidates. Hammered in 2004, many fear the upcoming elections on June 5 will be a wipe-out.

Last week, we followed two FF candidates, Liam Dockery and Cllr Gerry Horkan, in Stillorgan and saw first hand the level of public anger toward Fianna Fail and the Government.

Last Thursday, as the rain poured down over the affluent suburb of Leopardstown, Co Dublin, first-time candidate Dockery and his canvassers met with little cheer or warmth on the doorsteps. There is much anger and he bore the brunt of it.

Dockery -- a local lad, a player with Kilmacud Crokes and a barrister -- is up against it to take a seat in the area. A former UCD politics student, Dockery expressed an interest in running for election last year in Blackrock, but with an extra seat this time around in the Stillorgan ward, he was selected for there.

"Well, I am hoping as a first-time candidate that I might get an easier time. But it's clear the national situation is dominating the mindset and it is slow going on the doorsteps."

Dockery's first house-call that night was anything but an easy ride. In the shadow of the popular Leopardstown Inn pub, the conversation lasts little more than 15 seconds.

He begins his simple pitch to the resident, about him being a local lad and a first- timer, but it fails to work. The elderly home-owner snipes: "Well, I have read both of Mr Lenihan's Budget statements and I won't be voting for you. Goodbye."

House after house, the anger is clear and palpable. This area's ageing population is still reeling from last October's Budget bloodbath. At house after house, issues like the medical card, the banks and the levy keep being raised.

"I'm angry, I am fed up and I think FF have done an awful lot of damage to this country," another resident said. "You're not coming at a good time are you," says another.

There is little room for Dockery to make the point he is a local candidate. "It is the most national local election ever," he said and from the night he was having, it was not hard to see why.

Dockery is approaching this election like he has nothing to lose. He took the brave step of hitting the doors on Budget night and, surprisingly, found the reaction was better than expected.

"Many were, I think, surprised to see that I wasn't hiding. They seemed to respect that I was willing to step into the fire and hopefully that will stand to me."

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While some of the older residents were angry and resentful, several younger home owners were more willing to listen, and were certainly more receptive to Dockery's approach.

"Ok, we'll give it our consideration, good luck to you," says one resident. Dockery says he needs between 800 to 1,400 votes to stand a chance of winning a seat. There is a lot to be played for between now and June 5, but he admitted the run-in will be very difficult, particularly when the impact of the tax levy hits pay packets next month.

For sitting Fianna Fail councillor Gerry Horkan, it was a similar story on the previous night. Horkan, who is seeking re-election on June 5, is out in the heart of his Stillorgan constituency and did not have it all his own way.

"I have voted FF all my life, and I voted for you last time but I haven't seen you in five years. I won't shake your hand," says one woman.

"You are wasting your time here, you're not getting my vote," says one man. "You're calling at a bad time and I'm trying to get the kids to bed, and you've just woken them," says another.

Horkan, who was closely allied to the late Seamus Brennan, is joined by Brennan's son Shay on the doors. In the heart of Brennan land, Shay's presence is a clear advantage to Horkan's pitch.

Out in Woodley Park, a quiet, settled, affluent street, the residents just want to talk about the national crisis. "Cowen and Lenihan have let the banks destroy this country" one man said.

"Wow, you guys are in trouble" says another.

Like the people of Leopardstown, many of the older people, who claimed to be lifelong FF supporters, said they are so angry that they won't do it come June.

"I am angry at Fianna Fail, and for the first time I won't vote for FF, and that is very upsetting," one elderly resident said.

Horkan is willing to use the power of persuasion. He says to one woman who greeted him coolly that he was willing to stay there to midnight, if it meant getting her vote.

Even in O'Dwyers' pub afterwards, Horkan sits gracefully as several locals joke that he is set to lose his seat. He defends his position with good humour and is always ready to have the chat.

Six weeks from the election, both Dockery and Horkan are typical of what FF candidates are getting on doors throughout the country. I don't envy them their tasks.

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