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Hanafin is best of a bad lot with home turf voters

'THERE has been terrible damage done to this country by Fianna Fail," said Drogheda man Michael Brown, after meeting Mary Hanafin on the campaign trail.

But he still intends voting for her party. The reason he offers is that he's uninspired by the opposition. "I don't see a viable alternative," the former nursing home owner shrugged. He's unhappy with the Soldiers of Destiny -- but not discontented enough to enlist elsewhere.

"I'm disillusioned, as a lifelong Fianna Fail supporter. What they have been responsible for is unforgivable," said the 45-year-old. Surely he's absolving them with his vote?

He pondered that, sitting on a school wall in Dublin's Foxrock yesterday, waiting to collect his nephew.

The bottom line was a visceral aversion to shifting allegiances -- not an uncommon reaction. The previous night, I spoke to a senior citizen who was also a lifetime Fianna Failer. He admitted he wouldn't be exercising the franchise for the first time ever, because he couldn't bring himself to change colours.

Back in Foxrock, Fianna Fail's deputy leader Mary Hanafin worked solidly, canvassing parents outside Hollypark schools. Most promised to vote for her, suggesting two possibilities: Foxrock is in line for a Fianna Fail landslide; or the colonial mindset of saying what we think other people want to hear continues to thrive in Ireland.

Perhaps Mary was on safe ground. A former teacher, she is quick to organise school visits to the Dail, regularly attends end-of-term concerts and held the education portfolio.

The woman who answered the door to her in a nearby street sums up one strand of opinion. "I had a speech all prepared if Fianna Fail called, but now it's you I can't say it," she told the minister for, oh, everything from tourism to timekeeping, thanks to Brian Cowen's wheeze gone awry.

Equally, Denise Sweeney, standing with other parents at the school gates, was representative of another viewpoint.

She challenged Mary over the size of her colleagues' pensions, and she fell back on the moth-eaten defence of legal difficulties.

Afterwards, she confirmed her vote would be directed elsewhere, although she hadn't decided on the direction.

Strategic withdrawal is a key political skill and Mary moved swiftly on, finding a sugar-coated photo opportunity -- a lollipop lady to pose alongside.

Except, as Caroline Dunne pointed out, she is not a lollipop lady. She is a school warden. And while 10pc of her €36 hourly rate has been lost, she will still vote Fianna Fail: "It was good with them in the boom times so I'm not going to jump ship now."

Couldn't Foxrock produce a single Fine Gael or Labour supporter? (Sinn Fein was probably too much to expect.) There was no one willing to stand up and be counted, at least yesterday afternoon.

Another householder said she wrote to Mary and other public representatives after the Government's attempt to limit medical card entitlements, and she was the only one who replied. That would earn her a tick, although not a first preference.

Good luck cards seem to go down well too. A father opened the door, promising his vote because a few years ago Mary sent his daughter a card wishing her well in the Leaving Cert.

A politician to the fingertips, she thanked him -- then wondered if his daughter's first preference might go to her as well.

She is not just fighting for her political survival against rival parties, but against a senior member of her own party -- junior minister Barry Andrews.

Mary said she didn't come under much pressure to shift to another constituency, so either Micheal Martin is soft at hardball or the lady has a Teflon coating.

Other events lined up on the campaign trail are a series of early evening 'meet and greet' sessions hosted in supporters' homes; intercepting constituents as they arrive at DART stations in the morning; and yes, it still happens, the Sunday morning churchyard nab. Mary Hanafin is personally likable, but she has a circle to square as a cabinet member for almost 14 years from boom to bust. Only Denise Sweeney was willing to confront her on that in Foxrock yesterday. But in the anonymity of the polling station, voters might be less circumspect.

One last observation. Some of the school children recognised Mary and came up to say hello. "I'd be President if 10-year-olds had the vote," she observed afterwards more than once.

I'm not suggesting she'll run in November, but it shows a Plan B may be forming at the back of her mind.

She has the right Christian name, after all.

Irish Independent