Saturday 24 March 2018

It's strange times as Martin and 'humble' FF support old enemy

The woman standing at the shop counter in Dunnes Stores takes the proffered leaflet. "I'm voting Yes -- but I'm Fine Gael," she tells Micheal Martin. "We're on the same side on this occasion," he replied.

This referendum has placed Fianna Fail in odd territory -- the party is in opposition but is campaigning for a Yes vote alongside the two government parties, leaving Sinn Fein with a clear run as the main occupants of the No camp.

Sitting in a sunny hotel garden after a canvass of Ennis town yesterday afternoon, Micheal tried to untangle the complicated situation.

"It's a worry that people will see this as a referendum on the Government, they're annoyed about household charges, all of that.

"But I'm telling them that I'm a member of the opposition and if this was a referendum on the Government, I'd be voting No as well, but I'm not, I'm voting Yes," he said.

But surely this is a bit of head-melting stance for the leader of Fianna Fail? "It's a bit peculiar alright -- I was on Radio Kerry last week trying to explain what Pat Rabbitte had meant when he told a newspaper that the Government didn't have a plan," he laughed.

Yet this is just another confusing element in what has been a confusing referendum campaign with claim and counter-claim of which doomsday scenario would be doomier, a Yes or a No vote.

And with less than a week to go, the result is becoming increasingly difficult to predict.

However, it was hard for anyone to feel gloomy in the blistering sunshine --even the band of Fianna Fail canvassers trailing Micheal through the narrow town streets were in merry form.

Local TD and the party's director of elections Timmy Dooley was a most enthusiastic wingman for Micheal, guiding him into shops and propelling him towards unsuspecting shoppers and strollers.

"Sorry to disturb you, but we're canvassing for a Yes vote, and Micheal would like to say hello," repeated Timmy time and again, as the leader like a shy child was ushered forward.

It's a fiendishly difficult treaty to sell, and so the duo were keeping it as simple as possible. "It's the safer option," Micheal told a couple of women who had yet to make up their minds.

"But aren't we signing away our country?" asked one. Micheal settled in for a long conversation.

Perhaps it was the glorious weather, but the canvassers received a cheerful reception on the streets. One pensioner basking in the sun looked startled as Micheal approached her. "I thought you were my bank manager," she told him. Was the Fianna Fail leader surprised at the reception and the lack of hostility, given that the party was about as welcome as an outbreak of bubonic plague on the doorsteps just over 12 months ago?

"I was somewhat surprised," he admitted. "But people in this country are generally courteous, they'll engage. But there is a change in terms of how doors are opening and how people are talking," he added.

But perhaps the lack of hostility is due to the fact that this is a referendum campaign rather than an election, where the sins of Fianna Fail governments are more likely to be given an airing.

"I think the eurozone crisis is making people think that this is much bigger than just an Irish crisis. There's a lot of worry out there," he reckoned.

Micheal has done "a lot more door-knocking" during this campaign, because "you get to chat about issues for longer. Part of our journey is to change how we behave and that means talking to people. It's a much more humble Fianna Fail now," he said.

But of course by siding with the Government in calling for a Yes vote, Fianna Fail has handed an advantage to Sinn Fein. But Micheal said he didn't hesitate in making this decision.

"I don't have the stomach for normal politics, taking a position because it might be advantageous in the short term. The situation is too serious".

But the temporary truce with Fine Gael hasn't stopped Micheal from putting the boot into the Taoiseach over his refusal to take part in a televised leaders' debate.

"It's difficult to understand why a politician doesn't want to engage in debate," he reckoned. "But maybe there's a fear that mistakes would be made."

So does he think that Enda should have more faith in himself? "Yes, I think he should," he reckoned. Moreover, he thinks that the government side needs to pull up its socks in the next few days.

"I think there's been a lot of careless commentary from Government, like the feta cheese thing. It smacks of a lack of coherence, they need to sharpen up next week," he reckoned.

Just then, a chap came over to say hello -- a local Fine Gael worker. "Sure we'll all be together after the next election," he half-joked to Micheal and Timmy.

Poor Micheal nearly spilled his cup of green tea. This is only a temporary little arrangement, honest.

Irish Independent

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