Friday 22 March 2019

Eamon pedals election fever line in bid to win vital votes

Lise Hand

As soon as he gingerly lowered himself into the seat of the contraption outside Leinster House yesterday, he knew it was a daft idea. But those press snappers can be a right pack of bullies.

"Start pedalling!" yelled one, as Eamon Gilmore tried to figure out how to get the bloody yoke moving.

It was a sort of low-slung bicycle with a big double-sided photo of Labour's Dublin South candidate Alex White attached to the back. It looked like a sort of vehicle that some fluthered hens would try to flag down late at night in Temple Bar.

"Give us a push," Eamon ordered Alex. If he was going to look like an idiot, then Alex was sure gonna share the pain. And then they were off, cycling up Merrion Street on the wrong side of the road. A furiously pedalling Eamon sailed past a garda van parked on the kerb.

"I hope we're not breaking the law, lads?" he half-laughed anxiously, but the boys in blue weren't the slightest bit bothered. They were outside Leinster House where weird stuff happens on a regular basis.

One reporter thrust a microphone into his face. "How do you feel?" she enquired cruelly. One look at Eamon's face was sufficient. Eventually he climbed rapidly out of the saddle. "If I look like a dick after this, someone's going to be in trouble," he (half) jokingly warned his team. Labour just don't do bikes with the same insouciance as the Greens.

Later that afternoon while on the canvass for the local elections in North Dublin, Eamon reckoned, "I think that this is the overture for the general elections . . . it's a general election atmosphere". And opposition theatrics aside, it does feel like a full-blown election is under way, what with the kooky photoshoots, the fusillades of dog's abuse from the opposition, the sniping from minority coalition partners, and a Taoiseach peppered with questions about his leadership abilities every time he pops his noggin over the top of the trenches.

Labour are doing everything they can to create this full election feeling. After he escaped from the bicycle, Eamon bluntly put a spoke in the wheels of government.

"I think the Taoiseach's interview yesterday on RTE was a really confused, rambling, apologia for wanting to stay in government," he said.

"It would appear that Brian Cowen is more interested in keeping Fianna Fail in power, irrespective of the views of the people of Ireland, than he is of solving this country's serious economic problems," he added, painting a lurid image of the Taoiseach gripping desperately onto power like a one-armed man hanging off the side of the Cliffs of Moher.

But his own party -- though not his personal popularity -- is on a bit of a downward trajectory according to a recent poll, prompting Eamon to finally stop flirting with the electorally toxic Soldiers of Destiny and to all intents and purposes jump into bed with Fine Gael.

Though Eamon was at pains not to paint the two parties as a Mullingar-style couple. "We have a different view on economic issues, on political issues and on how to deal with things," he insisted. Putting together a coalition government should be a doddle, then.

Eamon then spent the afternoon canvassing around the Dublin North constituency with local Labour candidates. One of his stops was St Theresa's Primary School in Balbriggan, where principal Aidan Herron and a group of parents explained how education cutbacks were affecting the special needs classes.

The loss of one teacher meant that a number of pupils won't get a place in the school, and other existing pupils will be re-assigned to mainstream classes.

The principal himself was at a loss to know how he was supposed to select which pupils would be moved. "How do I make fish of one child and flesh of another? It's an impossible situation," said Aidan Herron.

The parents were equally despairing. "My son is 11 and he can't write his name," said local woman Wendy McGarth. "Why should I be delighted he's going to mainstream school?"

Eamon then headed off up a rainy main street in Balbriggan to shake a few hands -- they were scarce enough at 3pm on an inclement afternoon, but the Labour leader determinedly hunted them all down as he worked the street at top speed, with local candidate Grainne Kilmurray trotting breathlessly to keep up.

"Change" and "fresh start" were phrases which cropped up time and again, both from Eamon and from the people he met. But the electorate are a lot warier of politicians bearing leaflets and promises this time around.

"We're going to get the country moving again," he assured one woman.

"How?" she shot back. "Jobs," he replied. But this wasn't enough for the woman who had recently joined the dole queue. "How are you going to create them?" she demanded, and listened closely as Eamon stopped talking in soundbites, and began to explain Labour's jobs strategy in detail. At the end, she nodded, but didn't promise a vote.

This time out, there are no easy votes for any party.

But the election season is in full throttle now. After Balbriggan, Eamon had a short walkabout in Skerries, then Donabate and Swords, before ending up at a function in Malahide.

Perhaps he should've brought his bike.

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