| 5.5°C Dublin

Martina Devlin: Bacik's campaign takes a sweet turn as she picks up votes from the foodies

LIFE is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get. Especially if you stand for election, when voters can take against you as easily as take to you.

Senator Ivana Bacik's campaign took a favourable turn yesterday, however, when stallholder Gavin Roche of 'The Truffle Fairy' surprised her with a box of gourmet chocolates, saying he'd like to see a left-wing government in place. No argument from the Labour candidate on that.

A vote and confectionery -- now that's what any woman would call a result.

It was market day in the People's Park in Dun Laoghaire, where Ivana (42) mingled with shoppers browsing among the crafts and produce, picking up votes and some kitchen supplies on the side.

The law lecturer and barrister is chasing the fourth seat in the hotly contested Dun Laoghaire constituency.

Junior minister Barry Andrews of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael's Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Independent Richard Boyd Barrett are among those targeting the same prize, although Ivana appears to be narrowly ahead.

As people milled round, buying homemade bread and cakes, Ivana attracted instant recognition. The female vote seemed particularly well disposed towards her.

Swiss-born grandmother of five Christiane Redmond, married to an Irishman and living here for 42 years, described Irish politics as "an absolute disaster at the moment" and suggested some of her homeland's efficiency as a remedy.

"The political parties are fighting instead of working together," she said.

"Women tend to be constructive so I'd like to see more women in the Dail."

But they must be high calibre politicians -- she feels some female TDs haven't performed particularly well. "You're a woman, you're intelligent, you're everything we need," she told Ivana, promising her a first preference.

Next stop on the campaign trail was New York-born restaurateur Roy Kinsley's Italian sausage stall. His vote will go to Labour, but it's in the Dublin Central constituency.

"I like Micheal Martin but I feel voting Fianna Fail is a wasted vote," he said.

Roy, who has spent 20 years in Ireland, said both Irish and US politicians had a common denominator: "There's a lot of lip service paid."

Out for a Sunday afternoon stroll was bookseller Derek Hughes, managing director of the Hughes and Hughes chain. He's leaning toward Fine Gael.

"We need strong government, but not necessarily single party. I wouldn't like to see us depending on Independents to get legislation through."

He said Ireland was not a good country in which to do business currently.

"Confidence has been sapped, investment decisions have been put off -- there's a hiatus at the moment. But I do believe after the election people will start to look forward. Right now we're in the middle of a grieving process."

Natasha Weyer-Brown, who ran Ruairi Quinn of Labour's election campaign in 1989, had just flown in from her home in France to canvass with Ivana. "She could be making a lot of money as a lawyer but she's committed to public service," she said.

Natasha admitted she was "a little bit disappointed" at the negative tone of the Labour campaign, diverted into criticising Fianna Fail and Fine Gael rather than concentrating on a positive message: what Labour alone could offer.

The canvassers moved on to Dun Laoghaire Pier, where nurse Celestine Ward from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, stopped the senator to tell her she was a role model for young women.

But her husband Barry said he was voting Fine Gael and would prefer a single-party government because Labour and Fine Gael were pulling in different directions.

Several voters noted how few women were contesting the election -- 15pc of candidates, a reduction on 2007 numbers. Ivana has championed gender quotas to address the deficit.

But as a mother of two young daughters aged five and three, she knows how demanding the political life can be for women.

Her partner Alan, who has a manufacturing business, is in charge of childcare duties for the campaign's duration.

"One of the challenges women face is that your political career is probably going to be taking off at a time when you are most likely to have young children," said Ivana.

"It's hard leaving your children -- I don't see as much of them as I normally would, but they understand there's an election on and I'll be back after it."

Another obstacle she cited to women entering the Dail was the political culture and the "clubbable" nature of the business.

But she decided to run because she has spoken out about the need for more women in public life and believes she should practise what she preaches.

Speaking of preaching, Ivana has been described as the queen of political correctness, a label she laughs off.

"If you're dubbed politically correct, it implies you have no sense of humour, but I think you need one to get involved in political life."

Irish Independent