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Martina Devlin: Face to face with sad reality of dole and emigration

THE canvass was no primrose path of dalliance for Richard Bruton. Instead he heard a series of thorny stories about children emigrating, alcoholic sons whose mothers lived in fear of them, and unemployed people with little hope for the future.

Typical of the encounters he had in his Dublin North-Central constituency yesterday was the one with mother-of-three Connie McEvoy.

"I have a 17-year-old son and all he talks about is emigrating as soon as he does his Leaving Cert," she said.

"I'm looking at having to travel abroad to see my own children, either to Australia or America. And God knows if I'll ever see my grandchildren. Once they go our children won't come back."

Connie lost her job as a blood donor attendant in October, and her husband is also out of work despite going back to college to upskill. She said being obliged to say no when her children asked for something was hard.

"That generation is not used to hearing they can't have things. My son is looking for new trainers and I've had to say he'll just have to wait. My daughter is going to be 21 and she has to pay for half her party because we can't afford it. We're living on €372 a week. I don't know what we'd do without the children's allowance."

Richard (57) told her Fine Gael was cracking down on ministerial cars and other luxuries, and would scrap the Seanad.

"If a government is offering leadership, people expect extravagances to go. It all got totally out of hand," he said.

Connie wasn't convinced. She feared politicians might start to tackle reform but would soon slip-slide back "into their old ways".

Richard was an economist with the ESRI before becoming a TD in 1982, and has hopes of a ministry in the new government -- despite last year's unsuccessful heave against Enda Kenny.

"At the time it was traumatic," he admitted.

"I had to think was it better to go back into the party or leave, and I stayed because I thought it was in the party's interests. I hope I have skills that can be brought to bear on the crisis. That's what motivated me."

The ministry he has his eye on -- though "of course you take what you're given" -- is a new one: a department of public spending, which would spearhead a cost-effectiveness drive.

"If you just bleat at other departments about reform they won't do it but if you hold the purse strings they will. Public sector reform is a huge challenge we have to come to grips with. There were 250 new quangos set up over the last 14 years."

It's all about making people answerable for expenditure, but the lack of accountability was bothering Maurice Cowley, a former aircraft maintenance engineer.

He lost his job when SR Technics shed more than 1,000 staff from its Dublin Airport facility in 2009.

"I'm liable for any repairs I carried out for a seven-year period, but elsewhere in Ireland nobody seems to be responsible for anything. It's soul-destroying," Maurice said.

"Bob Geldof was right, we are a banana republic. It's all insiders and outsiders. A child could have run the country better than Fianna Fail and the Greens. The Greens wanted to tax everything and then hide behind the others' skirts. I'm so annoyed about the way things have gone in this country I wouldn't know where to begin."

Nearby in Harmonstown, Elizabeth Duffy (84) and her son Dermot wondered if there were any grants available to upgrade the house, which Elizabeth is buying from Dublin Corporation. An elderly neighbour wanted help with extending a barring order against an alcoholic son who'd smash the place up if he got through the door.

Elsewhere, a sign stipulated "no canvassers" and instructed candidates to deposit election literature in the recycling bin.

That house was given a miss. But Paddy Wilson (85) and his Yorkshire terrier Schuey -- short for Schumacher, after the Grand Prix driver -- were more welcoming. The retired warehouseman promised to vote Fine Gael because he wanted strong government, preferably single party.

Out campaigning with Richard on a daily basis is his wife Susan, mother of his four children. Politics runs in her bloodline: her great-grandfather Patrick Meehan was an MP in the old Irish Parliamentary Party.

Despite his economic background, Richard went easy on statistics at doorsteps.

Asked if economists were the new rock gods of Irish society, he said he was unsure if they were that or pariahs -- "how people view economists can be up and down".

Judging by the canvass, the same goes for politicians.

Irish Independent