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Martina Devlin: Fine Gael's poster girl Lucinda hears some home truths

LIKE Madonna, she only needs one name. That's why she has a series of 'Lucinda' election posters.

Her leader is known by just one name too, but Madonna is probably a sassier analogy than Enda. Still, Lucinda did quite a bit of standing up for Enda on the campaign trail yesterday. If he doesn't reward her for it there's no justice.

A number of voters complained about his no-show at the TV3 debate and said they found him unconvincing generally. She insisted he'd make a terrific "chairman of the government" and was full of integrity.

"We had Mr Charisma with Bertie Ahern and it didn't serve the country well," she added.

The TD certainly seems to have put last year's reservations about Enda's leadership skills behind her. No wonder they say a week is a long time in politics.

Lucinda (31) admitted to brainstorming with a panel to devise adjectives for those posters, such as 'Lucinda -- Courage' and 'Lucinda -- Solutions'. I wondered about the posters emblazoned 'Truth and Honesty' -- what was the difference between the two qualities?

She cobbled together an unconvincing answer. Oops. Someone must have nodded off during the cogitating sessions.

The sitting Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East, comfortably elected in 2007, is regarded as star material in the Dail.

On the stump you're just another politician, however.

It wasn't all plain sailing as she did the rounds in Sandymount, but she was prepared to stand her ground and debate the issues.

She had to do just that with the granddaughter of TD Roger Sweetman, a member of the revolutionary first Dail which assembled in 1919. Nora Sweetman was furious about young people being saddled with huge mortgages they couldn't pay.

"I want something done for those young families," she said.

Lucinda said her party was extending mortgage interest relief, but Nora dismissed that as a drop in the ocean.

Then she wanted to know why banks weren't forced to offer new terms on mortgages where people are struggling.

"We don't have control of the banks," said Lucinda. "So why are we paying for something we don't even own?" demanded Nora. "This is farcical."

Her father was Fine Gael TD Edmund Sweetman and her cousin was former Fine Gael finance minister Gerard Sweetman. But she's voting for an Independent.

"They might tell the truth even if they don't have any clout. I'm ready to run myself, I'm boiling, but I couldn't stand all the dirty little deals.

"When my father was a TD he didn't even claim his expenses -- that's how much the situation has changed. He'd ask why he should claim petrol for going to see a constituent when it was part of his job."

In another house, two gardai tackled Lucinda about the moratorium on public service appointments. They said they were snowed under with work.

"A third of my wages have gone in the last two years," said the male guard, who quizzed Lucinda about Fine Gael's plans to reduce public service numbers. She insisted frontline jobs would be protected, but 30,000 staff had to go.

"We're on the bone as it is," said the female guard. Lucinda said flexibility was needed so that surplus staff could be moved about -- for example from the Department of Agriculture where "people are sitting round with nothing to do" to the "overstretched" Social Protection.

Further along the road was Nellie Hayes (88), originally from Tipperary. She's a lifelong Fine Gael voter and isn't for changing.

"I feel very sorry for young people -- there's nothing here for them," she said.

A neighbour of Nellie's told the candidate in no uncertain terms that Labour was their first preference -- a switch from Fianna Fail.

"Fianna Fail brought the country down -- it's not our country any more," said senior citizen Josephine O'Connell. "I like some of Eamon Gilmore's ideas, but I don't find Enda Kenny convincing."

Several others criticised Enda for only pledging to cut the Taoiseach's salary to €200,000 -- the feeling was it remained too high. One woman said her son was an architect and hadn't worked for two years, another complained about the minimum wage cut.

Lucinda said Fine Gael intended to reverse that reduction, without elaborating. And no wonder, because it's not as simple as that -- the wage rate is in the Four Year Plan and any change will have to be discussed with the IMF and the EU.

She did have one good line which would be worth regular repetition on doorsteps: "We have politicians who are anxious to serve, not to rip people off." Put that on your posters, Lucinda.

Irish Independent