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Martina Devlin: Joe talks a great fight -- but has no answers on the State's €19bn deficit


Socialist MEP Joe Higgins canvassing Lola and Martina O'Connor in Clonsilla yesterday

Socialist MEP Joe Higgins canvassing Lola and Martina O'Connor in Clonsilla yesterday

Socialist MEP Joe Higgins canvassing Lola and Martina O'Connor in Clonsilla yesterday

INVOKING the spirit of the 1913 Lockout didn't move her. Nor did references to mobilising the working class. She shrugged at the mention of Larkin and Connolly and remained stony-faced when he reminded her of how ordinary Egyptians had toppled a hated regime.

But when Joe Higgins took a break from ideology, started stroking her tortoiseshell cat Lola and unexpectedly confessed to liking cats, voter Martina O'Connor melted.

The mature student disappeared into the house, returning with a pamphlet about neutering feral cats and returning them to the wild.

She pressed it on the candidate in exchange for his election literature. In fact, she wasn't prepared to take his leaflet unless the swap took place.

Joe said it might be after polling day before he had a chance to study it, but thanked her for the thought.

If a voter has seven cats and spends €60 a month feeding them, only a foolish politician would express a preference for dogs.

The Socialist Party MEP was on the campaign trail in Clonsilla, hoping to win back the Dublin West seat he lost in the last general election.

He's running against sitting TDs Joan Burton, Leo Varadkar and Brian Lenihan -- but on a markedly different economic platform.

"I'm sick to my back teeth listening to economists and commentators saying, 'Will this be enough to satisfy the markets?' Who elected the markets to be a dictatorship over us?" he asked.

"We don't have to pay what we don't owe."

He insisted the Irish people had no moral obligation to meet "the bad gambling debts of faceless bondholders" and that the State must default.

Chef Kevin Nolan (28) agreed.

"I don't see why we shouldn't walk away from the debts the Government has saddled us with -- the bankers have done it," he shrugged. But he's turning to Sinn Fein, rather than Joe Higgins, because he hopes they'll "shake up the system".

Joe has passion, engages with the people he meets and still seems buoyed by that address he gave to thousands of workers in Athens recently.

But mention that the tax take is insufficient to run the country -- we're €19bn adrift every year -- and he has no feasible alternative to borrowing from the EU/IMF.

Telling us "the working people are being crucified" is all very well, but it doesn't address the deficit.

His plans include increasing taxes for high earners and introducing a wealth tax, with a one-off 5pc hit on assets which he estimates will raise between €5bn and €6bn.

What he's good at, however, is oratory.

"I would love to have been in the Dail since 2007 to call the Government to account for its disastrous policies," he admits.

"During the so-called Celtic Tiger years, the profiteering by developers and speculators was glorified. The likes of me were treated as if you were trying to hold back the tide."

Joe (61) has enjoyed his work in Europe -- who wouldn't relish the opportunity to get up Jose Barroso's nose occasionally? -- but he misses the Dail.

Not the clubbable atmosphere, because he doesn't do clubbable, but the platform.

"We need to get people into the Dail who will vocally and vehemently oppose what's going on and mobilise people to stop it happening," he told a householder who wondered if there was any point in voting. (Mobilise is one of his favourite verbs.)

Faces fell on doorsteps as he predicted new stealth taxes.

"How are we supposed to pay any more?" people asked. Fight these taxes, he urged. Fight is another well-used verb.

But it was an answer that didn't always rally the troops.

Joe was reminded that he lost the bin charges' stand-off and spent a month locked up in Mountjoy. What made him think he could win any future battles?

He seemed mystified by the question.

"We can't just lie down. People have to stand up and fight. We can find the 1913 spirit again. I'll fight honestly and to the best of my ability -- that's all I can promise."

He spoke of living on the average industrial wage "not to be saintly but because it's right".

The rest he gives away, donating €6,300 a year (the maximum allowed) to the Socialist Party and the remainder to international campaigns backing workers. The same applies to his €1,900-a-month Dail pension.

"I didn't want it put into the black hole that's Anglo Irish Bank, so it goes to hospice appeals and striking workers' funds."

Retired builder John Brady thought Joe did too much shouting.

"I'll probably give my number one to Leo Varadkar because his father was our family GP," he said. "He's a young, energetic man starting out. Maybe that's what the country needs."

But grandmother-of-seven Myra Kavanagh was going to stand by Joe because his heart was in the right place.

She was worried about her family. A son has already emigrated and a son-in-law is commuting weekly between Dublin and London.

She pushed all her sons to get trades but only the mechanic is earning a living -- the plumber and electrician are struggling.

"Everyone I know is scraping the barrel," she said.

Irish Independent