| 8.9°C Dublin

Martina Devlin: No Simon or Louis, but these voters are a tough set of judges

Robert Kenny dismissed new leader Martin as 'just a dirty face that's been washed'

YOU hear a lot about 'The X Factor': who has it, how to define it and -- most important -- how to capitalise on it. But you don't necessarily anticipate a discussion about it on the campaign trail.

Or at least Conor Lenihan didn't yesterday. But 'expect the unexpected' is the golden rule of canvassing (and if it's not, it ought to be), so when he encountered the father of an Irish contestant on the talent show, Rebecca Creighton, he was happy to talk about the young singer.

Especially if she's registered to vote in the general election and intends doing so.

Noel Creighton said she was and she would. Although based in London, she is currently back home doing support vocals for Jedward in their push to represent Ireland in the Eurovision.

Father-of-six Noel also has a showbiz background, as a guitarist with 'The Freshmen' in the 1970s. Now there was a show band with the X Factor, he said nostalgically.

But times change, as do tastes. Not just musical, but political. So while junior minister Conor (48) knocked on doors in his Dublin South West constituency, he came across voters saying they were switching their support from Fianna Fail to Sinn Fein or Labour.

They cited the four C's: Cowen, cutbacks, cronyism and corruption. Brian Cowen reminded one voter of "Nero playing his lute while Rome burned".

Conor thought it might have been a lyre, but he didn't dispute the premise.

"Up Sinn Fein" shouted a passing motorist. Immediately followed by "I hate politics".

"Did you hear that?" said Conor. "The Sinn Fein vote is now a protest vote, it's no longer a political vote."

With nothing to lose in this constituency, which may well forfeit one of its two Fianna Fail seats, he shook hands with a couple of men putting up posters for Sean Crowe of Sinn Fein, suggesting they give him a number two preference.

Trying to talk up his new leader, he described Micheal Martin "as what the French call sympathique". Not to unemployed Robert Kenny (42): he dismissed Martin -- not lyrically but no less memorably -- as "just a dirty face that's been washed".

Robert was the hardest hitting voter canvassed yesterday. He attacked the size of ministerial pensions and severance packages. If the finance bill could be rushed through, he saw no reason why other legislation could not be fast-tracked to stop these payments.

When Conor offered Martin as evidence of a new, improved Fianna Fail, he was given short shrift.

"Martin is part of the old brigade. To me he has blood on his hands, he has dirty hands," said Robert. He voted Fianna Fail in 2007 but "never again".

Tom Kelly said Ireland needed to be able to hold up its head internationally once more. He added: "I'm a Fine Gael man through and through, but I admire the brother (Brian) -- he stood his ground."

There were recurrent references to "the brother" on the campaign trail. But not as frequent as the references to Vincent Browne. The TV presenter is big in Tallaght, where the electorate admitted to being hooked on his show.

Some were keen to discuss Conor's performance on the TV3 programme on Monday night. "You had too much makeup on," one man told him.

"You're very discerning," Conor responded. "I just sit in a chair ... I don't advise the makeup people what to do."

"Vincent wants to wind you up," offered another man.

Conor said it would take more than Vincent Browne to get him all hot and bothered.

"He nearly had you last night, the eyes were popping," contradicted the householder.

Conor admitted doorstep reaction was "less visceral and punitive" than he expected, by which he meant people were relatively polite. He estimated Fianna Fail would get between 20pc and 25pc of the vote. Perhaps overall, but not based on what he was hearing in East Tallaght yesterday.

Marie Hartford (64) promised her vote because he arranged a brain scan after she started bleeding behind the eye. Health cutbacks meant she wasn't entitled to one, but a word in the TD's ear worked wonders.

No wonder all politics are fundamentally local in Ireland. "I'll never forget you," she hugged him.

But gratitude only extends so far. The two other votes in her household won't go to Fianna Fail as a protest at security cuts. "It's because of Brian Cowen and not Conor," said Marie.

Musician Eoin Boyle (34), a father-of-one with muscular dystrophy, said he felt marginalised under the current government. He intends voting on the basis of personality rather than party.

Unemployed 22-year-old Anthony Notaro may not vote at all.

"The community is in disarray," he said. "I want to see a party come forward that acts for the working class."

As for Angela Woods, she couldn't wait for last night's leaders' debate. "I'm looking on it as entertainment," she said.

Which brings us back to 'the X Factor' principle. If affairs of state could only access some of its pulling power, we'd all be politically engaged.

Irish Independent