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Martina Devlin: Richard taking race to the finish line all in his stride

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People Before Profit candidate Richard Boyd Barrett speaking to local children yesterday as he charges through housing estates in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, to canvass for votes

People Before Profit candidate Richard Boyd Barrett speaking to local children yesterday as he charges through housing estates in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, to canvass for votes

People Before Profit candidate Richard Boyd Barrett speaking to local children yesterday as he charges through housing estates in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, to canvass for votes

Richard is giving his second preference to Eamon Gilmore because he wants to build a left-wing alliance

RICHARD Boyd Barrett doesn't walk if he can trot and doesn't trot if he can gallop. He charges through housing estates at breakneck speed, pausing to talk to potential voters before dashing off again -- all without getting out of breath.

"Stop," I gasp, "can we just stand still for a minute?"

"There's no time to lose -- work to be done," he says sternly, focused on the job.

He feels if he can just canvass enough homes, the holy grail of the fourth seat in Dun Laoghaire will be within his grasp.

I resort to shouting questions after him as he zooms along several yards in front. Next time I'll bring a scooter.

One question refers to his role as a local politician (he's on the council here). "I don't like the word politician," he objects. "I prefer political activist."

We sprint along Monkstown Farm, where I become a bit slack about following him up front paths to doors. I need to hyperventilate on the footpath instead.

I rack my brains for a way to bring the People Before Profit candidate to a halt. I know, I'll ask him about bankers.

"I want the banks to pay to clean up the mess they created," he shouts back over his shoulder.

"There is a choice in this country between protecting people, jobs and services and protecting the bankers.

"Also, we need to do something about rates to kickstart small business. It's crazy a bank pays the same rates as a florist."

Okay, let's try another tack. How would he address the €19bn national deficit?

This time it works. He stops. He turns. We are standing still for the first time.

Here's his plan: first up, we don't pump €10bn of public money into recapitalising the banks again, one of the jobs awaiting the new government.

Next, we introduce an annual 5pc wealth tax on assets over €1m excluding the family home -- this would raise €5bn to €6bn, he says.

We do something about getting revenues from natural resources, primarily gas, given away off the west coast of Ireland which he says are worth €500bn. And we close off all tax breaks for private pensions because he believes they only benefit the well-to-do.

I tell him many of these tax breaks have already been scaled down under the four-year plan but he insists there is still plenty of fat which could be trimmed there.

Back on the campaign trail, 43-year-old Richard meets Valerie Devlin and her husband, Conor, just moving into a new council house in the constituency. They promise Richard their number one. Both are unemployed with three children, and struggling to make ends meet.

"We had to go to the Vincent de Paul for help for the first time ever at Christmas," says Valerie. "I was embarrassed going to them but I had no choice."

Community development worker Paul Cunningham also promises his number one. "I'm that confused about politics at the moment I wouldn't know who to trust. But I'll go for Richard because he is down to earth and one of us," he says.

Others tell him they will vote Labour number one and might give him a number two. Richard himself is giving his second preference to Eamon Gilmore because he wants to build a left-wing alliance.

Local issues are important here but he calls that a translation of national policy. If people are complaining about inadequate accommodation it's because the money isn't forthcoming to improve local authority properties, he says.

"If the people upstairs sneeze I say God bless you," says a senior citizen in a ground-floor maisonette, criticising the soundproofing.

She wonders if Richard will be in the Dail if elected. He says he will. Does that mean he'll be a TD? He confirms this will be the case.

"Don't get too rich, don't let it go to your head," she urges. He says he only intends taking one third of his salary -- "a worker's wage" -- and promises she'll still see him locally on a Saturday doing his supermarket shop.

She shakes her head. "Them fellows in the Dail are spending on a bottle of wine what we have to live on for a week."

Richard's mother Sinead Cusack has done some campaigning with him over the past weeks (she must be a fit woman) and all he says about that is he's glad of any support he can get.

But he leaves me breathless finally, not by darting off again but by advancing a suggestion on how to spend money rather than save it. He recommends doubling the old-age pension.

What with, I wonder? The money saved from tax breaks on private pensions, he says impatiently.

I suggest he might think about means testing it, at the very least.

"Why would you means test it?" he asks. "I'd double it so we don't have a two-tier old age the way we have a two-tier education and two-tier health system."

And there we leave it, me somewhat dazed, Richard loping off in the opposite direction.

I can't predict how he'll do in Dun Laoghaire. But if he was running at Shelbourne Park, I'd put a month's pay packet on him.

Irish Independent