Voters insisted it was high time Bertie's faction was cut down to size
THE shadows of two Fianna Fail Taoisigh filtered across the campaign trail yesterday. The first was to be expected, since the canvass took place in Bertie Ahern's constituency, but the second was more surprising.
Eamon de Valera was resurrected -- briefly but reverently -- as two householders shared their memories of him, while Fianna Fail candidate Mary Fitzpatrick pounded the beat in Dublin Central.
"My father played football with de Valera," said 80-year-old retired civil servant Cait Connors. "He met him in Mayo when Dev was at Irish College there, learning the language. My father remembered him as very down to earth -- he didn't say what he was like at football, though." Out of deference to Dev, she'd carry on voting FF.
On the other side of the Cabra street, a neighbour told how his late father-in-law had been one of Dev's bodyguards. But he was able to reach back beyond Fianna Fail's iconic leader to Padraig Pearse, because his father's family lived next door to the Pearses.
"Willie Pearse, Padraig's brother, used to walk my father to school in the morning," recalled the man, who asked not to be named. "The Pearses were wonderful people. There'll be two votes in this house for you, Mary," he promised.
The mood darkened when Bertie Ahern's name was cited. A number of voters insisted it was high time the Drumcondra mafia -- Bertie's faction -- was cut down to size, and complained about the shabby way Mary was treated in the 2007 General Election.
Controversially, a letter from Bertie's office was hand-delivered to voters on election morning, urging them to give their transfers to Cyprian Brady -- with no mention of Mary. The mother-of-three won twice as many first preferences as Brady, but was squeezed out of a seat by the Ahern machine.
Is Bertie being more even-handed in the current election, I wondered? "If you're asking if Bertie and the boys are out knocking on doors for me now, the answer is no," Mary said forthrightly. She is frank in all the answers she gives. "Fianna Fail is going into opposition, there is no doubt about that," she tells householders over and over. "But it's important to have a good opposition."
"I never had any time for the mafia set in Drumcondra, and now they've had their day," said Niall Murphy. "I didn't like the way Mary was treated by them. A lot of people round here feel that way."
"What they did to her was wrong," agreed Mary Connolly in another street. "Bertie can ask all he likes, but Mary Fitzpatrick is getting my number one."
Bertie, who is retiring from the Dail, has been campaigning again for Brady. But he hasn't offered his help to Dublin City councillor Mary.
Mary's father, retired Fianna Fail TD Dermot Fitzpatrick, was on the stump with her. A GP who spent 15 years in the Dail, he admitted he wasn't surprised by his former running mate Bertie's behaviour.
"I'd know the way Bertie operates. He has intense loyalty to a very small group around him. Cyprian Brady is part of that group and my daughter isn't. So Bertie went all out to get him elected in 2007 and he's canvassing for him again."
Since this was a day for resurrecting former Fianna Fail taoisigh, we touched on Charlie Haughey. Dr Fitzpatrick said whatever you thought about Haughey, you couldn't deny his devastating charm. "Grown men crumbled in the face of it."
As for his daughter, the best advice he could give her was to keep knocking on doors.
Former Fianna Fail voter Ann Sheehan said she was switching to Sinn Finn, and there were probably five Sinn Fein votes in her family. "All the parties are promising us the sun, moon and stars as usual. I never voted for Sinn Fein before, but I think it's time to give them a chance and see what they can do."
"This is typical of what I'm up against," Mary, a marketing consultant who worked in London and New York, acknowledged afterwards. "I'm probably fighting for the last seat against Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein is doing a big push to get her elected." The elephant in the room was the lack of reciprocal push from her own party.
It is clear that there is goodwill in the constituency towards Mary Fitzpatrick. But as she admits herself: "The big uncertainty is whether there is enough goodwill."
Meanwhile, how the Fianna Fail vote pans out in Dublin Central could be as much a judgment from voters on Bertie Ahern as it is on the party's two candidates.