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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Dublin South West

'A few kisses from Cáit Keane': Water, water, everywhere as we hit the campaign trail in DSW

As the meters begin to tick, the candidates are battling for votes even though some see the outcome of this by-election as a foregone conclusion.

IT’S 11AM ON a Friday morning at Dominic’s Community Centre in Tallaght and the weather is dreadful.

“The first wet day of the campaign,” says John Lahart, the Fianna Fáil candidate in the Dublin South West by-election, who is attending the opening of a new youth café at the community centre in Avonbeg Gardens.

Dominic’s has been operating in the community under various guises since 1978. Deirdre Cleary manages the council-owned building which offers everything from childcare to activities for elderly residents in the area. It’s open 15 hours a day most days of the week.

“We’ve had a number of candidates in our centre and that’s very important… It gives the community an opportunity to meet the candidate, to have a cup of tea, to have a chat, and air their grievances,” she tells us.

Past visitors include the Taoiseach, the President and his predecessor. Today, there’s a bevy of by-election hopefuls in attendance to press the flesh and see if they can secure a vote or two in the race to win the seat vacated by Brian Hayes last May.

Most of those present are aware there’s a by-election but there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm for it. “I’m pissed off with politics,” says Mick O’Neill from Old Bawn, citing the John McNulty/Seanad controversy of recent weeks.

“It would put me off voting. I used to be Fianna Fáil, but voted Sinn Féin last time. I’ll probably vote for them,” he adds without any enthusiasm whatsoever.

Dolores (she declined to give her second name) is from Tallaght and has had a lot of literature through her door but hasn’t read it yet. She’s looking for a candidate who is “interested in the area and will work diligently and sincerely in the area”.

IMG_3622 Hugh O'Connell / Sinn Féin is making a big play on its pledge to abolish water charges in this by-election Hugh O'Connell / /

The conventional wisdom is that Sinn Féin has a lock on this seat and that its candidate Cathal King will become the party’s 15th TD in the Dáil, but he’s taking nothing for granted and gives us a quick history lesson:

“Back in 2007 our candidate [now sitting TD] Seán Crowe was 33/1 on – a mad favourite –  and he ended up losing his seat so I won’t be taking any of that into account,” he says.

King is wearing a pinstripe suit today. Not very Sinn Féin, we remark, but he says the wife has brought the other two to the dry cleaners.

The weather is somewhat appropriate today because according to the candidates, all people are talking about on the doorsteps is water charges.

King says he personally won’t be paying his bill and puts forward Sinn Féin’s alternative – keep Irish Water, but fund it through general taxation. But Cáit Keane, the Fine Gael candidate and sitting senator, takes issue with what King is telling people on the doorsteps.

“I always say: ‘Where are they going to get the money?’ If they want to get it by increasing taxes and ensuring self-employed people and employees pay 62 per cent… do we want to go back to the dark old days of high taxes?” she asks.

It can’t have been an easy few weeks on the doorsteps for Keane as her party’s internal struggles have been laid bare across the media in the form of ‘McNulty-gate’ but she insists people are being nice to her.

IMG_3598 Hugh O'Connell / Cáit Keane is pulling out the stops to secure victory in Dublin South West Hugh O'Connell / /

“I suppose when you’re a people’s person and you like talking to people I enjoy canvassing and people are nice,” she says.

Lahart says that ‘McNulty-gate’ is not necessarily a hot topic on the doorsteps, but argues that those who’re already “a little bit frustrated and disillusioned with the political system” have had their views reinforced by the debacle.

Of course the current frustration with the political system can be traced back to the dying days of the last Fianna Fáil government. It was here in Dublin South West where the party’s two sitting TDs, Conor Lenihan and Charlie O’Connor, both lost their seats and endured a famously torrid time on the doorsteps.

Lahart has been pleasantly surprised at the warm reception he’s been getting this time around, telling us: ”I’ve never felt as comfortable actually going to doors saying my name’s John Lahart, I’m your Fianna Fáil candidate.”

Though he lost his Dáil seat, O’Connor remains active in the community having been elected as a councillor in May. He’s here on this wet Friday morning and we catch him noting down the names of the by-election candidates who are present on a scrap of paper.

We hope he noted the late arrival of independent hopeful Ronan McMahon who at least has a decent excuse for his tardiness. He’s on crutches having torn ligaments in his foot while playing a charity match against TDs and Senators last Monday night.

IMG_3617 Hugh O'Connell / Ronan McMahon has an injury to contend with as he battles for votes. Hugh O'Connell / /

McMahon, who failed to get on the Fine Gael ticket in the local elections so ran as ‘Independent Fine Gael’, is now running solely as an independent and has Sinn Féin in his sights.

“There’s nobody decent there to give them a good run for their money and I thought a good independent, a strong voice, representing another part of the constituency [would] give Cathal King a good run for his money,” he says.

McMahon, a local businessman, is against water charges and thinks it’s the wrong time to introduce them – “it’s just another stealth tax” – and he’s “crossed paths” with his former Fine Gael colleagues a few times on the campaign trail, but says it’s all amicable.

“I got a few kisses from Cait Keane alright – and a few hugs,” he laughs.

Later in the day we join the Labour candidate Pamela Kearns as she knocks on a few doors along Limekiln Drive in the Templeogue part of the constituency. She’s accompanied by former TD Liz McManus and says that a “hugely supportive” Pat Rabbitte has also been out with her in recent weeks.

Kearns thinks there has been a much more positive reception for Labour on the doorsteps compared to May’s local and European elections, saying that voters can now see the positive economic news.

“I think the Irish people know the trouble that we’re in and they know that the best way out of it is to go with what’s working and what’s working is Joan Burton and the Labour Party and us in coalition with Fine Gael,” she says.

“Is there anything you want to ask me?” is her standard closing line on the doorsteps. Very few people answer their doors and those that do, by-and-large, admit that they haven’t given the by-election much thought.

Eileen McGrane says she’s been away, but that “there was a rake of stuff in the porch when I came back”.

“I’d like to vote for no water charges but I don’t think that’s an option,” she says, admitting she’s left worried about how much water she should be using now the meters have started to tick.

FullSizeRender Hugh O'Connell / Pamela Kearns with Liz McManus on the doorstep Hugh O'Connell / /

Another woman called Eileen, who doesn’t want to give her second name, says she’s voted Labour all her life – “I’m working class and that’s what you do” – but admits she’s now tempted to give Sinn Féin a chance given they’ve not been in government before.

That, in a nutshell, is the challenge facing the candidates who aren’t Cathal King in this constituency with just days to go before the vote.

The other candidates running in the Dublin South West by-election are:

  • Francis Noel Duffy, Green Party
  • Paul Murphy, Socialist Party/Anti-Austerity Alliance
  • Declan Burke, independent
  • Nicky Coules, People Before Profit
  • Colm O’Keeffe, independent
  • Tony Rochford, independent is hoping to get out on the trail with other candidates before the by-election on Friday, 10 October. 

The other by-election: How’s the ‘Ming’ by-election shaping up?… We hit the trail in Roscommon-South Leitrim

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