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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
General Election

What's it like to be a first-time candidate? We went canvassing to find out

You hear a lot about water charges, unwanted trees and Angela Merkel.

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HOW MUCH POWER have yiz got when Angela Merkel tells everyone what to fucking do? It’s like a puppet government. Really there’s no need for us to have a government. All we need is the civil service … the country would save a lot of money.

Those are parting words of Anne Tully to Anne-Marie McNally, the Social Democrat candidate running in Dublin Mid-West.


There are 15 candidates running for the Dáil in the constituency, with some big names including outgoing Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, former Fianna Fáil minister John Curran and Labour TD Joanna Tuffy. Four seats are up for grabs.

Tully is a resident of Hillcrest Court in Lucan. She has a lot of issues she wants to talk about, noting: “I hate giving out at the door, but it’s the only time we see you.”

One thing that really gets to her is the property tax.

“I remember buying this house and buying out the ground that my house was on so I would never have to pay rates,” she says.

We won’t even go to the water because, hello, it’s raining constantly in Ireland.

Water charges and the property tax come up at most houses McNally visits. She earlier assured an elderly couple that the SocDems want to abolish Irish Water but told them: “Property tax is a slightly more complicated process because it is enshrined in legislation.”

IMG_20160217_130940 Anne Tully and Anne-Marie McNally

Tully also tells her that introducing free GP care for under sixes, rather than bringing down the cost for all children, doesn’t make sense.

This thing of 60 and 70 quid to go and see a doctor. What is the point in giving people an extra euro and then next of all the doctor is gone up by another fiver?

McNally tells her a major SocDem policy is to bring down the cost of living. She reiterates this stance when another resident, Kevin Doolan, describes the €3 pension increase in the last budget as “a disgrace”.

“Health insurance, car insurance, house insurance: The three insurances that Joe Soap has to pay, they’re all gone up.”

IMG_20160217_125344 Anne-Marie McNally and Kevin Doolan

Doolan and others are quick to raise a certain issue that is, almost literally, on their doorsteps. Many people have asked her about cutting down trees in estates. She’s told they’re blocking light and lifting footpaths, and many people fear they’ll eventually fall over.

“If the tree falls down, will the council pay if houses are damaged?,” another man asks her.

The Murphy connection

McNally, who has previously campaigned for local election candidates, says the same issues come up time and again whether you’re canvassing for the local or general election.

She has been working with Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy for the last few years, and was considering running in the 2014 local elections but says she was too busy researching Siteserv at the time.

Murphy’s digging led to a commission of inquiry being set up into certain IBRC transactions. McNally tells us a lot of people are willing to vote for her because of her connection to the TD.

Most of McNally’s canvassers met her through Twitter. One woman drives up from Offaly twice a week to help her campaign.

IMG_20160217_131438 McNally and some of her canvassing team

So, does it put people off that the SocDems haven’t been around for very long? “The newness thing is a plus if anything,” McNally tells us, adding:

You get a lot of people saying ‘Oh yeah, we need a fresh face’, or ‘We need a change’.

She notes that some people she meets do have a “you’re all the same” attitude, but most are open to talking to her.

Of the disillusioned people she’s encountered who don’t intend to vote at all, she says they tend to middle-aged with kids and mortgage difficulties.

“They just feel abandoned,” she notes.

‘Did your man get a facelift?’

Being in a new party is not something Karen Warren can rely on. She’s one of three Fine Gael candidates (and 21 overall) running for five seats in Dublin South West. She’s from Tallaght and canvassing in the Square shopping centre when we meet her.

Elected to South Dublin County Council in 2004, she lost her seat in 2009 and failed to regain it in 2014. She’s been an active member of Fine Gael for almost 20 years.

Her mother and others canvassers are helping to hand out pens while she speaks to voters.

Many people in the constituency lean to the left politically and Warren admits Fine Gael candidates have been reluctant to run in the area. “It’ll be hard for Fine Gael to win one seat here, let alone three … You have to try.”

IMG_20160216_112432 Mary Kearney, Eileen Blehein and Vivienne Cummins talk to Karen Warren

It’s the morning after the RTÉ seven-way leaders’ debate and this is the first thing three women raise with her.

Vivienne Cummins is quick to tell her she only watched a few minutes before giving up as there was too much shouting.

“I watched the start of it but switched over to Watermelon on TV3.”

Eileen Blehein tries to place how she knows Warren. “I’ve heard your name around. You weren’t on the telly, were you?”

“She was on a poster on the Old Bawn Road,” Cummins chimes in.

“Oh that’s it.”

Hospital waiting list

After a lively exchange about the Taoiseach’s youthful looks – “Did your man get a facelift, what do ya call him … Kenny? His skin is very tight,” Blehein moves on to more serious matters. She has been waiting a year-and-a-half for a back operation at the Mater Hospital.

She says she’s in “constant pain” and will be for a lot longer unless she goes private – something she can’t afford.

The next constituent Warren meets, a man who wants to remain anonymous, also raises hospital waiting lists – this time in Tallaght itself.


“There should be no waiting lists. You should be able to walk in, get whatever you’re getting done and walk out again in a couple of days.”

Warren says that waiting times in emergency departments are “a huge problem” in every hospital. She notes that people tell her the service they receive in Tallaght hospital is “excellent”.

‘Fine Gael and Labour did more U-turns than a sandsnake’

The man is not happy with the performance of the Fine Gael Labour coalition.

“Little Enda was going to give us the world in a while of whizz, he gave us fuck all.”

Warren defends the Taoiseach, stating:

You know, five years ago, little Enda could not promise anything … having a broken country wasn’t easy.

“He did promise and so did the Labour party, and they did more U-turns than a sandsnake,” he replies.

Medical card

The man has a muscle-weakening condition, myasthenia gravis, and tells her: “Whoever gets me my medical card will get my vote.”

I wouldn’t vote for any of the rest of them because they’re only a shower of … they’re only there for what they can take out of it.

“How come we never see any of them? How come they never come around here? … Any of them that get into the government, you never see them from one election to the other. Never.”

He’s unhappy with the salaries and pensions paid to politicians, noting: “If the country was broke they should have said ‘Right, the top wages for anyone in the government is €80,000 – €250,000′. Sure look what Bertie is on on his pension and Cowen and all those guys. It couldn’t last.”

IMG_20160216_120323 Eileen McDermott and Karen Warren

Warren’s mum, Eileen McDermott, is helping her today.

Hello sir, would you like a pen? It’s for Karen Warren , she’s running for Fine Gael.
Tell me where Tesco is, will ya?

The same thing has happened a few times today and McDermott dutifully obliges.

Warren points out to voters that she’s from the area, with McDermott adding that generations of the family have lived there for 100 years.

IMG_20160216_120340 Eileen McDermott, Karen Warren and Liz Dillon

The former councillor tells us she was afraid of canvassing after the local elections as, at that time, eight out of 10 people she met were angry. Now she says eight out of 10 people are happy with the government, suggesting they’re now feeling the recovery more.

She too finds that the same issues come up whether you’re campaigning for a local or general election.

A woman stops to talk to her about robberies in the areas, and the need for a bus timetable on her road.

Warren says the young people she meets are “fairly optimistic about the future now”.

One thing they’re not so happy about is paying the Universal Social Charge.

“They’ve only started working 15 or 20 hours a week. It’s their first flavour of tax. They’ve heard their parents moaning about it and now they’ve to pay it.”

‘Housing and water and healthcare are the three biggies’

Our next stop is Dublin Bay North (DBN). It has been labelled as one of the toughest constituencies in the country. There are 20 people – including Fine Gael minister Richard Bruton, Labour minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and former Fianna Fáil, now independent, senator Averil Power – running for five seats.

Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor Michael O’Brien and his team are canvassing at the Northside Shopping Centre in Coolock. When we arrive he’s speaking to a woman whose daughter and grandchildren are in emergency accommodation.


A member of the Socialist Party and a trade union activist, O’Brien said running for the Dáil was the next logical step after being elected to the Dublin City Council in 2014.

He’s been a prominent figure in the anti-water charges movement.

O’Brien admits DBN is “a monster of a constituency” but notes: “There is recognition and appreciation for the role that we have played around the water charges …  There are positive indications of support to suggest we can challenge for a seat.”

We’ll definitely get a decent vote. It’s impossible to say in the context of 20 candidates – five incumbent TDs, a Senator and a rake of councillors including me – what the hell is going to happen. We see ourselves as contenders and we’re putting the kitchen sink into it.

So, what are the most common issues voters raise with him?

“Housing and water and healthcare are the three biggies. There’s a local dimension with Beaumont Hospital.”

IMG_20160218_152326 Michael O'Brien and AAA TD Paul Murphy talk to voters

O’Brien says that the politicisation of people in relation to water charges needs to be tapped into to make gains on other issues such as housing and childcare.

He tells us he has met a lot of anti-government sentiment while canvassing.

I dare say if you venture into Clontarf or bits of Howth, some of the leafier bits of Raheny and Killester, the government statistically has their support.
The key areas for us in this constituency are low and middle income. Not just your stereotypical council estates but areas that would be seen as middle income.
People have been quite radicalised and are frankly offended and irked by the government banging a drum about a recovery that’s just not being felt.

According to O’Brien, the government’s election slogan ‘Keep the recovery going’ is  “jarring with people who just aren’t feeling it”.

‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’

Constituent Catherine Gaffney wants to talk.

“They’ll be locking me up because I am not paying no water bill,” she says.

Her husband Alan chimes in: “I’ll tell you about the water charges, it’s probably the one thing that politicised people because I was never politically-motivated at all … It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Gaffney tells me her youngest son is considering emigrating after college.

“I’m praying he doesn’t, and if he does I’ll blame the government.”

O’Brien has a tougher time with another woman who stops to chat. She’s a community worker and helped set up the local drugs task force.

“AAA is nothing but water meters, you’re not telling me anything new,” she tells him.


O’Brien denies the alliance is a one-issue group, replying: “It’s not all about water, but water’s important”.

He tells her of its plans to utilise Nama’s cash reserve of €3 billion, as well as money from the strategic investment fund, and implementation of a range of tax measures (a wealth tax, financial transaction tax and making international corporations pay more) to raise money to build more social housing units.

The conversation switches to crime, and O’Brien says he’s in favour of “community control of policing” – namely a democratically-elected local police board that sets out priorities for gardaí in the area.

IMG_20160218_152422 Michael O'Brien and TD Paul Murphy with canvassers

O’Brien thinks Friday’s vote will signal a shift in Irish politics.

The question of a left government is not going to resolved next week. Next week, to my mind, will be a transitional election in the sense that the left will make advances, Sinn Féin will make advances. The political establishment will be further weakened.

“We’re likely to end up with a pro-establishment government of some form, but it’ll be a weaker, less stable government with a smaller majority – therefore more prone to people power pressure.”

All images: Órla Ryan/

Read: O’Callaghan vs. Rock: Which one of these two can we trust?

FactCheck: Is Fine Gael right to say it has “maintained disability spending”?

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