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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 24 June, 2019
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"Play it cool": Micheál Martin's been stopping traffic in sunny south Dublin

The battle for Stepaside Garda Station raged on this morning, as the FF leader stopped by for a barnstorming visit.

MICHEÁL MARTIN STOPPED traffic this morning.

Not by doing anything particularly dramatic, we should probably add.

He just stood on the edge of a traffic island, giving reporters and cameramen little option but to plonk themselves on the tarmac, blocking a turn past the-building-formerly-known-as Stepaside Garda Station.

Nobody, much to our disappointment, actually shouted “step aside” to the Fianna Fáil leader – though his handlers eventually realised that was probably the best course of action and moved him across to the safety of the path.

There wasn’t much time to shout anything at him, in fact. Martin spent about nine minutes flat at the station before speeding off down to Wexford, speaking to reporters for less than two minutes.

Despite the barnstorming nature of the stop, however, Shane Ross’s campaign weren’t to be caught napping: a black SUV decked out with his posters and banners cruised by, just as the event was winding down.

Open it up 

The issue of what to do with Stepaside Garda Station – to reopen or not to reopen – is a contentious topic in the constituency of Dublin Rathdown, particularly the rural areas along the foothills of the Dublin Mountains.

Ross, who topped the poll in 2011 in what was then Dublin South, has posters plastered all around the area and has long been vocal on the issue, telling the Dáil last year that there had been an “epidemic” of burglaries in the town since its closure.

Alan Shatter, who’s also hoping to retain his seat, has meanwhile raised doubts on whether reopening the station would have any impact on crime. The former justice minister has accused Ross and others of “seriously misleading” locals on whether it can be put back into active service.

For its part Fianna Fáil, while not committing to a nationwide reopening of garda stations, says it definitely wants Stepaside up and running again. And campaigners turned out to keep up the pressure on Martin today, as the party leader blazed through in support of local candidate Mary White.

“I think the policy of placing more emphasis on mobility of gardaí as opposed to presence of gardaí on the ground in my view was misdirected,” Martin said (simultaneously blocking the mobility of several motorists).

Communities were left feeling vulnerable by the decision to close so many stations, he said, insisting that a visible police presence in towns and villages was imperative.

I think that policy needs to be reversed, and I think we need to go back to the idea of having a strong garda presence on the ground. And Stepaside has become iconic in terms of that overall argument.

Back on the road 

No time for any follow up questions… We were told Micheál would be doing his main media event of the day later on in the Southeast.

Just time for a quick chat with some local well-wishers (one of whom weighed in with some West Side Story-themed advice on debate tactics – see below) and it was off down the N11 for the Fianna Fáil leader’s roadshow.

White, who has a full schedule of events in the area, described the closure of the station afterwards as a “complete folly”.

Asked if all 139 closed stations should be reopened or replaced, however, the senator was less forthright, referring to the party’s plans for a Garda Inspectorate review of the situation.

But I have to get elected here.

“If I don’t get elected here… I’m driving this garda station to be reopened so I need to be elected.”

White says the feedback in the area has been good, while her leader has been “performing brilliantly” on the television. That said, she still reckons it will be the hardest constituency in Dublin for Fianna Fáíl to reclaim a Dáil place.

With only three seats up for grabs this time around and the smart money on Ross and Shatter to take the first two it’s going to be a hell of a dogfight for that last slot.

And while Martin’s fleeting presence may have irritated a local driver or two, news footage like the below will certainly do his party’s candidate no harm with local voters.

For a full list of candidates in the constituency click here.

Read: Crowds gather for rally against Garda station closure

Read: Rally planned to protest closure of Dublin garda station

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