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Catching up with the council candidates: They love canvassing but juggling politics with jobs is a challenge

Some local election candidates say they have been knocking on doors since January, in the fight for seats.

ALMOST 2000 CANDIDATES will contest the local elections on Friday, May 24. There are 949 seats up for grabs all across Ireland.

We asked five of the candidates how they feel about knocking on doors, who they rope in to help with putting up posters and how they balance their careers with being involved in local politics. 

Green Party Councillor, Patrick Costello is running in Kimmage & Rathmines, Dublin City Council.

His focus in the council is on community development, housing, linking communities with cycling and walking infrastructure and protecting community and creative spaces. 

He works part-time as a social worker.

I quit my full-time job as a social worker after getting elected to Dublin City Council so I suppose I made a choice and decided that politics is important.

I still work part-time and that involves a lot of juggling. In some ways, I am undermining my career – by not working full time I’m putting my social work career on the backburner.

Sometimes, the fickle nature of politics makes me wonder if I did the right thing. That said it is a privilege to represent my community on Dublin City Council and I don’t regret my decision at all.

Because it is a part-time position, being a councillor involves hard choices. You are also competing with others who are full-time councillors and if you have a job you can’t attend every single meeting.

Being a councillor is not a normal job in terms of pay and conditions. Councillors don’t get sick pay or maternity leave – that needs to change and we need to make the council more child-friendly to attract more women into politics. 

I’m not giving it the Béal Bocht (poor mouth) but I believe we need to reform local politics if we want it to be diverse. If we don’t improve the conditions of employment for councillors – there will be a disproportionate number of rich people and retired people entering local politics. 

I love canvassing but I prefer it when there isn’t an election on. At other times when there is no election, people are less defensive and they are more likely to engage. You aren’t under pressure to hit loads of doors either so if someone is interesting, or needs help with something, you can give them that time.

If you want to get into politics you need a tribe with you. You will definitely need help from your friends and family as much as from your party.

We have kids as well, which is challenging – but our friends are an amazing support to us. I have some friends who don’t do canvassing but they will babysit for us – so that frees up my better half to join the canvass.  

Independent candidate Dermot Hayes is running in Ennis, Clare County Council.

He is a long-time disability rights campaigner and a member of the board of the Independent Living Movement Ireland. 

He opposes the privatisation of public services and says the council should be building a lot more social and affordable housing. 

dermot-hayes-32749

I find canvassing so interesting and I love talking to people on the doors because you never know what they are going to say.

Then you meet the ones you know, or who knew your family. My father was a Fine Gael man, so they say to me joking – ‘your father was a Blueshirt and now look at you.’

That is because I’m representing those people on the margins of society. I’ve been campaigning for rights for disabled people for decades, I’m also representing low paid workers, those affected by the housing crisis and non-Irish people too.

We have 43 different nationalities living in Ennis and I have links in those communities because of my long history of community development work in the town.

I ran for the Labour Party the last time around but my voters are telling me they are glad I’m an independent this time. The Labour Party is still unpopular because of the cutbacks they implemented when they were in government.

I lost my job myself due to cutbacks in 2011, at that time I was working for a national organisation for disabled rights and I loved that job.

I don’t think it is a disadvantage, being an independent – but the handy thing that the big parties have are vote transfers and their PR machines.

But I’ve also got excellent people doing my PR and my social media. I have a huge network of friends and colleagues from decades of community work. 

I ran for the Ennis town council back in 1985 and the two friends that canvassed with me then are still with me now!

I come from a big family as well – so if the person I’m canvassing doesn’t know me they probably know one of my brothers or sisters.

The canvassing is great craic, unfortunately, with my disability, my mobility is impaired so that makes it hard to knock on as many doors as others. I’ve been doing a lot on the phone and social media and of course, I’m still out meeting as many people face to face as possible.

You hear it all on the doorsteps. One woman wanted a stone moved from the road outside her house and she was promising four votes in the house, to any aspiring councillor that would commit to getting that stone moved.

Then some issues are deadly serious. Housing is a massive issue as the rents in Ennis have nearly doubled in the last few years and people on low incomes are living in dire situations.


Fine Gael Councillor, Deirdre Forde is running in South East, Cork City Council.
 

Her priorities in politics are increasing transparency, traffic management and improvements in the public realm. 

deirdre forde

I’ve been a councillor for more than 20 years this June, so I have been canvassing even longer than that.

Canvassing has changed over the years because people’s lifestyles have changed and nowadays a lot of people are out in the evenings.

They work different shifts, or they have leisure activities in the evening – so there isn’t really a good time to canvass anymore.

In the earlier years of my political career there were more people at home and they had more time to talk to you. 

I remarked to my team recently that canvassing for local elections will change in the coming years I believe there may be a move towards using social media more. 

I’m a full-time councillor and still, it is incredibly difficult to balance everything at election time.

You get invited to so many meetings. I was invited to a conference for carers in Limerick recently, which I would really like to have attended. But it is quite far away and I’m under pressure to get the ground covered in my own area.

Another thing that has changed is that the lines are more blurred in relation to who is in charge of what. I feel that I’m being contacted on issues regarding national policy, whereas previously people contacted councillors for local issues and TDs for national issues.

That said every issue that is raised with me is fed up along the line and I make sure those concerns do reach the party leadership.

I do call on friends and family to help out. But you are mainly relying on party members and without them, I would be lost. I’m so grateful for their help. We have been canvassing since January and I estimate we have knocked on around 20,000 doors.

Although I think social media will play an increased role in years to come, eye to eye contact and the conversation with people is still the best way to do it.

I didn’t have the money for a lot of posters and mine were delivered late too – so some people were asking then whether I was even running.

I think we should bring in a system for posters, which some other European countries have implemented, they have one big billboard in strategic locations and each candidate puts a poster on it.

There is definitely a good feeling on the doorsteps this time around. It was pretty bad 10 years ago but this time around most people are chatty.

I have only had two bad reactions on the doorsteps in this election, although one of them was fairly bad. A gentleman roared abuse at us and said: “if you were drowning I’d put a stone on you.” 

Fianna Fail candidate, Michael Watters, is running in the South West Inner City, Dublin City Council.

His political priorities include housing as well as tackling anti-social behaviour and addressing the lack of amenities and green spaces in Dublin 8. 

He is a secretarial assistant for Fianna Fail Senator, Catherine Ardagh. 

michael watters

This is my first time running for election but I have previous experience of canvassing with senator Catherine Ardagh and others within the party.

I don’t think you could be in local politics unless you enjoy knocking on doors – I love it, myself. There is no better way of finding out what is happening on the ground.

Most people are nice, you get the odd few that aren’t overly enthusiastic about your party, but almost everyone is friendly and once you know what the issues are on the ground you can think about how to tackle them.

Juggling work and politics has been difficult in the last few months. I work in the office of Senator Catherine Ardagh, so you can balance stuff to an extent but I try not to do my own work on her time.

So I’m mostly doing it before work, after work and at weekends or sometimes on my lunch break.

I’ve shelved pretty much everything in my life in order to focus on this campaign. I’ve very lucky I have an amazing girlfriend and friends who support me and understand that this is my real passion.

I can tell you that I’m a lot skinnier now than I was at the start! That is simply down to all the walking that is involved in canvassing.

I couldn’t even guess how many doors I’ve knocked on but a ballpark figure would be around 10,000.

In an ideal world, we would not have posters, but the thing is they are really important for new candidates. People will often know the sitting councillors in their area, but for us first-time candidates it is hard to compete with that profile and so the posters are necessary.

It is good for democracy to have new people competing to get on the council, so the posters do play a part in the democratic process.

I’m fully aware that posters are a bit of an eyesore and I’ll certainly get mine down as soon as possible after the election. If I’m not using them again I will recycle them. (I understand that art colleges will take them and re-use them.)

I put up 350 posters and I did most of the work myself, with help from a couple of friends. Most of the support I’ve got is from friends and family and then some party colleagues have helped out too.

I’m extremely grateful to everyone that has backed my campaign and to all the constituents who have spoken to me on the doors as well.

I was selected to run for Fianna Fail, just before Christmas. I  started knocking on doors back in January and I haven’t had a social life since.

If I get in I’ll be giving up my social life for good – because I’ll still be working full time as well as being a councillor.

Sinn Fein candidate, Rosie Ni Laoghaire, is running in Stillorgan, Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown. 

Her political priorities include affordable housing, public leisure amenities and safe, segregated cycleways. 

She is also a secondary school teacher of Irish and history.

rosie headshot

I have a full-time job as a secondary school teacher so as well as running in the local elections, I’ve got Leaving Cert and Junior Cert classes for Irish and History and those exams are looming.

I’m canvassing every evening from 6 pm to 9 pm and I can tell you that my family are not eating proper dinners! I’ve four daughters and they are all getting pizza.

My youngest now is 15 I don’t think I could have done this when they were small – I don’t know how some women manage that.

Balancing career and family is already hard for women so putting themselves forward for local politics often isn’t possible.

We need to push for reform to encourage women to get involved – there is no maternity leave in the council and the meeting times are not family friendly.

I got involved in community issues and then decided to get into politics, that is the route a lot of women take and because Sinn Fein is community-based, I think that is why we are successful at attracting women. 

This is my very first time running and I love canvassing. It is fun meeting people and they are happy to talk on the doors. 

Canvassing is interesting and exciting but it is also very tiring and you definitely rely heavily on your family and friends to support you. 

The hardest thing is getting people to go out canvassing every day. It is a long slog and in our party, we do all our own posters and leaflets ourselves, with friends and colleagues.

We don’t pay anyone to distribute leaflets as its too expensive but some other candidates in my area are doing that, as far as I know. 

My husband was out until midnight putting up posters the other night so you also really rely on your partner.  

I’m very anti-plastic in my own life and the school I work in is plastic free so on point of principle, I’m against posters. The problem is that everyone else in my area was doing them and so I would have been out of the game if I didn’t. It was a serious dilemma.

In the end, I did 150 posters while others in the area were doing 400. But then people were asking us if there was no one running for Sinn Fein in our area?

The only solution is the implementation of a blanket ban on posters but that would have to be agreed on by all parties. 

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