Diarmuid O’Flynn is the hurler on the pitch for protest votes

Diarmuid O'Flynn
Diarmuid O'Flynn

Diarmuid O’Flynn balances one of his posters against his leg as he passes campaign leaflets to afternoon pedestrians in Carrigaline.

A few yards away his old mucker Phil Ryan is holding his poster up at chest height, like one of those guys who want to entice you down a side street to buy clothes or food.

That accounts for two posters in O’Flynn’s campaign to be elected to the European Parliament. He has eight others for a grand total of 10. That’s his allocation for the 15-county constituency. It’s about as many as some of his fellow candidates might allocate to a small village like Ballyhea, from where O’Flynn hails.

Meet the most unconventional candidate for the South constituency. He’s a hurling man, an author, a one- time engineer, but, of late, the organiser of what some describe as the conscience of a nation.

“Ballyhea to Brussels” is O’Flynn’s campaign slogan. His candidacy is a natural extension of the small movement that grew out of a protest march through the village of Ballyhea in North Cork on March 6, 2011.

On that occasion, O’Flynn declared that they would keep marching until the citizens of this country were relieved of the burden of paying off the banking debts of those who gambled and lost. They have marched to burn the bondholders every Sunday since. With no sign of the ECB heads flying into Ballyhea to negotiate, O’Flynn is striking out for Europe, where his message may have some — albeit slim — chance of a hearing.

The main street in Carrigaline is at a standstill, engines idling in the soupy air. O’Flynn passes out his leaflets. “Independent for Europe,” he says to every recipient.

“What’s wrong with ya now?” A woman of mature age sidles up and asks. “Will you send an old full forward to Brussels?” O’Flynn responds.

She stops. “Are you from Ballyhea?” Is he what? “I’m from Churchtown,” she shrieks, name-checking a neighbouring village. Her name is Aoife Cooney. She tells O’Flynn she used to go dancing with a man from Ballyhea years ago, but the name escapes her. Will she give this candidate a vote?

“I might now,” she says, a glint materialising in her eye. “Seeing as he’s so saucy.”

The going on the canvass is fair to middling. One man shoots past. “No way,” he breezes. “Independent,” O’Flynn shouts after him. Still no way. When a woman does likewise, she actually returns on hearing that he is independent. O’Flynn says he gets a lot of that plague on all your houses stuff. He doesn’t blame them. The symptoms of the plague are what drove him out to protest of a Sunday.

“What’s your stance on Israel,” a youngish man inquires. Diarmuid is stumped. Israel is yet to feature on his radar. He has policies on debt, trade, financial transaction tax, and burden sharing, and when he has a minute he’ll get around to Israel. The man leaves, apparently impressed by the candidate’s honesty, trailing the chance of a scratch somewhere down the line.

The campaign is unusual, having grown out of a single issue with national rather than narrow, local concerns. O’Flynn just took leave of his job as a sports reporter in the Irish Examiner last Monday, 18 days out from polling. Prior to that he canvassed the mart in Kilmallock one day, and handed out leaflets before work at the hurling league semi-final and final in Limerick and Thurles respectively.

His team is heavily weighted towards Ballyhea. Philip Ryan, the poster man, grew up with him, hurled with him and issues a knowing grin that suggests O’Flynn was from the pull now and ask questions later school of hurling. He is 60, looks about 40 in his wiry frame, and says he played his last senior game of hurling when he was 50.

The revolution stalled in Ballyhea. Perhaps it was the national impulse for fatalism that ensured the weekly protest didn’t spread. Nobody questions the morality or the logic or the justice that informs the protest. It’s just the white flag went up among great swathes of the citizenry early on, despite the growing chasm between those who govern and the governed.

A man approaches and takes a leaflet, slow fingers betraying his reluctance. Any chance? “I’ll vote along party lines,” he says, providing his name as Barry O’Mahoney.

Ah, go on. “I’ll have to reflect on whether you’re making any sense,” he says. O’Flynn pauses to make sense, and does so, name-checking economists who have endorsed his position, lads you might see on the telly, like Gurdgiev and Lucey and Kinsella. “Yeah, but the horse has bolted,” Mr O’Mahoney says. Further engagement sees the scepticism begin to slip gently from his shoulders.

“Somewhere down the line?” O’Flynn tries. “Maybe,” is the reply.

O’Flynn says he wants to harness the protest vote. “If we send back two MEPs from either the party that got us into this [Fianna Fáil] or the party that’s keeping us in it [Fine Gael], I’ll despair,” he says, though he has praise for FF MEP Brian Crowley, whom he says went out of his way to facilitate the Ballyhea group when they visited Brussels.

In general, he scores well on the canvass. There are patches of indifference, and just one or two hostile responses. Some are curious when they meet his pitch, others recognise him and profess their positive intentions.

He is up against it. In an election of sprawling constituencies, the Irish way of meeting every voter isn’t really on.

Money, profile and airtime assume much greater significance, and the intertwining of the first two of these implies that O’Flynn has a major fight on his hands. Still, we live in interesting times when it comes to elections and how voters express their negative feelings on the state we’re in.

The sky is darkening when Aoife Cooney from Churchtown reappears with glad tidings about her dancing partner from long ago and Ballyhea. “I have it,” she says. “John Daly, that was his name. Do you know him?”

Diarmuid grins and rummages his brain, but is interrupted by a large man with a walking stick, who grabs his hand and pumps it like a piston.

Will you give him a scratch?

“Of course I will,” he says. “I’ll be seeing ye, God bless,” and he’s off down the road, having found a home for his floating vote.

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