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European Elections: Clare Daly is taking her fight to the top — to Europe

Clare Daly shares a laugh with local residents Fiona and Joan Laffan while canvassing for the European Elections in Inchicore, Dublin. Pictures: Moya Nolan

Breaking the mould in Dáil Éireann, activist and outspoken TD Clare Daly has waged political battles on a range of issues including garda corruption, threats to Irish neutrality, and abortion laws.

It is a dark, rainy May morning. Daly is in Inchicore, Dublin, with a small team of canvassers asking workers, shoppers and generally those on the street for votes for the European elections so she can — in her own words — take her fight further to the top, to the EU.

The former trade unionist admits canvassing ahead of the May 24 vote is just “skimming the surface” in this massive four-seater constituency where over a million voters are entitled to elect Dublin MEPs.

Nonetheless, there is a significant face and name recognition benefit for the ardent TD, with many passers-by declaring ‘I know you from the telly’ or ‘Clare, you’re great fighting the Government’.

One or two also pop the question “where is that guy with the blonde hair?”, a reference to Daly’s political other-half, TD Mick Wallace, her Dáil colleague running for Europe in Ireland South.

Daly, while handing out leaflets close to the Black Lion pub along Tyrconnell Road, explains how she is being received: “The response has been good. There is a general pissed-off-ness, an anti-Leo [Varadkar] feeling.”

She says she has a key advantage to clinch one of the four Dublin seats.

“I’m the only candidate on the Northside of Dublin, above Stoneybatter, out of the 19 running.”

Today the Swords-native is seeking votes in a strong working-class community in south Dublin, having also canvassed in more affluent areas in Ranelagh and Dundrum in previous days.

We are only skimming the surface. But everybody knows me. It has been great. I don’t do houses though and have a limited budget, so we’ve no posters.

A recent poll put the Independent candidate on 10%. Daly dismisses suggestions her main rival is sitting Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan.

“That’s rubbish. There is an independent seat there already,” she replies to my question, in a reference to outgoing Dublin Independent MEP Nessa Childers.

And a lot of our exchange is like this. Daly has little time for the media and dismisses a mention that there is huge attraction in being elected to Europe with lavish expenses afforded to MEPs, that can amount to over €100,000 a year.

“That is something the media concentrate on,” she argues.

This is how it goes, with us both walking the streets of Inchicore in between exchanges with voters.

Ann D’Arcy, from North Circular Road, tells the TD she is depressed, having been on a housing list since 2015. She usually votes Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, but wants to know what Daly will do for her. 

The TD taps details into her phone to pass to Maureen O’Sullivan, an independent for that area.

The voter has a few words for the Government too.

“They’re spending all that money on the [broadband] network. At least you stopped to listen to me,” says Ms D’Arcy in a reference to the Government’s controversial broadband plan.

And a lot, maybe most, of the issues voters take up with the MEP hopeful aren’t actually about Europe, but to do with local issues and needs, such as housing, health problems or local planning. Daly responds to the potential voter.

“You shouldn’t have to be looking to TDs for houses.”

Once we move on, she also admits many potential voters don’t give “a feck about the EU”.

Many passersby have words of praise for the Independent. One man carrying his shopping stops briefly and quips: “The rubbish you’re dealing with in there [in the Dáil] every day.”

A few take issue with Daly herself, with one woman stepping down off a bus, telling her “you’re that lady for abortion.” The MEP’s political record speaks for itself.

Working as a trade unionist at Dublin Airport, then as a councillor for Fingal County Council and then as a TD with the Socialist Party, Daly has campaigned for a plethora of issues, including fighting against private bin charges, water charges, for workers rights, against Ireland’s abortion restrictions and for garda whistleblowers.

She was jailed for a month over protesting against bin charges in 20013 and was arrested for breaching security at Shannon Airport in 2015 while attempting to search US military planes.

And it is for these aforementioned reasons that voters know Clare Daly.

Brexit, EU military and immigrants are issues not on the radar for voters here, despite being hot topics in the EU elections.

But as Daly explains, much that goes through the parliament or makes it into law starts in Europe.

Clare Daly, with local resident Anthony while canvassing for the European elections in Inchicore Dublin
Clare Daly, with local resident Anthony while canvassing for the European elections in Inchicore Dublin

“Housing [funding], pension changes, the militarisation of member states, a lot of it starts in Europe,” she explains as the rain forces voters to rush by without accepting leaflets.

She says the EU’s military alliance pact, PESCO, was introduced in the Dáil “at the 11th hour with barely no debate in the Dáil”.

I raise the question of which group or political alliance Daly will join in the EU parliament if she is indeed elected. 

This is an issue, as groups, both conservative and liberal, vote in blocks and members from different states support each other when it comes to directives, legislation or matters for a particular state.

Daly, like her colleague Wallace, claims she hasn’t decided yet. 

But when pushed, she admits a preference might be to join the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), a group whose members include sitting Sinn Féin MEPs as well as Independent Luke Ming Flanagan.

She is critical of the way the EU operates, claiming it is a neo-liberal body protecting big business.

“The EU will destroy itself unless it changes direction. Its citizens are being left behind,” Daly tells me.

She is also critical of other more established parties using huge funds for their MEP campaigns and the fact that some politicians go to Europe in the final days of their political careers.

“Europe is treated as a retirement home for those without a platform. It is unusual for those with a solid platform to make a bid for Europe, but that’s what I am doing, to try and make a difference.”

As the sun briefly makes an appearance and canvassing resumes, Daly comes across a couple who, like others, are eager for a quick phone picture with her. 

On a lot of these canvasses, the mobile phones are nearly the first things to come out before the leaflets and conversation. But that could be a sign for the aspiring politician at least that they are liked.

“I always see you on the telly. We like you. Take a picture there,” says a smiling Shelly Hudson from Dublin’s Liberties.

Her partner Jim is a window cleaner, but business is slow today with the summer showers.

“You’re great on the telly, we love ya giving out,” adds Ms Hudson, as the phones are put away.

The two usually vote Fianna Fáil, but a lot of working class communities have moved away from that party since the financial crash.

“You’re great at giving out to the Government,” adds the Dublin voter. But she also inquires: “Where’s that guy with the blonde hair you are always with?”

Daly tells the voter he is running in Ireland South. There’s a brief few more laughs before the voter gives Clare a friendly wave as other passersby stop.

“Get them Government politicians off their arses,” quips Ms Hudson.

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