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Neil Michael on the Canvass: Will East Cork vote the way they say they will?

Neil Michael on the Canvass: Will East Cork vote the way they say they will?
Labour’s Sean Sherlock is very likely to retain his seat in the north of the constituency.

If people in Cork East vote the way they say they will, Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin will top the poll followed by Labour but Fine Gael will get hammered and Fianna Fáil might even gain a second seat.

Fine Gael is going to need some pretty hard canvassing if its wants any success, say voters.

A majority of those asked how they plan to vote in the four-seat constituency say they are determined to give the government ‘a kicking’.

As a result, outgoing Minister of State David Stanton has a fight for survival on his hands.

An early sign of the mood in the constituency was the muted reception Taoiseach Leo Varadkar received when he visited Fermoy town last month.

The biggest crowds around him were either school children looking for selfies with him or his entourage, including Minister Stanton’s running mate Pa O’Driscoll.

The Irish Examiner canvassed around 400 people in towns and villages at random and, other than a few people keen to vote Fine Gael for 'stability', found a high level of dissatisfaction with the Government party.

Fine Gael had two seats in this constituency in 2011, but this fell to just one in 2016 and there is a real chance it could end up delivering no seats at all this time around.

Fianna Fáil, which had no sitting TDs in Cork East in 2011, managed to gain one back at Fine Gael’s expense in 2016.

In 2016, its share of the vote was up 8% on 2011 while Fine Gael’s share was 8% down.

Reasons for dissatisfaction include long hospital waiting lists, child care, rent, housing, the State pension age and a perceived failure by the government to adequately engage with farmers during the beef crisis.

Added to that are the broken promises, including former Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s vow in October 2015 to scrap the “savage” Universal Social Charge.

Controversies like the Dáil’s ‘Vote Gate’ or Senator Catherine Noone’s ‘autistic’ remark about Leo Varadkar have had - despite what some commentators would have you believe - almost zero impact.

Very few people mentioned either Brexit or the Black and Tans commemoration controversy.

And while a proportion in the constituency plan to - or say they will - switch their allegiances, a striking number insist they are simply not going to bother voting.

They say they are sick of the ‘same old promises’ and don’t believe a word coming out of any politician’s mouth, regardless of which party they come from.

Frank Nash, who owns one of Cork’s oldest garages, said many of his customers in the small village of Castletownroche are planning to vote for ‘none of the above’.

The 71-year-old, whose garage was opened by his father in 1923, said: “A lot of my customers are very unhappy. A lot of the same promises are coming up again, like they have in previous elections and they just don’t believe it anymore.

That’s what I am hearing. You hear a lot of them saying ‘what’s the point in voting?’. They can’t see the future in these promises.

One man who is definitely voting is Ciaran Monks, who works as a pilot launch coxswain for the Port of Cork.

“This time for the first time, I will be voting for Sinn Féin,” he said as he enjoyed a quiet pint with pals at Mansworth’s Bar, Cobh’s oldest bar.

“I have just had enough of the coalitions that are there at the minute and I’m going to give Sinn Féin a go.”

He’s annoyed at the lack of accountability over the Children’s Hospital cost overruns and he’s angry that the Universal Social Charge is still in place.

But what makes him most annoyed is the government’s decision to increase the State pension age to 67 next year and to 68 from 2028.

“Pensions are hugely in my craw,” he said. “I’m 57 and have to retire at 65 because it’s the system at the Port of Cork at the moment.

“I have to then wait for two years before I get my State pension on Jobseeker’s Allowance, if I am entitled to it because means-testing has come into it. I will have put a few bob away and I am going to be crucified.

“I feel bitter about that because I’ve worked hard and paid into the system since I was 16 and this is what I get in return. Yet ministers can retire after a couple of years of service. It’s the unfairness of it that gets to me. It’s just not right.”

He added: “I don’t believe the State pension age decision will be rowed back and I think it’s just hot air from a man who is under pressure and has his back against the wall.”

Almost everyone had a complaint about the health service.

Michelle O’Callaghan, from Mallow, suffers from the chronic inflammatory disorder, Ankylosing Spondylitis.

“I have struggled to get proper health care over the past five years,” the 32-year-old mother-of-two said. “I’m still no closer to getting proper treatment and I find the whole system overwhelming. I don’t like to complain and I normally don’t. It’s just that it’s been very difficult for me and I feel the current government is not addressing (this).”

Given the Taoiseach’s description of Fianna Fáil TDs who voted against the legalisation on abortion as “backwoodsmen”, it’s worth mentioning the issue is still a live one for some in rural Cork East.

Donie Turner, who lives outside Mallow: “I feel pro-life is the most important issue. There are approximately 10,000 abortions in Ireland which will have an awful effect on the population as time goes on.

“And it’s so easily available and I regret that very much.” A semi-retired dairy farmer, the 79-year-old added of other issues: “When I used to farm full time, nobody from any political party ever came out to me and said they would milk my cows for me.

“Once I gave the vote, that is all I saw.”

With Labour’s Sean Sherlock and Fianna Fáil’s Kevin O’Keefe very likely to retain their seats in the north of the constituency, Sinn Féin’s Pat Buckley is more than likely to keep his in the southern part.

But that leaves Mr Stanton, Mr O’Driscoll, Fianna Fáil’s 22-year-old James O’Connor, four independents, the Green Party’s Liam Quaide, Aontú’s Conor Hannon and the Irish Freedom Party’s Frank Shinnick to fight it out for the last available seat.

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