Taoiseach’s Offaly canvass greeted by quiet streets

“Taoiseach, will you come over and speak to me?” Leo Varadkar was beckoned across the street by a woman in a pink hi-vis jacket.

The Taoiseach, and most of his Cabinet, including the Tánaiste, ministers for housing, justice, finance, arts, and health, along with a plethora of backbenchers, had just been given a tour of Tullamore town by local TD Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy.

It had been billed a yes vote canvass, ahead of next Friday’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment. However, it seemed like all of Co Offaly had fled, perhaps to Kilkenny, where they were playing the Cats in Nowlan Park.

And so there were a few jittery expressions among the politicians, as the woman standing with a hand-drawn poster of a pregnant woman emblazoned with the phrase ‘Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin’ called on the Taoiseach to engage.

However, Mr Varadkar, take-away coffee cup in one hand, referendum leaflets in the other, strode across to greet her. Between the poster and the coffee, neither had a hand free for shaking.

Teacher Claire Delaney, who was outside the local supermarket canvassing for a no vote, suggested that Mr Varadkar had previously dubbed himself pro-life and asked what that might mean.

“It means respecting life and respecting people’s decision,” said Mr Varadkar.

“I lived in my mother’s womb. It was my first home. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t been given the right to live,” Ms Delaney said, pointing to her homemade graphic.

“I totally respect your view,” said the Taoiseach and he walked on. There was no attempt to change an entrenched opinion.

With only days until the public go to the ballot box, perhaps getting into a heated debate with someone whose mind would be almost impossible to change would not have been the best tactic, especially not in front of the national media, who had all descended on the Midlands yesterday.

Moments before, Mr Varadkar had bumped into Aoife Kavanagh, who had just made her First Holy Communion and was eager to get a picture with the Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar wanted to know if she had made much money. Someone in the crowd joked that she was waiting on the upcoming budget.

“My godchild had his Communion last week,” he told her.

Of the very few not watching the hurling, there were mixed reactions in Tullamore. But Ronan Brennan, out for a Sunday stroll with his dog, was a clear no.

“It seems to be very, very sweeping legislation for the sake of a small number of victims,” he said.

After the scrum around the Taoiseach moved on, TD Kate O’Connell held back to have a private discussion with him. Both sat down on a bench together.

It will be those quiet conversations that determine this week’s vote.

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