More on voters' minds than banks, Berlin and bondholders

AN EXTENDED canvass through Wexford offered Micheál Martin a timely reminder there was more on voters minds than banks, Berlin and bondholders.

As the campaign entered its final week and with polls suggesting Fianna Fáil has massive ground to make up, his tour of the south-east left him confronting serious issues which have not got an airing up to now.

The day began with an interview on South East Radio where concern for the trolleys in Wexford General Hospital, employment and tourism was mixed with criticism for the crumbling state of the secondary roads in a county which feels “forgotten”.

An hour later, Mr Martin was given a hurtling feel for the issue as he turned off the main N25 to travel five miles of pot-holed roads to the village of Taghmon.

Here he visited the impressive and newly-built TAG community childcare centre.

No sooner was he told about the success of opening the facility last year when he was reminded of the community’s desire to secure funding for independent living units so that elderly people can live for as long as possible in the village.

Mr Martin was on mission to ensure two high-profile figures in Fianna Fáil, parliamentary party chairman John Browne and Junior Fisheries Minister Sean Connick, retained two of the five seats on offer.

The most vulnerable of these is Mr Connick whose office in New Ross was picketed by mussel farmer Gerard Kelly ahead of Mr Martin’s stopover.

Mr Kelly had travelled from Redcastle, Co Donegal to Wexford for four days to protest at what he said was a betrayal of the mussel fish farming industry by Fianna Fáil’s two Wexford TDs.

First he said John Browne, when he was junior minister, promoted an all island mussel seed fishery in Northern Ireland at the southern industry’s expense.

But Sean Connick is a clever politician. Having spotted the potential for an angry exchange, which Mr Martin had already been subjected to in Wexford Town, he acted first.

He went out onto the street and brought Mr Kelly into his office for a private meeting with Mr Martin.

The cameras could see the conversation through the large window but could not hear the complaints.

Afterwards Mr Kelly was not convinced anything would be done by Mr Connick, the junior fisheries minister, or the new leader of Fianna Fáil. But he welcomed the opportunity to lobby his cause.

“That was the first time a senior figure in Fianna Fáil has listened to us in five years,” Mr Kelly said.

Next week the Donegal man will return to Wexford and bring his family to assist the protest.

As Mr Kelly gathered his things Mr Martin was brought for a canvass around New Ross.

Generally he got one of his warmest receptions of the campaign. One pub owner did remind him how he had inflicted the smoking ban on them.

“Are you healthier now?” Mr Martin asked.

“No,” she replied.

Minutes beforehand Robbie O’Neill was unloading his Waterford Transport truck on one of the town’s narrow streets. He stopped to approach Mr Martin and asked him would he reverse the Universal Social Charge.

He was told Fianna Fáil would not.

Mr O’Neill said he was fortunate to still be in a job but the Government was doing little to help the transport industry.

Fuel was now at its highest-ever price and Mr O’Neill said the increases could not be sustained.

He was not won over by the Fianna Fáil leader’s belief the rise in exports would keep the logistics and transport industry in business.

The final stop in New Ross was a party rally at St Michael’s Theatre, on the set of a staging of Joseph O’Connor’s Red Roses and Petrol, Mr Connick said it was one of the strongest Fianna Fáil parts of the county.

But it was in a fight to keep the second seat.

His supporters recognise John Browne’s three decades in politics give him the edge for Fianna Fáil votes in Wexford.

And there are outside dangers lurking in the west of the county.

Fianna Fáil is looking over its shoulder at Fine Gael’s Dr Liam Toomey and the independent Mick Wallace in New Ross.

Nobody is sure how Mr Wallace, the campaigner and developer, will poll. He enjoys a high profile, is running a unique campaign and has an enviable link to young men across Wexford through his support for soccer in the county.

He left Taghmon in his jeep minutes before Mr Martin arrived.

Crossing into Waterford Mr Martin knew the fight in Wexford and across the south-east will not be just about fiscal targets and macro economics.

Picture: Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin canvassing Marion Kinsella in New Ross, Co Wexford. Picture: Patrick Browne

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