FIERY confrontations, family feuds, more boos than a pantomime, exes at war — vying with Jeremy Kyle for voters’ affections all featured in a morning’s canvass on the northside of Cork city for Labour candidate Kathleen Lynch.
Paul Creighton, canvassing on behalf of the the minister with special responsibility for primary care, social care (disabilities and older people), and mental health, blamed the closed front doors on the talk-show host. “It’s all Jeremy Kyle’s fault,” he said.
Indeed, Kyle and the filthy weather combined to keep householders indoors. Those who did venture out were largely courteous, but then, Farranree is Lynch’s heartland, her homeplace on St Brendan’s Rd. Former neighbour Charlie O’Callaghan said she would get four votes from his household.
“You can be sure she’ll get all our number ones, myself, my two sons, and my daughter,” he said.
As if to remind him that there were other options, the media-free Sinn Féin campaign tour bus trundled past, bearing giant wraparound images of party leader Gerry Adams and election hopeful Jonathan O’Brien, the one sure seat in Cork North Central, according to those in the know. Carmel McKenzie, of Popham’s Rd, is an O’Brien supporter and she wasn’t shy about telling Lynch why.
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“You didn’t keep your promises. Fine Gael and Labour had their chance and we didn’t see any improvement. You’re talking about creating jobs, but what kind of jobs are you talking about? Zero-hour contracts? Low paid jobs?”
When Lynch mentions job creation at the nearby Apple plant, Carmel retorts: “Three-month contracts? That’s what Apple offers.”
Still an’ all, better the devil you know, so Kathleen will get a vote, just not her number one.
Lynch’s canvassers do a good job of talking her up. Mary Buckley was her constituency secretary for 15 years and has nothing but praise. Canvasser John Maher from Ballyvolane has arrived in his Labour-red Coca-Cola van and jokes about a-Coke-for-a-vote. Why does he support Lynch? “She’s delivered,” he says, mentioning “free GP care for the under-sixes [and] €35m ringfenced for mental health”.
John Kelleher, former city councillor and one of the casualties of the Labour annihilation during the last local elections, describes Lynch as “passionate, honest, and sincere”. He says he is “a little bit nervous” for her, before adding “but I’m confident she can hold her seat”.
Lynch, herself, is not quite so confident. She says O’Brien and Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher are assured of seats and, if things go well for Fine Gael, Dara Murphy will take the third seat of four. The fourth, she concedes, is likely to be a dogfight between Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit candidate Mick Barry, Sinn Féin’s second candidate Thomas Gould, and herself.
What does she feel she has to offer? What were her greatest achievements during the Government’s term? She saw the turning of the sod on the new Central Mental Hospital and is delighted this happened on her watch — just. She got to see the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill signed into law, which will allow people with limited decision-making capacity to better manage their personal, property, and financial affairs.
If Labour is returned and she retains her brief, she has big plans for mothers and babies and is hoping for the national roll out of a perinatal mental health programme to help fill that “huge gaping need to support new mothers”. She also has plans for a dual-diagnosis service to allow those struggling with mental health and addiction problems to be treated, rather than being shunted between two different services, often falling between the cracks.
“It would be a service that deals with both mental health and addiction, with a clinical lead, and nurse practitioners specialising in both areas, and it would operate within the psychiatric services, primary care, and emergency departments,” she says.
However, if she fails to win a seat, is there a life outside politics?
“Someone asked me about a year ago what I would do if I retire and I said ‘absolutely nothing’, but that would only last a while,” she says. So what, then? She laughs. “Maybe running a mother-and-baby group.”
Then, it’s back to the canvass, with Paul Creighton declaring “it takes a certain kind of madness to take on a job like this”.