Never underestimate the power of local knowledge.
Fianna Fáil councillor Christopher O’Sullivan is contesting his first general election campaign, but as he moves around Ballydehob, the 37-year-old is propelled around town by others with decades of experience.
So clued in are the team around him, at one house a canvasser simply opens the front door and leads the way through the darkened front room and into the back, safe in the knowledge he’ll find the man and woman of the house by the fire, watching the news. Among the party is Mr O’Sullivan’s father, Christy, a former TD himself and someone who admits to missing being out in front come election time.
“He is a phenomenal canvasser,” the candidate says of Christy Sr. “He brings on this whole new lease of life.”
At last year’s local elections, O’Sullivan topped the poll in the Skibbereen West Cork LEA, and almost immediately on being returned to, Cork County Council, he signalled his intention to run for the Dáil.
The party hierarchy took its time to arrive at the same view, only confirming his position on the ticket earlier this month.
As county mayor, the timing of the election is arguably fortuitous, given he has seen much of the county in his current role.
He points to not only his own high vote last year, but to the poll-topping performance in Bandon Kinsale LEA of councillor Gillian Coughlan and the strong showing of Patrick Gerard Murphy in Bantry West Cork as evidence of Fianna Fáil’s resurgence across West Cork.
Even allowing for the fact that Government parties tend to get a pasting in mid-term local elections, he feels the party is on the up.
The three-week campaign has meant other members of the family out on the trail as they try and cover as much of the constituency as possible.
Party running mate and outgoing TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony is, given her Bandon base, closer geographically than might be expected, resulting in “essentially a free-for-all” when it comes to votes.
O’Sullivan dismisses any talk that he would have made a solo run if he had not been placed on the ticket, and believes there’s “an outside chance” of two Fianna Fáil seats, while also noting the change from a predominantly doorstep approach to more of a focus on social media.
But tonight’s canvass is an old-school operation, a power walk around Ballydehob, bolstered by sharp local operators who seem to know who lives where and for how long. At Whizzer Scissors hairdressers, canvasser extraordinaire Barry jokes: “We all want number ones!”.
Christy Sr asks: “Do you have anything for an old man?” Laughs all round, and almost certainly a few votes.
O’Sullivan sees his own strengths as a focus on the environment, as well as his track record when it comes to tourism and local community initiatives.
Personable and with a hint of mischief, he can regularly be seen around his native Clonakilty at festival time in the thick of the action, such as playing conductor on the town’s Christmas express.
He admits he has allowed himself to think about what ministerial briefs might suit him — mentioning tourism, sport and the environment — but he’s not taking a seat in Dáil Éireann as a given.
One unusual aspect to the Cork South West constituency — and probably a unique aspect nationally — is that O’Sullivan is competing for a seat with his partner, Social Democrat councillor Holly Cairns.
While it was initially seen as a lighthearted aside, it’s clear Cairns is wary of it becoming a distraction from the job in hand. O’Sullivan agrees.
“I have very little to say on this. Myself and Holly have campaigns to run, we are both going for the same seat,” he said.
“You will find she is very popular here. She is a good councillor and a good candidate. We get on really, really well and we are very supportive of one another.
It’s an intense three weeks, but we are representing different parties. While we share views on a lot of things, our parties have different views.
True enough. O’Sullivan and his team meet a few people on the beat who admit they have already pledged their number one to Holly, who canvassed the same area earlier.
Nevertheless, such is the speed and thoroughness of the canvass that it seems like many of those answering the door are receiving an instruction they have no problem in carrying out.
According to O’Sullivan, the days when a Fianna Fáil candidate was virtually hunted out the door are gone. “People at the doors are so, so pleasant,” he says.
The issues coming up on the doorsteps are pensions, healthcare, beef prices for farmers, Vat costs for businesses and restaurants, and the cost of insurance.
He believes there is a “happy medium” between being a TD that can still fix your footpath or sort out street lighting, and the Dáil legislator who drafts bills and helps enact laws.
A well-run constituency office is key, he believes — something surely easy to deliver with a party infrastructure around you.
He believes that he has acquitted himself well as county mayor, and despite admitting “I would have loved to have been on the ticket before Christmas”, he adds the old Brian Cowen line: “We are where we are”.
The context is different, however — he is eyeing a breakthrough:
You could say the stars have aligned.