David Davin-Power: Sweet discourse of FF nowhere to be heard in Longford

“Sure even the dogs in the street are Fianna Fáil in Longford,” the delighted owner of a pair of cute pomeranians reassured party leader Micheál Martin in a canvass that was marked by quite a few canine encounters.

David Davin-Power: Sweet discourse of FF nowhere to be heard in Longford

“Sure even the dogs in the street are Fianna Fáil in Longford,” the delighted owner of a pair of cute pomeranians reassured party leader Micheál Martin in a canvass that was marked by quite a few canine encounters.

Later, Mr Martin admired Sashie and Sheba, two formidable huskies — their owner Jerry Gibbons insisting he has trained them not to bite politicians — and cautiously petted a large poodle through a car window a few moments later.

Even if the Longford doggies are solid supporters, there weren’t enough of them four years ago, with the result that the county is a Dáil wasteland for the party, a tír gan teanga where the sweet discourse of Fianna Fáil is nowhere to be heard.

That’s a situation that Mr Martin and his candidate Joe Flaherty, aim to put right.

The forceful Mr Flaherty is the boss of a chain of regional newspapers, and had clearly planned yesterday’s canvass with the care that he has put into climbing the corporate tree.

“Where’s the shoes?” he hissed at an aide in Paul McKenna’s cobblers.

On cue, a pair of battered brogues, more hole than sole, were produced, to be brandished for the cameras, a vivid illustration for his party leader of the hours Mr Flaherty has spent pounding the Longford pavements, and a token of his commitment to the town.

Earlier, Mr Martin faced a grilling from roomful of Leaving Cert students in the town’s Mercy College.

Why is he here now, promising a new school when they have been crying out for years, the girls wanted to know.

Principal, Aoife Mulrennan, urged the students to use their phones to take snaps of the Fianna Fáil leader holding flyers urging the rebuild, evidence for later perhaps of his stated backing for the development.

What is the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, other girls asked; why does less than 2% of the population of Longford use public transport, one wanted to know.

“We seem to be getting commitments a lot recently,” another observed wryly.

Mr Martin fielded the questions evenly, praising the students for their scepticism, and leaving them with words of advice.

An absence of confidence is a great inhibitor in life, he told the room, they should believe in themselves and not follow the herd, but they should also look out for each other.

Back on the street, Nigerian-born Alalemba Chukwunenye (“call me Chuk”) said it “pains him” that so many people in his adopted country don’t want to work.

Pensioners Tommy and Mary Quinn lamented the difficulties they’d encountered in getting a homecare package.

Marie O’Rourke and Maureen Gallagher said people above in Dublin don’t realise how hard things are in towns like Longford.

There was better news from Patrick Stapleton in Dennistons record shop. Waving a copy of a Jim Reeves CD, the octogenarian invoked the crooner, vowing to Mr Martin: “I won’t forget you.”

There was a more awkward encounter with the candidate who caused uproar on the Longford ticket last time.

Connie Gerety Quinn was added by headquarters to make up the gender quota but endured a torrid time after the local party organisation voted no confidence in her.

Would she vote for her successor on the ticket?

“Just say as a Fianna Fáil member, I hope he takes a seat,” she said, adding darkly that she hopes Mr Flaherty will be better treated by the party than she was.

Mr Martin’s canvassing style seems to defy the laws of physics; he is perpetually on the move yet still has time to sit and talk.

He has mastered the art of extricating himself politely yet briskly when he wants to move on.

Data courtesy of The Irish Times

Neither does he need any prompting when a photo opportunity presents itself, leaping up on Dermot McCormack’s JCB for an impromptu snap at the traffic lights.

Mr Flaherty is an energetic candidate, but he’s by no means assured of joining his Westmeath-based colleague, Robert Troy, in Leinster House, even with the tailwind stirring behind his party.

Longford Town hasn’t felt the rising tide of economic recovery, shuttered units on its streets, and an unfinished shopping centre testimony to an economic slump that is still keenly felt.

His slogan, ‘Make Longford Matter’, may have echoes of Boris or Donald, but it reflects a widespread feeling that town has been left behind.

At the end of the day it’s midlands bread-and-butter issues, and not the dangers posed by Brexit that will decide whether the county gets a Fianna Fáil TD next month.

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