The battle of the three Marys of Dún Laoghaire

Elaine Loughlin takes to the campaign trail with female candidates in the Dún Laoghaire constituency
The battle of the three Marys of Dún Laoghaire

HOW do you solve a problem like Maria? It’s one of the songs sung by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music — which, if you don’t delve into the politics of the plot, tells the story of a young blonde woman who managed to win the love of another woman’s children.

Out in Dún Laoghaire, the trinity of Marys (only one of whom takes the Latin form) is causing major problems.

“I never like this pitching women against women. It was said to me before. Why are men never pitched against each other?” says one of the Marys — in this case Maria Bailey — as she dashes from house to house on an afternoon canvass.

Unfortunately for this mild-mannered but strongly committed mother of two, it is almost inevitable that she will be dragged into a fight for the final seat with Fianna Fáil’s Mary Hanafin, who even The Apprentice boss Bill Cullen dubbed as “feisty”.

The final Mary is Bailey’s fellow Fine Gael candidate, Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

With Richard Boyd- Barrett confident of retaining his seat and Seán Barrett automatically re-elected, it’s likely that the remaining two seats will be filled by a Mary/Maria.

Maria Bailey
Maria Bailey

But Bailey only has one Mary in her sights: “Fianna Fáil is the competition, and it’s me or Hanafin.

“Mary [Mitchell-O’Connor] will take a seat regardless; the competition for the last seat is between myself and Mary Hanafin, that’s what all the polls are showing us.”

Bailey, who previously worked with Aer Lingus, was elected to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council 12 years ago, on the same day that her father also became a local representative for the first time.

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Between them, they have much of the constituency covered — and that’s before you talk of the rest of the Bailey girls.

With five girls in the family and no brothers, the Bailey girls were an entity growing up in Killiney and now, accompanied by their other halves, they can leaflet-bomb hundreds of homes each Saturday morning, according to one of Bailey’s campaign team.

It’s 1pm and her team has met at another well-kept estate in well-heeled Dalkey.

Two transition-year students were inspired to join the canvass campaign after Bailey attended a debate in their school — Loreto College, Foxrock.

“You have to keep the young with you, otherwise the party will die on its feet,” Bailey later admits as she makes her way to the RTÉ studios with two excited teenagers in tow.

Her dad, a former GAA official, is also on the team. “He’s bionic; he’s unbelievable,” she says as her father powers on in front with a fistful of leaflets. “It must be all those years refereeing.”

At 40, she is the youngest of the three Marys, but points to 12 years of political campaign experience.

“I prefer that gentle effective approach rather than a feisty approach,” says Bailey. “Don’t get me wrong, I always stand my ground, but if I think I can get something over the line with a compromise I am willing to do that. I don’t have tunnel vision, but you can’t be all to everybody — you have to stay true to what you believe.”

She has to stand by her beliefs as we make our way down a line of neat bungalows with even neater gardens. The sun dances on the ocean in the distance as Bailey — in wedge heels, she already regrets wearing — dashes in to meet another pensioner at her door.

Although her schedule is tight — she has a two-hour window between commitments in party HQ and a television appearance — she takes time to listen and seems to have answers to all queries, covering nursing shortages, a local planning application, crime, and the Eighth Amendment.

A polite pensioner opens a door. Like many in this Fine Gael bastion, her husband is a certain vote but she hasn’t decided yet. She is worried about sliding morals.

“I was thinking of giving Renua a chance because I like Lucinda and she is against repealing the Eighth,” she says. Pity she doesn’t realise her local Renua candidate, Frank Cronin, has a different view to his leader.

“I am delighted to see you running but can you see the point? If it’s swept in, it becomes acceptable,” she continues.

But Bailey isn’t for changing to win a vote — even a traditional Fine Gael vote on the verge of being lost.

“I have to stay true to me, on my core values of social justice and equality.”

The conversation ends in a smile between both women.

“Feed your husband before you give him my leaflet and tell him I need a One,” says Bailey.

Mary Mitchell-O’Connor
Mary Mitchell-O’Connor

Later in the afternoon, the blue of Dublin Bay turns grey with rain in the Foxrock end of the constituency, where Mitchell-O’Connor has begun canvassing in a red-brick row of homes with BMWs and Mercedes in the driveways.

The fur trim on her jacket is beginning to look rat-like as her team — she has around 80 committed people that she can draw from — are drowned but still willing to knock on doors for their candidate.

“I’m getting drenched. It’s not good for the canvassers because they won’t come back,” she says, looking at a team-member with pearls of rain dropping from his nose.

But she is happy to have this reporter around, unlike Ms Hanafin, who is too busy to entertain another hack. She had RTÉ and the Irish Times with her already this week, she explains.

“I work very hard and so do my team,” she says.

Last time, Mr Barrett and Ms Mitchell-O’Connor had a solid strategy which got them over the line.

“Are you the number One in this area or have you broken up the constituency?” a clear Fine Gael supporter asks.

“No, we are not dividing the constituency up this time,” Mitchell-O’Connor tells her.

Every woman for herself.

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