On the Presidential campaign trail: Joan makes good sales pitch on visit to market

Joan Freeman laughs at the notion that her husband Pat mightn’t fancy the idea of an ex-boyfriend giving her a loan, writes Catherine Shanahan.

On the Presidential campaign trail: Joan makes good sales pitch on visit  to market

Joan Freeman laughs at the notion that her husband Pat mightn’t fancy the idea of an ex-boyfriend giving her a loan, writes Catherine Shanahan.

EVEN more hilarious is the offer of a loan at a cheaper interest rate from fellow presidential candidate Peter Casey.

“I laughed to myself when I heard that,” she says.

Joan is in good form, pressing the flesh in Cork even though, at this stage, she’s covered so much ground she hardly knows her arse from her elbow.

“I’d forgotten I was in Cork last Sunday. I think I’ve been to nearly all the counties,” she says.

Maurice O’Donoghue, a former army officer and erstwhile Fianna Fáil regional organiser in the south, is helping to keep the show on the road. He reminds her that, by this time next week, she will have “pretty much the whole country covered”.

Joan gets a good reception in The English Market, the No 1 go-to location for total immersion in Rebel culture. At Coffee Central, proprietor Mary Rose presents her with a cup of Barry’s Tea.

“She asked for tea because they always give a cup of tea to people who come for help to Pieta House,” says Mary, referring to the suicide intervention charity started by Joan.

Mary’s not sure what Joan’s chances are but, in her opinion, she’s done “terrific work” in the area of mental health.

A male customer at Coffee Central, who won’t give his name but who reliably or unreliably informs me he’s the No 1 national tour guide in Ireland, says he’ll be voting for Michael D “because he’s a great man for arts and culture and he’s a friend of the queen’s too”, which is all fine and dandy, now that we are all good, dependable neighbours.

The anonymous tour guide has even been in the Áras, where he met Mary McAleese.

Over at K O’Connell’s fish stall, Pat O’Connell, the Official Face of the Rebel County, is busy applying for his equity card, his acting talent finally officially recognised by a guest appearance in hit hard-chaw comedy series, The Young Offenders.

Pat steps out from behind the counter to greet Joan to the familiar sound of cameras whirring. He’ s gone global ever since that laugh he had with Queen Elizabeth II.

“I’m not sick of being photographed,” he says. He’s even looking forward to another appearance in the upcoming second series of The Young Offenders, hence the equity card.

He reckons Joan is an “extremely strong” candidate. She has a good track record, “but being president’s a different ball game”. He won’t make up his own mind until he’s heard what all seven candidates have to say.

At Kathleen Noonan’s meat stall, Pauline Noonan doesn’t know who she’ll vote for. She’s not even sure who’s running, she says. Does she mind The English Market being hijacked for photoshoots?

“You get used to it, and it brings in the tourists,” she says.

Joan stops to greet a couple and their child. Nie Madden and her husband, John, will consider giving her a vote in light of her work with Pieta House, but they “have to weigh up all the options”. She’s the first candidate they’ve met in the flesh though, and they are not unimpressed.

Market meet-and-greet done and dusted, Joan slips into the nearby Oyster Tavern where we get down to the serious business of discussing Joan and Her Loan.

It’s all by the book, she says, strictly according to Sipo (Standards in Public Office).

Is she sorry she accepted an offer from an ex-boyfriend, given the grief it’s brought?

“I don’t regret asking him for the loan, simply because I couldn’t get it here in Ireland,” she says, having been turned down by a bank and the credit union.

“So, I was so limited in who I could ask. This is his [US-based businessman Des Walsh] own personal wealth, nothing to do with any company,” she says. The company in question paid substantial fines arising from allegations of pyramid selling, though there was no criminal activity involved.

She was 19 when she and Des dated, it was for less than a year, and her husband never met him, she says.

I ask why anyone would put themselves forward for public office and expose themselves to such personal attacks.

In a way, it’s no harder than setting up a charity, she says.

Joan Freeman and Sean Gallagher
Joan Freeman and Sean Gallagher

“The challenges are different, but both are still challenging. In setting up a charity, you have to think about money, you have to think about how people react.

“Our own home was put up as collateral for the charity. That was a challenge in itself and I had four teenage children, and also, would people embrace the service? What if it was a complete and utter flop and nobody wanted it? There were so many challenges.

“So, as a candidate, I am of course being scrutinised, I am putting my head above the parapet, but I believe in my country and in serving the public so strongly that I am willing to do that.”

Self-sacrifice aside, does she fancy her chances of winning?

“I don’t read the polls, but I wouldn’t be in if I didn’t think I could win. I know I have a battle ahead, but I’m ready to fight every step of the way.”

Then she’s gone, on to Drimoleague in West Cork, to do what she does best, launching a new mental health and wellbeing service for local communities.

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