Byelection: Water an issue, says Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin by-election candidate Kathleen Funchion with Liz Kealy in Gowran. Picture: Pat Moore

“I’m not really sure where he’s canvassing, but he’s certainly not canvassing in Carlow-Kilkenny if that’s the response. Water is definitely coming up, and it’s crazy for him to say it isn’t,” said Sinn Féin candidate Kathleen Funchion yesterday.

She was keen to tell a different story than that of her Fine Gael counterpart David Fitzgerald as she canvassed elsewhere in the constituency.

Speaking in Cleeres pub after an afternoon canvass of the working class Parkmore Terrace in Gowran, east Kilkenny, was cut short by what a handler described grimly as “Tipperary rain”, the party’s first local representative since the foundation of the State, says Phil Hogan, Irish Water and austerity — not recovery — make up the majority of the opinions she hears about.

The most likely contender out of five candidates pledging to scrap Irish Water completely, the councillor believes Friday’s vote will be a “referendum on austerity”.

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With stakes like that, you better make the pitch a good one. “There are real, real problems. People are struggling. People are genuinely worried about the bills, and housing. Government talk about a recovery, but ordinary people aren’t seeing it,” she says.

According to Ms Funchion the former Environment Minister, Phil Hogan, was the “minister for water charges and household tax” and has “sailed off to Europe on a cushy number”.

This view is shared by hard-left parties and the National Citizens Movement, whose candidate, Elizabeth Hourihane from Cork, is taking a High Court case against the State over water fees.

While jobs to replace the sugar beet industry; housing; and cuts to rural bus services which “have left people completely cut off” are also problems, she believes Irish Water is the over-arching issue.

The argument, while strong, jars with the view the by-election is between austerity era parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

If it’s so bad in Carlow/ Kilkenny, why aren’t Sinn Féin ruling the roost?

The stock answer of “you never know with polls” is trotted out, followed by a legitimate view that the area is not traditional party stomping ground.

It is put to her that what Sinn Féin really wants is a strong showing, ensuring it can compete for Labour’s seat in the five-seater general election.

“We’ve a good chance on Friday,” she says.

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