Political Editor Daniel McConnell goes on the campaign trail in Dublin with Paschal Donohoe
IT IS midday in the busy village of Phibsboro, on Dublin’s north side. I arrive at the Woodstock cafe to meet Pascha Donohoe, the local TD who also happens to be Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport .
“I am in a battle for my political life,” he tells me as we meet, and I ask him how the campaign is going.
He means it, as he could go from being a senior Cabinet minister to being out of a job come this weekend. As we go inside and queue up for the carvery lunch, Donohoe mingles and greets friendly faces who wish him well, talk football and local politics.
Donohoe and his right-hand man, local councillor Ray McAdam, have been at it since early morning, and by now he is starving.
Standing at Doyle’s Corner from 8am in bitterly cold weather looking for votes is not for the faint- hearted. The last time the two of us sat in this cafe, we were discussing the botched 2010 heave against Enda Kenny and his support for it.
Having been on the wrong side on that debate, it is remarkable that this first- time TD would be elevated so fast to Cabinet.
“I never thought I would be here, but I face a huge challenge to be re-elected,” Donohoe says honestly.
He is referring to the 2012 redraw of constituency boundaries, which saw two of Donohoe’s strongest areas hived off to neighbouring constituencies.
He is also facing very stiff competition for re-election from his fellow sitting TDs — Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, Labour’s Joe Costello, and the Independent, Maureen O’Sullivan — and to make matters worse it has gone from a four-seat to a three-seat constituency.
“At least I’ll know my fate quickly given it’s a three seater,” he quips.
Donohoe admits he was asked about moving either to Dublin West or Dublin North-West. But, given Dublin Central is his home, he was adamant he was staying put to fight the good fight.
He lives around the corner from the cafe with his wife and two small children. He states with some conviction that this is his home and this is where he wanted to stand.
A lowly backbenchers in the dark days of 2011 and 2012 when the Government’s austerity regime was at its apex, Donohoe was a willing defender of the Coalition on the national airwaves.
He was one of the few Fine Gael TDs who continued to appear on TV3’s Vincent Browne show, long after many others got tired of being kicked around by the veteran broadcaster.
Also, Donohoe was among a handful of TDs who genuinely understands economics, so he was able to explain the Government’s decisions with clarity and confidence.
Undoubtedly, this dedication to the unpopular cause, meant his time in the wilderness was curtailed and he was appointed a junior minister in 2013 to replace Lucinda Creighton as minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
His promotion again to Cabinet less than a year later, to a ministry which is Dublin-centric, is a visible sign that Enda Kenny has gone a long way to help Donohoe keep his seat.
From not giving him a hope a year ago, most pundits who have examined the runners and riders in Dublin Central think Donohoe will returned to the 32nd Dail.
The 41-year-old is one of, if not the most, positive and upbeat politicians in Leinster House, but today on the canvass he seems tense. Fine Gael’s stuttering campaign nationally, plus the real fear of losing his seat next week, is clearly weighing on his mind.
As we begin our walkabout on the bustling main thoroughfare of Phibsboro, the garda helicopter hovers ominously overhead.
The funeral of Eddie Hutch taking place nearby is an ominous reminder of the troubles that affect this now largely working class constituency.
We are joined on the canvass by photographer Fergal Philips and Ray McAdam, who is equipped with the all-important canvass card with the candidate’s details.
As we walk up the road passed the main shopping centre, I point out one or two of Donohoe’s election posters have been defaced with “traitor” slogans.
I ask him if that happened a lot. “Not much at all, and we will replace all of those which have been written on,” he says.
As the early afternoon traffic streams by, Donohoe stops to chat with a woman at the bus stop. Small pleasantries are exchanged and he reminds her of his name and asks for her consideration on polling day.
With a chirpy goodbye, we are off on our way again.
He tells me he regularly looks at the registrsation plates of Dublin buses to see if they were among the batch bought on his watch.
“A 141 D, yeah that’s a Paschal bus,” he says in jest but with genuine sense of pride.
A man who is normally flanked by advisors, to see him out canvassing, exposed, as if he were a first-time councillor, is somewhat disconcerting. But that is the beauty of politics.
As we continue our walk about, Donohoe sets out his case as to why the Government should be re-elected. Sticking to the recovery theme, he says it in plain language that is more effective that the rather patronising tone of the national campaign.
He highlights the opening of the new DIT campus in nearby Grangegorman as a major achievement for the area, combined with the expected commencement of the new Luas line in 2017.
His campaign has been complicated by the strike action by Luas drivers but he has left his key team of advisors working in the department to oversee matters.
While Donohoe is locked in debate with one man, McAdam and I chat about the campaign.
He concedes Fine Gael, as a party, has never been loved, but is respected for fixing the economy. He is then stopped by an immigrant couple who recognise him from the TV.
A short explanation of what Fine Gael means is given and they part ways happy with their lot.
Then one young fella clocks the minister and yells out a bit of abuse.
“Ah Fianna Fail [as in failure]... you are going to hell,” he calls out as he passes.
Donohoe laughs it off by saying: “Eh, wrong party there.”
The canvass moves onto some local houses. The door- to-door approach is proving less successful as not many people are in.
A young student answers the door and asks Donohoe about his party’s stance on the Eighth Amendment. He is able to refer to the plan to hold a people’s convention on it later this year and she seems content with that. He again politely requests that she considers voting for him on polling day.
The stakes for Donohoe could not be higher.
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