Lots of tea but little sympathy as candidate takes doorstep challenge

You’ve never seen politicians grasp warm cups of tea so happily.

Battered from Arctic winds circling Meath East’s estates, plus the occasional vitriolic attacks dished out on doorsteps — it was a welcome pitstop for the Labour team before they braved the campaign trail for the rest of the day.

With the final canvassing of voters under way in the largely commuter belt constituency, every vote matters for the junior coalition party in the by-election tomorrow.

Party deputy leader Joan Burton joined hopeful Eoin Holmes on the campaign trail in the towns of Ashbourne and Ratoath. It was an icy day. But how warm was the reception for Holmes as he sped up paths eager to press the flesh?

At Ashbourne’s community centre, a rabble of reporters and campaigners stepped inside from the cold.

Burton, the social protection minister, and Holmes mixed with trainees on a course, with the deputy leader even pouring tea for the party’s candidate.

The centre applied for funds from the minister last week.

“Will it be OK? We hope there’ll be no problems,” said centre chairman Frank Carroll while everyone ate cake. Holmes took the liberty of replying: “We don’t anticipate there will be.”

A brave remark to a community crying out for more. But this is politics.

The three-seater constituency is inhabited by many families making the daily commute to Dublin for work. Issues for voters include not only jobs and the economy, but childcare and schools.

Holmes says another Labour TD in the Dáil will give the embattled party a stronger voice in government. Another Labour TD will help keep Fine Gael in check, he says.

That’s a risky pledge considering promises Labour failed to deliver since the last election in Meath, including its vow to keep rates of child benefit unchanged.

In the middle-class estate of Woodlands in Ratoath, Holmes, a father of four gets a mixed but optimistic reaction.

One disillusioned female voter vents: “You could be doing better. You’re not doing what you said you’d do. At the end of the day, it’s the same if we vote Fine Gael or Labour, like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”

The An Post worker, caring for her children while her husband works in Canada, listens to Holmes’s reply. “This is an opportunity to say, ‘listen to Labour a bit more in government’. Help get our voice heard louder at the [Cabinet] table.”

Her door remains open. They chat a bit longer. Holmes, in his industrial-like Arctic jacket and Burton in her Russian fur hat, may have turned back the vote.

“I was completely gone off ye, but I’ll give you a thought,” the woman responds, taking a leaflet.

As Labour canvassers push on through the estate, Holmes explains his strategy. “This is an opportunity [for voters] to reach into government. What difference will a new opposition TD make? In a way, we’re getting less anger on the doorsteps than at the last elections. One more bolshie guy in there [the Dáil] will make a difference.”

Holmes manages seven staff between two coffee shops, is a part-time film producer, and has several years’ political experience as a Meath councillor. His energy and everyday manner mark him out from the other 11 candidates. But he has a battle on his hands to overcome Sinn Féin’s continuing rise, a resurgent Fianna Fáil, as well as Fine Gael’s popularity.

A gripe from a disgruntled retired CIÉ worker reflects the voter apathy that abounds.

“All politicians are dirty. I’ve no time for any of ye,” says the frustrated man.

It may be a tough result for Labour tomorrow in the current, cold, electoral climate.

Any chance of a thaw among voters seems far off.


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