Fianna Fail candidate Cormac Devlin: 'It's about persuading people to vote for someone new, someone young'
DURING an early morning canvass on the steps of Dun Laoghaire Dart Station, Cormac Devlin is approached by a less-than-impressed elderly gentleman.
The voter says he has been following, through the pages of the Herald, the shenanigans surrounding the most intriguing political battle in years.
He has read, with interest, of the dramatic events surrounding Mary Hanafin's election to the council last May - the now infamous 'Battle of Blackrock' - and the controversial decision to add the former minister to the Fianna Fail ticket ahead of the looming General Election.
"You're the chap who has been landed with Mary. Sorry to hear that," he says, with a shrug.
But Cormac Devlin is used to rolling with the punches.
At the recent Fianna Fail selection convention in Killiney Castle Devlin was behind on first-preferences, but he won the contest after the votes of his friend and council colleague Kate Feeney were distributed.
Less than 24 hours later, the party's top brass made a bold decision. Mary Hanafin was added to the ticket.
However, some senior Fianna Fail figures are firmly of the belief that running two candidates will scupper the party's chances of taking a seat.
Devlin admits he will always have the "tag" as the person who was joined on the ticket by one of the most seasoned politicians of her generation.
"I knew facing someone who was in Government, and a former deputy leader of the party for a short period, that I was in a battle," Devlin says.
"Everyone in politics has a tag of some sort. But for me, it's about persuading people to vote for someone new, someone young and someone who wants to do things differently."
In a three-seat constituency, Devlin faces an uphill battle to get elected. Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor and People Before Profit deputy Richard Boyd Barrett are virtually certain of being returned.
That leaves Devlin, Hanafin and Fine Gael councillor Maria Bailey in a dogfight for the final seat. The Labour Party's Carrie Smyth should not be discounted either, given the support base held by outgoing TD and former leader Eamon Gilmore.
Devlin's prospects could hinge on whether he can defeat the very woman with whom he has been locked in the most bitter of battles.
But, despite the rivalry, the 35-year-old father-of-three says he will ask his supporters to give their number twos to Hanafin.
"Of course I want to win the seat for Fianna Fail, but I am telling people that I have a running mate and that running mate is Mary Hanafin.
"I would be hoping that she too will be asking people to give their number twos to me," he says.
Such was his concern that he would be blocked from contesting the convention due to the gender quotas, Devlin prepared for the prospect of a legal challenge against the party.
His legal advice was that any move to "shaft" him should be followed immediately by an injunction aimed at blocking the convention from taking place.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has insisted that there was never any intention of meddling with the convention, as happened in other constituencies such as Dublin Central and Dublin South Central.
A senior party source directly involved with election strategy confirmed to the Herald that the prospect of issuing a diktat to the Dun Laoghaire branch was considered.
Did Devlin, armed with the knowledge that senior party figures favoured Hanafin over him, ever consider pulling out of the race?
"No," he says.
But, as a full-time councillor who left his job in retail to focus on politics, Devlin admits that he has taken a gamble.
"You do think sometimes, 'Am I allowing my career to suffer? If I do return to my former area of work, will I be lower down the ladder than others my age?' But that's the risk you take and I feel very fortunate to be a councillor. It's not something I take for granted."
Devlin was elected to Dun Laoghaire council aged just 23. He campaigned for Mary McAleese during her successful Presidential campaign before embarking on a campaign of his own.
With wife Jennifer and three young children at home, Devlin says childcare is one of the key issues of the campaign.
"The level of struggle facing parents is unbelievable. They need a Government that supports them," he says.
Canvassing in a constituency that is more affluent than most, Devlin says homeowners - in particularly - are angry at the property tax system.
They feel hard done by, he says, as they are paying significantly more than other families in rural Ireland.
"People ask me, 'Why are we paying such large bills and yet we don't see any improvement in services? We don't see improvements in roads, in parks, in playgrounds like we were told would happen'.
"There is also deep anger that homeowners in Dun Laoghaire are paying significantly more for a four or five-bed home than those down the country."
Despite potentially being one of the modern day 'victims' of the new gender quota targets, Devlin says he is determined to encourage more women and young people to enter politics.
"Everyone has a part in play in society and politics should not be seen any differently. But it needs to change.
"There are elements that are exceptionally off-putting - the impact it has on your private life, the very public profile, the constant campaigning, the hours you must put in - it is off-putting for a whole wave of people," the councillor says.
On his party, Devlin says Fianna Fail has gone through "challenging times".
"But this election is about increasing our seats. And we will be fighting to do that."