herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Aoife Finneran: The bus stops here with Charlie and Conor's flagging road show

YOU could say one has a face like the back of a bus while the other has a new haircut that reflects the harsh snip his party has inflicted on the taxpayers' finances.

Yes, when it comes to securing the Number One vote, Conor Lenihan and Charlie O'Connor will try anything. The dynamic duo are colleagues in Fianna Fail, but out in the Dublin South West constituency, where both are fighting to hold their seats, it's every man for himself.

Eager for a ringside seat at this epic battle, the Herald accompanied Connor and Charlie on the campaign trail.

Never a shrinking violet, Conor has taken publicity to the next level, with his branded Conor Lenihan Bus. But as he alights from the shiny vehicle and sets his sights on the estates in the Greenhills area, he gets off to a less than positive start.

Furious

He's been telling me that public reaction has been "personally sympathetic", and then finds himself face to face with a furious voter, who tells him: "I'm not heading your way at all. I'll probably put a big X on the ballot paper. I believe in integrity where the government is concerned. The last government hasn't shown integrity.

"You brought in divorce," he sniffs, though Conor spots a life-line and corrects him, saying: "Actually that was the Rainbow government."

The man isn't bothered by minor details, continuing with his rant: "You brought in homosexual practices." To his credit, a mildly amused Conor doesn't flinch and politely takes his leave. Even for a seasoned politician, Fianna Fail being "blamed" for homosexuality is definitely a new one.

Further up the street, Teresa Connolly listens carefully to Conor's spiel and waves him off, before telling us: "They do nothing for you. They promise you everything when they come looking for votes, and then that's it."

Yet her cynicism pales in comparison to the anger of the wheelchair-bound man, who dismisses Conor from his door, insisting: "Don't send any of your cronies and don't ever knock on my door again."

Even the dogs in the street are complaining about Fianna Fail, if the frenzied barking of Elizabeth Jackson's "guard dog" Kala is any indication.

It's a wonder Conor doesn't throw in the towel, or at least try his fortunes in a different constituency. Yet, despite a request by new leader Micheal Martin to move to Dublin South, Conor is staying put.

"It's not daggers drawn between us," he insists. Charlie does his thing and I'll do mine."

However, he concedes that "we would need an extraordinarily fragmented scene in order to get two seats". "Of course I'm anxious," he adds. "Elections are always like that, but I've put in 14 years into this area, and I've delivered for it."

As for some of the reactions, he shrugs: "That's to be expected when you do the cuts we've been doing."

No doubt he'll be heartened to hear that canvassing isn't a bed of roses for Charlie O'Connor either. Over at The Square, in Tallaght, the veteran TD is also working hard for the votes. And his party has plenty of work to do to impress Marie McEntee, who asks him: "What are you going to do for the small businesses?"

Marie, who runs three businesses in the shopping centre, added: "I haven't gotten one cent reduction in my rent. The big boys have NAMA, but what have we?

"I employ 30-odd staff and if I was to close my doors they would have to go on the dole. We are dying on our feet here. It's disgusting what's going on. Legislation has to be brought in to deal with upward-only leases."

Marie runs Lord's Barber Shop, where Charlie regularly has his locks trimmed, and it just so happens that, like the country's finances, he's in need of a haircut, so he heads in for a short back and sides, courtesy of Pam McCarthy.

While Pam wields the scissors, Charlie admits he's been suffering his share of criticism, revealing: "I was out canvassing the other day and a car slowed down and the driver stuck his head out and said, "f*** you Charlie!"

Charlie even ponders the fact that both he and Conor could end up seatless on February 25. Yet even that prospect wouldn't encourage him to move constituencies.

Laughs

"There's no point sending me to Dundrum or somewhere like that," he shrugs. "Whether I get in is a matter for the people and I'm happy to stand on my record."

Ever the optimist, Charlie is also seeking support from a less likely source -- namely his FF colleague.

"I told Matt Cooper that I'm hoping Conor will vote for me so I don't want to upset him. I'm expecting his number one," he laughs. Back in Greenhills, it doesn't look like Conor Lenihan will oblige. After all, there's only space for one face on the back of that bus.

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