Aoife Finneran: The fresh new face helping to drive FG's rejuvenation
WHOEVER said politics is an ugly business obviously hasn't met the glamorous Catherine Yore. She's just 26, a member of Meath County Council and a first-time candidate for the General Election in Meath West, but this stunning brunette has already done more for Fine Gael's rejuvenated image than a thousand grey-faced men in suits.
Back in 2009, she set pulses racing when she was pictured alongside Enda Kenny in a black mini-dress. Yet this straight-talking politician is quick to play down any talk of style or beauty, insisting: "It doesn't matter what you wear or what you look like, it's about what you deliver and what you represent."
On a cold and rainy night in Navan, informed voters certainly aren't promising their number one preference just because she's a pretty face on the doorstep. It's a hotly contested three-seater constituency, with Catherine and her running mate Damien English aiming for a comprehensive victory for the Blueshirts.
As she pounds the pavements in the estates around Navan town, Catherine is put through her paces by Ann Hoey, who ponders the election leaflet before remarking: "I have some issues because I think Fine Gael won't get a majority, and there's a possibility of a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail coalition and you don't agree on policies."
Having been made redundant last year, Ann is keen to hear Fine Gael's policies on job creation, and Catherine gamely fills her in on her party's "good bank" plans and the proposals to get credit flowing to small businesses.
"It's not going to be a quick fix," she admits.
Then Ann recalls the Fine Gael leader's much-publicised absence from Tuesday's TV3 leaders' debate, telling the young candidate: "I think Enda did you damage by not turning up the other night."
Catherine disagrees, and points out that Enda will be taking part in further debates in the run-up to polling day.
"He'll be well diluted if there's five people debating", laughs Ann.
Fine Gael may have been crawling with young Turks eager to oust Kenny ahead of last summer's heave, but the party leader has a staunch supporter in Catherine, who describes him as "a man of moral standing".
She's the first public representative in her family and is keen to emphasise the fact that she doesn't come from "a political dynasty". In fact, she's a teacher by profession and currently on unpaid leave from her job in White Cross National School. Mind you, she's also an accomplished singer and pianist as well as possessing model looks. And considering her appearances on talent shows You're A Star and Glas Vegas as a teenager, her career path could also have taken her to the stage or the catwalk instead.
So what prompted her to enter the race for a Dail seat? Having served on Meath County Council since June 2009, she has encountered several crucial local issues, notably the battle to retain services at the local hospital.
Yet her decision to run for the Dail has been partly fuelled by an issue close to her heart -- emigration.
"I've so many friends who've emigrated. I've eight friends living in Sydney, another few living in England. Accountants, physios, teachers, nurses, you name it, our highly skilled people. They want to come home. They see it online, and they want to see Ireland recovering," she explains.
Would-be Fine Gael supporter Margaret Dowling knows all about it, given that two of her four children left home to study in Britain, with a third making plans to go.
"When my husband retires we'll go to the UK", she tells Catherine, "if our kids are there. We cannot afford education here. As bad as it is in Britain, it's 10 times worse here.
"I've always voted Fine Gael," she adds. "Seriously, why keep in what's been in there? Somebody once told me if it's not broken, don't fix it. But if it's bent and twisted as hell, then surely you should fix it," she points out.
And despite Catherine's tender years, she insists she's "not afraid" of the challenge, because "being young is an advantage".
"I have the courage to come in and give it my best shot," she tells me. "And I think it's good to have a new set of eyes that can question the system and bring in new ideas."