Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

It's been hard Labour on campaign trail down South, but all we can do now is wait for verdict... and sleep

By Mairia Cahill

Published 26/02/2016

Mairia Cahill campaigning for Labour candidate Anne Ferris
Mairia Cahill campaigning for Labour candidate Anne Ferris
Mairia Cahill

By the time you read this, the last of the doorbells will have been rung, thousands of miles will have been covered by political teams, babies will have been kissed for photo-ops and voters will be sick of their evening soaps being interrupted to answer doors to those looking for their vote.

People like me will be looking for new pairs of shoes to replace the ones worn out on the canvass trail.

Yes, it's the Irish general election coming to a close. For those who don't know, I am a Labour Party member and I have been explaining the message that Labour, if elected, will deliver balance and stability in government, as it did the last time around with its coalition partners in Fine Gael, who promised, this time, to "keep the recovery going".

Sinn Fein promised voters that they would be better off with it, and Fianna Fail's mantra was "An Ireland for all". There were too many others to remember, from a hotch-potch of independents to smaller parties such as Renua and the Social Democrats.

The political pundits have said this has been their most boring election to date, but as someone who has canvassed in past general elections, this has not been my experience.

I love canvassing. You have an opportunity to interact directly with people that you would not necessarily hear all the time in political life. Sometimes politics can be like a bubble, but, generally, during election campaigns even the politicians sure of their votes are on a level playing field, fighting, as one minister said recently, "for their political lives".

There was very much a feel of this during this campaign, as it is the first election in which boundaries have been reduced, leaving many currently elected politicians going to the wire in order to retain their seats.

I've lost count of how many Press conferences I've attended, how many doorsteps I've stood on and how many shopping centres I've handed out leaflets in.

Sleep will come next week, but for now we will, like other parties, concentrate on getting our vote out and then await the results.

The best reaction was in Tanaiste Joan Burton's constituency, where I witnessed a masterclass in how she connects with people on the ground.

That isn't always reflected in media commentary, but was very much borne out during the campaign.

She has a tough job ahead of her given the nature of the Dublin West constituency. There have been a few moments in the campaign which stand out. One TD on a canvass with me in inner-city Dublin was bitten on the finger by a dog. I made him pose for a photo with the mauled finger. If ever there was a reminder that politics can be a ruff business, this was it (sorry, couldn't resist).

The other was watching the last leaders' debate, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny raised my case and Gerry Adams retorted - twice - with a smile "Who's Senator Cahill?", which caused me to trend on Twitter for the evening.

Enda says it's the favourite moment of the campaign for him. Gerry not so much.

There is a difference between the level of political engagement with voters in Northern Ireland, I've found, where politics can be more local on the doorsteps.

The last time I canvassed for an Assembly election voters were raising play parks and things particular to their area. This time voters were talking about the economy. A lot.

I had to brush up on my knowledge of the dreaded "fiscal space" and policy figures in order to explain our stance.

Politicians can behave differently, too, and there were some off-the-wall videos, with campaign songs made such as "Vote Mattie McGrath, la la la la la" to the Alan Kelly rap.

One wondered what Jeffrey Donaldson would find to rhyme with his name for a Stormont video special, or whether Willie McCrea would prance about in full singing mode in gloves with the names of his political opponents in the forthcoming Assembly election. It certainly would liven up the campaign.

At this stage, most parties are suffering from canvass burnout. I've criss-crossed the country, from Dublin to Limerick to Laois. Although the official campaign has been three weeks long, in reality it has seemed endless (some started canvassing in November).

The daily commute from Belfast can be tiring, but once you arrive you become energised by the people around you and, while it may have been lacklustre for some, this election is important, due to Ireland's fragile state.

The voters will deliver their decision tomorrow.

All that can be done now is to wait.

And catch up on some much-needed sleep.

  • Mairia Cahill is an Irish Labour Senator from west Belfast

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph