Irish Times feature on Socialist Party parliamentary election candidate
The general elections in Ireland take place this coming Thursday, 24 May 2007. The outgoing coalition government, of Fianna Fail (FF) and the Progressive Democrats (PDs) lost ground to the official ‘opposition’ – Alliance for Change – made up of Fine Gael and Labour, but in the last week has recovered somewhat, making the election too close to call."
There is widespread disgruntlement and anger with FF and the PDs. Despite the decade long economic ‘Celtic boom’, Ireland has one of the worst levels of social inequalities in the West, crumbling welfare resources, poor infrastructure, a high cost of living and a housing crisis.
While the rich grew richer during the economic growth, the poor get poorer and health, education and welfare deteriorate. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report (19/05/07) shows Ireland spends proportionally less on health than any other Western European country and fewer hospital beds than the European average.
Given the anger that exists amongst many at the government and considering it has been in power for the last decade, some smaller parties and independent candidates, including those on the left, could get squeezed by the desire for a change of government.
Nevertheless, the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) is fighting a vigorous campaign and getting a warm response from working class communities. The Socialist Party (SP) is standing four candidates. Joe Higgins (an outgoing TD (MP)) and local SP councilors Clare Daly and Mick Murphy are standing in Dublin constituencies, while SP councilor Mick Barry is contesting a Cork city seat.
The ‘Irish Times’ (19/05/07) comments: "The publicity and support attracted by Dublin West TD [MP] Joe Higgins, and Dublin North Cllr Clare Daly, leave the party with a realistic hope of having two of its four candidates in the Dail [Irish parliament]".
An Irish bookmaker, Ivan Yates, from ‘Celtic Bookmakers’, predicts that Joe Higgins will get re-elected and Clare Daly will be elected for the first time, next Thursday (Irish Independent, 18/05/07). While the Socialist Party has run very strong campaigns in all the areas, particularly in Dublin North and Dublin West, this election is extremely competitive and will go down to the wire. It is impossible to predict the overall outcome or what the results will be in the four areas where the Socialist Party is standing.
Below is a recent Irish Times feature on Joe Higgins’ election campaign, which gives an indication of the support he finds amongst working class people and youth in Dublin West.
socialistworld.net [updated 21 May 2007]
On the canvass: It’s 7.15am at Castleknock train station. A grey-haired man in a mac is handing out leaflets asking people to "re-elect a tireless campaigner for working people". Most commuters are either wearing earphones or are rushing to catch the always packed trains. The rest smile and say "hiya, Joe" and "good luck, Joe" and "you always have the number ones in our house, Joe".
Of course, there is that one woman, a smartly dressed middle-aged blonde, who says in a stern voice "not on your life" and walks past without taking a leaflet. But the man in the mac doesn’t seem to mind.
Meet Average Joe Higgins. He leads the Socialist Party, works in Dáil Éireann and drives a Toyota Corolla that has seen better days. The ringtone on his mobile phone blasts a funky if incongruous female R&B vocal, which was installed when he bought the phone. "I don’t know how to change it," he says.
A single man, he lives in a modest semi-detached house in Mulhuddart in the constituency of Dublin West, which he bought from the council 12 years ago. Outside in the garden, Socialist Party members are busy constructing Joe billboards. Inside, the decor has remained in 1995.
The walls of his upstairs study are still hung with racing car wallpaper, a legacy from the family that lived here before.
He makes a tasty plate of post-early morning canvassing bacon and eggs. Although he’s a TD, Higgins only takes home half the salary or the equivalent of, naturally, the average industrial wage. "You scrape by," he says. "But that’s what all ordinary working-class people around here have to do."
Being an Average Joe is his secret weapon in Dublin West, where he is considered to be safe enough when it comes to retaining his seat on May 24th. Observers reckon Fianna Fáil’s Brian Lenihan should also triumph, while Labour TD Joan Burton and the new kid on the block, Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar, will fight it out for the third seat in a constituency that has grown by up to 25 per cent since the last election.
We go for a spin in the Toyota around Dublin West. He points out the sprawling new estates that aren’t catered for in terms of schools or local infrastructure. He points at one identikit housing estate. "Those people live 10 yards from a school, but when they moved in they were told it wasn’t in their catchment area. The planning in this area is disgraceful. We are paying the price for decades of corruption in the planning department.The main parties spent so long in the pockets of developers in the 1960s that the same greedy culture still pervades," he says.
This is Average Joe’s mantra: the workers spent the last 10 years building up the economy while the Government ensured big builders and developers reaped the rewards. He rails against inadequate public transport, housing estates’ management committees and stealth taxes. His constituents are quick to tell you why they are voting for Joe.
"The bin tax," says Lisa McMurray as Higgins canvasses outside a local school. "He put his neck on the line for us over the tax, he stood up for us and he went to prison." Her friend, Ann Lynch, agrees: "Our husbands vote for him, they say, ’You better vote for Joe because he’s the only one who does anything for anyone in this area.’ I actually don’t think he needs to canvass because he will definitely get his seat again. He is well respected around here, even our kids know who he is."
"Go on, Joe," shouts a young boy waving his fist in the air, if proof of his popularity among children were needed. "Ah, good man," smiles Joe.
The next day on the doorsteps it’s the same story. Student Alan Armstrong will be voting for the first time. "I’m just voting for what is good for the area and that’s Joe," he says. "You can see what he does for local people, he gets things done." Another woman says the whole household will be voting for him. "We always have, we always will, Joe."
Average Joe goes for a cup of tea in Hartstown Community Centre. Therese Connolly says she has no time for other politicians whom she chases away from the door. "I only have time for Joe. He stood up for us on the bin tax, on water charges, he protested against the mobile phone mast. He is different to the others. With Joe, what you see is what you get." The way she tells it, he’s an above Average Joe.