Election 2020: Blank Canvass: There’s helping, and then there’s unhelpful helping

Leo Varadkar gets a youthful grilling, Mary Lou McDonald hears an explosive request and Stephen Donnelly is asked about his poster collection as Election 2020 comes to a close

Aiden Corkery

Political Correspondent @aiden_corkery
9th February, 2020
Election 2020: Blank Canvass: There’s helping, and then there’s unhelpful helping
Labour Senator Ged Nash, right, on the campaign trail in Drogheda with Ronan McCay, former SDLP chairman

Hanna helps others

Claire Hanna has been a busy woman since being elected MP for South Belfast in December but she still found time to join Fine Gael candidates Neale Richmond and Emer Currie on the campaign trail, as well as Labour’s Ged Nash. So far so generous, except she doesn’t appear to have done any canvassing with Fianna Fáil candidates despite the SDLP’s special partnership with the party. Hanna had voiced her opposition to the link-up with Fianna Fáil last year so perhaps her failure to knock on doors for the party should come as no surprise. An SDLP spokesman pointed out that party leader Colum Eastwood had campaigned with Jim O’Callaghan on Thursday but was unable to say if Hanna had knocked on any doors for the Soldiers of Destiny.

Mary Lou’s homework

Did Mary Lou McDonald prepare enough for the big RTÉ Prime Time debate on Tuesday night? The Sinn Féin leader was already at a disadvantage having only been invited to take part in the debate a day before it happened. Despite this, she went ahead with an interview on Newstalk on the morning of the debate, as well as with separate canvassing events in the Dublin neighbourhoods of Ringsend and Finglas. While McDonald’s “business as usual” attitude is admirable, one suspects that spending the day prepping for the debate would have left her in a better position to deal with some of the inevitable questions that came her way on the Special Criminal Court, the murder of Paul Quinn and Northern Ireland’s homelessness problems.

Decisive action

One of our favourite moments of the election was when Mary Lou McDonald was canvassing the Greek Street flats in the north inner city. Local resident Hilda Brannigan greeted McDonald like an old friend and asked if she could do anything about the condition of the flats which have mould growing on many of the walls. McDonald said she wanted to see a “huge regeneration” scheme of public flat complexes across the city. Brannigan wasn‘t so sure. “We don't, we need a bloody bomb to blow them up!” she said. McDonald couldn’t help laughing as she responded that Sinn Féin wasn’t proposing such radical action. “But you have friends in them places!” Brannigan added laughing.

Fighting till the end

Paschal Donohoe’s adviser Ed Brophy was determined to go down fighting on Twitter as the election campaign entered its final stages on Friday. He retweeted a link to a UN report published in December which found that Ireland has the third-highest quality of life in the world based on education, income and health (that’s correct, health). “Disconnect between these findings, which no-one is dismissing, and the dominant narrative of the election campaign that quality of life here is terrible, is really striking,” Brophy wrote. “There is much more to improve, but some perspective on the kind of country we live in would be welcome too.” And that was everyone told.

Leo‘s PR fail

Leo Varadkar could do with a few lessons on how to make pre-election announcements. Hopes were high in St Joseph’s College in Lucan when students learned that the Taoiseach was visiting there last Wednesday with Fine Gael’s two Dublin Mid-West candidates. The school has been waiting 15 years for an extension, so had the Taoiseach arrived to give the green light for the long-delayed project? “I can offer you an assurance that we'll do everything we can to get it done during the course of the next government,” he told a student who raised the issue during a Q&A. “We’ve a budget of €600 million a year for school buildings which sounds like a lot but it’s not when you spread it across the country,” he said. The sense of disappointment was palpable.

The substitutes’ substitutes

It could be a great political quiz question in years to come. How many people were unable to succeed Matt Carthy as an MEP? Carthy is regarded as a sure thing to win a seat in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency for Sinn Féin. That means his Midlands-North-West seat in the European Parliament will go to the person named on his substitutes list. But the first person on the list is Darren O'Rourke, who could win a seat for Sinn Féin in Meath West. Next is Pauline Tuohy, who could win a second seat for Sinn Féin in Cavan-Monaghan. Then there is Maireád Farrell, who is running for Sinn Féin in Galway West. Next is Sinn Féin activist Caoimhe Ní Shluáin in Meath, who recently gave birth to a baby boy. If, as a new parent, she is understandably unwilling to spend much of the week in Brussels, the next in line is Claire Kerrane, who is running for Sinn Féin in Roscommon-Galway. If all else fails, the next person on the list should be available. That’s Sinn Féin's Sligo Councillor Chris McManus, who was taken off the general election ticket for the party in Sligo-Leitrim. Phew!

Which party am I in?

Should Saoirse McHugh be running for Sinn Féin? First the Green Party candidate told the Business Post that she wasn’t in favour of carbon taxes (neither is Sinn Féin) but now she wants the Special Criminal Court scrapped also - despite party leaders Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin indicating they‘ve reversed their previous opposition to the non-jury court. “It’s the right thing to do . . . we can find alternatives that aren’t wartime hangovers,” McHugh said on Thursday.

Feel the burn

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly got hit by a zinger during a general election debate in the Avon Hotel in Blessington in Co Wicklow, hosted by East Coast Radio's Declan Meehan. One audience member asked Donnelly about the three different types of election poster that must be filling up his garage after running as an Independent in 2011, a Social Democrat in 2016 and now for Fianna Fáil. “Which poster will it be next time?” he asked him. Ouch.

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