JOHN McGuinness TD (J Mac) has an affinity with the people of the Butts area of Kilkenny city that no other candidate in the general election really comes close to matching. He is known in almost every house and at one door we called to, the father figure of the house said to J Mac and his daughter Alva: “John there are 14 votes coming out of this house and they are all yours.” Doesn’t make sense when you look at national opinion polls but the five seat constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny has always bucked the national trend.
As we start out on the canvas at 6.30pm on Wednesday evening we take the pedestrian crossing at Hehir’s Funeral Home and are nearly knocked down by a number of motorists who don’t stop at the junction. John’s wife Margaret, a Carlow woman, makes a note of this and promises to bring the matter to the attention of the gardai and as we get across, a number of others on the other side confirm that it is impossible to get across the road at the pedestrian crossing. She loves meeting the people on the canvas, hearing their concerns and acting. “I’m 32 years canvassing now and it really is great to meet people on their doorstep,” she said with a refreshing honesty.
We start on St Joseph’s Road and while a few of the houses are empty, most are occupied and many of the front doors are open, demonstrating the trust between residents within the community. J Mac knocks, speaks to a youngster at the door and is just about to go next door when the father comes out and brings J Mac into the back of the terraced house to see where damp has come in through a back door while in another house, the front window and the draught coming through it are pointed out by the occupants while the children inside watch a massive flat screen television.
There is no talk here of NAMA, EU/IMF bailouts, exchequer figures or the state of the economy. It’s what can you do for me today, Mr McGuinness. “All politics is local,” Deputy McGuinness said. He said that in private houses the main issue was mortgage repayments and he had ended up, more often than not, giving advice to couples in financial trouble rather than canvassing.
As he goes door to door, he takes notes of the concerns raised by each voter and after he finishes at 10.02pm goes back to the constituency offices on the O’Loughlin Road and dictates letters to all the people he met and to the relevant officials on the Kilkenny City Borough Council or whatever State agency he needs to get moving to help the people he serves. While we knock on No 27, John’s wife Margaret is two doors ahead with Cllr Joe Malone pressing the flesh and if there is an over-riding issue, J Mac, as distinct from the golfer G Mac (Graham McDowell), goes to the door and personally deals with an issue raised. Have to feel sorry for his son, Cllr Andrew McGuinness because he will have the job, whether he likes it or not, of dealing with all the queries raised on the canvas.
J Mac is called into one house and in the sitting room is told the woman of the house is waiting on new windows for ten years from the Borough Council. She picks up a Phil Hogan leaflet, winks at me and said that she is busy reading what Fine Gael are going to do for her. The banter is great, this is real canvassing. They are McGuinness number ones even if there is a problem with the sewerage in the house. Again Cllr Andrew will have to do the leg work on that one.
On the other side of the street, former Fianna Fail councillor Pat Fitzpatrick is busy knocking on doors with another party stalwart, Noel Deevy when a message comes for J Mac to meet a particular lady who has voted number one for him in every election he has went in since the start in 1979. She stands at the door and looks at J Mac as if it was the Messiah himself and explained to the Kilkenny People that she was voting for John and not Fianna Fail. The issue of her grandaughter who lives in the house with her and who J Mac helped out is raised. She is 21-years-old and entitled to vote and despite filling in the pink forms in the garda station and returning them to the county council she still hasn’t got the vote, J Mac takes out the pen and makes another note.
“This is what I keep coming across, people who have done the necessary paper work but have not receive the voter this time or the last time back in 2007,” he said.
After the three hours of intense canvassing was over, the entire team headed back to J Mac’s constituency office on O’Loughlin Road where there were sandwiches, tea, coffee and wait for it, a debriefing. It’s no wonder how, and why, John McGuinness gets elected.