With Fine Gael holding their own in the polls, and Fianna Fail the largest opposition party, this by-election is an important one for Sinn Fein.
The party’s candidate is Kathleen Funchion, a local councillor, trade union worker, and mother-of-two. Joining us on the canvas last Monday were supporters including her father Phil Funchion, Santana Hernandez Power, and Cathy Power. Other Sinn Fein teams are pounding the pavements elsewhere around the county.
Kathleen’s message on the doorsteps is that the Government and other big parties have failed the ordinary people of Ireland. On Michael Street, one house we visit needs little convincing.
“You don’t need to canvas us,” Gillian O’ Keeffe reassures Kathleen, before she can make her pitch.
“We are already voting for you.”
The themes are similar to what came up during last May’s local elections – unemployment, taxation, childcare, affordable housing. Water charges, Kathleen says, are a big issue.
“I was in Bagenalstown [recently],” she tells me.
“One woman I spoke to was living on her own – she was really worried. She was trying to spend less time in the shower and things like that.”
Housing is another major issue – particularly in Kilkenny City.
“There is hardly anywhere to rent, and the few places there are are way outside the rent allowance limit, or landlords are not taking it,” says Kathleen.
“People are just being squeezed – Local Property Tax, water charges, USC. Nobody’s wages have gone up.”
Maybe it’s the bank holiday afternoon, or maybe it’s the improved weather, but around half of the houses we call to seem to be unoccupied. After a few unanswered doors in a row, one man emerges and calls after us.
“Sure, the country is upside down,” he tells Kathleen.
“We need young people like yourself to get in there. I wish you all the best.”
While some voters are open to the idea of voting for Sinn Fein for the first time (‘anyone different’, they say) there is another voter out there who will just never consider it. One man on Wolfe Tone Street gives us short shrift – ‘not interested in Sinn Fein’, he says. Another couple seem supportive, but will be away on holidays for on May 22.
The next house has potential.
“We are all voters here, there are four of us,” the lady of the house tells us.
“We never did vote for Sinn Fein before, but I’m open – I’m not loyal to any one party. I will take the literature and read it.”
Kathleen is originally from Callan, but has previously been elected at local level to represent the city (Kilkenny Borough Council) and more recently, the county council. The south of the county, and Carlow may also prove good support bases. The message from Kathleen and her supporters is clear.
“Fine Gael and Labour are implementing policies that are [negatively] affecting ordinary people,” she says.
“Fianna Fail are running someone who was there for four years before, and he has shown he isn’t going to be any different. So give us a chance this time.”