Independent Alliance candidate Carol Hunt canvassing in Dun Laoghaire
The threats of chaos from Fine Gal and Labour are too late.
What people are saying on the doorstep would make you weep.
Carol Hunt writes:
You’re not supposed to cry when you go canvassing. It doesn’t look good. Particularly if you’re the candidate. You’re meant to have a bright, open smile, a warm demeanor and a cheerful manner when you present yourself at a person’s doorstep.
Which is all very well, but what happens when you hear, not one, two or three, but a veritable avalanche of tragic stories from the people who open their doors to you?
What do you do when a woman tells you about her son who died by suicide, because there was no care available for him when he presented in distress?
How do you react when a couple shake their heads and ask what was it all for? Their children and grandchildren forced to emigrate, themselves struggling to remain in the family home that was once their pride and joy, now just a reminder to them of all they have lost.
What does one say when tired, frustrated mothers tell you they have no hope that their disabled child will ever get the help they so need and deserve; when elderly retired people, who worked all their lives and paid exhorbitant tax rates, reveal that they can pay their electricity or their property bill but not both, and that they’re living in fear of Revenue taking every penny from their pensions.
How do you react when you hear, over and over again, stories from people – ordinary people, of all ages and classes – who are truly suffering, who have been, not just let down but ravaged, destroyed, chewed up and spat out by the system, tell you the most personal stories about their lives?
What you don’t do is cry. And so last weekend I found myself walking away from a door and unable to knock on the next one. At least not until I could compose myself. Not until I could ensure that I wasn’t going to erupt into a volcano of emotion at the whole bloody injustice of it all.
A woman had told me her own story, that of her son and her family and their awful tragedy – which could have been averted if only our public services were fit for purpose. This was not a story in isolation. The morning had been dominated by tales of tragedy, and by angry, frustrated people explaining to us why they had no belief, no trust and no faith in the current political system.
Our public services are in chaos. Mental health services, in particular are not fit for purpose. The squeezed middle – those hundreds of thousands of families, couples and individuals who seem to pay for everything but qualify for nothing – are raw from the scalping they have received.
Elderly people wonder how a government can get away with taking their pensions and leave them terrified about the future. Parents pray that their disabled child is deemed bad enough to qualify for some level of treatment and care. So many homes, so many hurt people with different stories to tell us. And boy, do they want someone to listen to them.
Initially we wonder why? Why are these people – who have never met us before in their lives – opening up to us, showing us their wounds? Eventually we understand. Because no one else is listening. Because they know what the government will say to them – they’ll list off all the reasons they have to be thankful for the wonderful work FG and Labour are doing on their behalf, and then they’ll tell them to stop whinging.
“Keep the recovery going”? Vast swathes of middle Ireland have seen no recovery, thank you very much, just more bills, fewer services and a disenchantment with Irish democracy that has never been so articulately or so passionately expressed before.
Some people tell us that will never vote again, that there is no point, they are just too sick of the whole charade of lies and broken promises. Most people tell us that they are voting independent and yes, I admit, initially I was surprised at the number of people who told me this.
But hell hath no fury and all that. The sense of betrayal is enormous. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour; voters count them off their fingers and spit out insults. Fool me once, they say, but not again. And yet the mainstream media and politicians seem surprised at the trend toward Independents.
Enda Kenny is complaining that “sometimes I find that people find it difficult to see any good anywhere anytime”.
I dare him to come and say that to the faces of the distraught victims of his austerity programme I’m meeting every day. I dare him come and tell mothers of children with disabilities or elderly people who cannot get a hospital appointment, that they should stop whinging and count their blessings. Fine Gael and Labour are now trying to terrify people with threats of chaos if they aren’t voted back in.
What they don’t understand is that so many people are already living with the chaos meted out to them by previous governments.
What they do not understand is that even those who have not suffered so much – who perhaps have felt some of this infamous recovery – are shocked at the treatment of other Irish citizens; of the sick, the disabled, the homeless, of vulnerable children. Ultimately, what they don’t seem to understand is that most Irish people are not complete self-serving bas***ds.
Who knows, this time we actually get our democratic revolution. Until then, I’ll keep listening – and try not to cry.
Carol Hunt is an Independent Alliance candidate for the Dun Laoghaire constituency. Following Carol on Twitter: @carolmhunt
Pic: Paul Sherwood