‘Photogenic’ Maura shoots breeze in (Paul) Connaughton Country!

On The Doorsteps – Eoghan Young-Murphy trails … Maura Hopkins

Luke Kerrigan was tending to his cattle in a shed at Newbridge, east Galway, at around noon on Tuesday with Francis Finneran and Pat Noone as Maura Hopkins approached them with her canvass card.

  The weather is dismal for electioneering, lashing rain and a gusting wind, but nothing is going to dampen Maura’s jollity: laughter is her default mode.

  Paul Connaughton Senior, who lives nearby and served as a TD for the area for 30 consecutive years until 2011, is her guide on this canvass. His local knowledge proves invaluable.

  All five shelter beneath the cattle shed and shoot the breeze. A brief discussion takes place about The Claire Byrne Live Leaders’ Debate on RTÉ the previous night, before the serious business begins.

  “What are you going to do for us?” asks Luke.

  Maura briefly enters into her sales pitch: she emphasises her farming background, her youth and the importance of having a government representative in the constituency that can deliver better services.

  Soon, however, the levity returns. “Generally, what we would want in this part of the world is a higher single farm payment – and twice a year if we could!” says Paul Senior.

  Rarely does Maura miss an opportunity for a photo, cognisant of the role the media plays in a campaign. Before they disperse, she poses for a snap with them. Their voting intentions were not clear. At other doors, however, Maura is assured of a number one, such as at Siobhán Cunningham’s house at Newbridge village. A retired primary school teacher, Siobhán warmly welcomes Maura and Paul Senior into the house, and they chat for five minutes or so by the fireside.

  As they depart, Maura gives the woman her pitch and her canvass card. “I will give this top place,” says Siobhán, accepting the card. “This was always Fine Gael in this house.”

  In case there was any doubt, after Maura leaves, I ask Siobhán if she would give Maura her number one on February 26.

  “Of course I will,” she says. “Otherwise, my husband would turn in his grave.”

  This is Fine Gael country, Paul Senior tells us, and I suspect that he is also bringing us to Fine Gael houses.

  We continue on the canvass trail and drive up a boreen. Maura and Paul Senior quickly pull in, noticing that Evelyn Cunningham, whom they both know, is walking along the road. Maura visited Evelyn recently after her husband’s death. More random chat ensues; another number one is promised.

  The next voter we encounter is Larry McLoughlin, a suckler and sheep farmer. Again, the previous night’s television debate was the topic of conversation and he doesn’t need much convincing when Maura cuts to the canvass.

  “I won’t forget you anyway,” he says, before telling us that he canvassed for Paul Senior during many of his successful election campaigns.

  Maura receives a further compliment at another door, with an elderly man telling her: “You are very photogenic.” He spotted her face on many posters in the area and was delighted to meet her in person.

  The only really serious discussion with a Newbridge resident occurred when Maura and Paul approached a middle-aged woman in her car, outside her house. Handed the canvass card, she didn’t appear best pleased to discover that Maura was a Fine Gael candidate. “I am just out of hospital and the health care system really needs to be addressed,” she says.

  The suspicion is that her vote will go elsewhere.

  Belting rain, howling wind and a disgruntled voter: none of these would be enough to shatter Maura’s mood, though. Positivity prevails.

  Paul Connaughton Senior tells Maura that they have now reached the end of the canvass, and suggests that they drop into his daughter Sinéad’s house in nearby Mountbellew.

  Just as they arrive, Paul Connaughton Junior, the sitting TD and Paul Senior’s son, arrives with his sister Sinéad’s four-year-old child, Aoife. He has just collected her from school, a favour in exchange for Sinéad canvassing for him later.

  Paul Junior is running in the nearby Galway East constituency. Mountbellew is a perfect place to replenish – it straddles both constituencies – before the Fine Gael candidates resume seeking votes in their respective areas.

  The group gather for a cup of tea and refreshments, prepared by Sinéad, with Maura not missing an opportunity for another photo!