Labour hit the campaign trail in Meath last Wednesday afternoon, this time hoping to capture the imagination of younger voters when party leader Eamon Gilmore visited St Peter’s College in Dunboyne.
With their campaign team in tow, Eamon Gilmore and Meath East candidate Dominic Hannigan arrived at the school, followed by a large posse of journalists and camera crews who all wanted to talk about the 'big debate’ the previous night.
How did he think the debate went? Would he more aggressive next time? Had he been overcoached? The questions were coming thick and fast.
“Nobody is going to go into a polling station in 16 days’ time, bite on a pencil and wonder to themselves whose debating tactics are best,” responded Gilmore. Whether he was overcoached was a matter of opinion but the only verdict he was interested in was on polling day.
From here it was into the school library for Gilmore and Hannigan to be grilled by members of the students’ council. First up, a student asked how Labour was going to create all the jobs it was talking about?
In the short term, Gilmore said they needed to get people back to work, and would be setting up a jobs fund and providing incentives to employers to take on staff by giving them a holiday from PRSI contributions.
They would get construction workers back at work building schools and in energy conservation and, in the long-term, they would be looking at the food industry, alternative energy and tourism, and expanding international trade, he claimed.
Other questions centred on Labour’s waste and landfill policy, their position on the place of Irish in the education system, public transport and developers avoiding liability by transferring assets to their spouses. But it came back to jobs; just how was Labour going to find the €500m for their jobs fund? Gilmore went on to outline their budgetary proposals.
Then it was the IMF deal. One student pointed out that Jean-Claude Trichet (of the ECB) had said in no uncertain terms that it could not happen, and wanted to know why Gilmore was telling everyone they were going to change the interest rates Ireland pays. “And what makes you think yourself and Joan Burton can can do better than Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan did?” he asked.
Deputy Gilmore said the deal would have to be renegotiated or it would cripple the country, adding that it makes the Irish taxpayer totally responsible for all the burden while the bondholders get off.
School principal Eamonn Gaffney wanted to know about Post Leaving Certificate courses and if Labour would lift the cap on the numbers. He said they have 400 students on PLC courses in St Peter’s and were funding 150 of these themselves. Meath’s limit was just two places per thousand while other areas had approved numbers of 17-18 per thousand.
Deputy Gilmore said he would lift the cap and that further education was an area that could get people off the dole and back to work. He spoke of their plans for better integration betwteen the social welfare system and the education and training system.
Senator Hannigan said the issue of PLC numbers was something he had brought up in the Senate and with the Department of Education and that if elected he would make sure the next minister is aware of the situation.
As Gilmore’s handlers wrapped things up, student Sinead Cornyn wanted to know what advice he had for young people thinking of entering politics? Gilmore told how there was no better privilege than being elected and spoke of the huge tranfer of authority and responsibility that occurs when somebody makes their decision in a polling station.
Padraig Gallagher wanted to know why Gilmore would go into government with a man who is afraid to take part in the debate with Vincent Browne. “Enda would have to answer for himself,” replied Gilmore.
Asked about Labour’s chances of winning a seat in the Meath constituencies, Deputy Gilmore said he was very confident that Senator Hannigan would be elected in Meath East and Jenny McHugh in Meath West and that they were both very strong candidates.
Senator Hannigan said he was really enjoying the campaign, and found it the most engaging campaign he had been involved in with people asking lots of questions and really giving the candidates a grilling on the doorsteps. He said people want change and he hoped these people would come Labour’s way, he added.
After a quick stop for lunch in Dunshaughlin, Gilmore joined Meath West Labour candidate Jenny McHugh at Eason in Navan where he read a story to local schoolchildren and spoke about Labour’s literacy policy.
This was followed by a walkabout in Navan Town Centre.