The Irish Mail on Sunday
THE ISSUES THAT REALLY MATTER TO MIDDLE IRELAND
Alan Shatter? Whistleblowers? Forget it. Ahead of Friday’s poll here are
THEY are the men and women tasked with entertaining and informing hundreds of thousands of listeners across Ireland every day – and, from their vantage point of local radio, they have a finely developed sense of how their listeners tick. With five days to go to the local and Euro elections, we ask six local radio presenters to give us a glimpse of what’s preoccupying voters who live beyond the M50…
THE overwhelming feeling coming from our listeners is one of tired disillusionment with politics and politicians. The righteous anger of recent years seems absent in these elections. Our listeners tell us they are entirely sceptical about the power of councillors to deal with any of the serious issues that face them.
On The Sue Nunn Show we have a constant narrative of absolutely brilliant parents, usually mothers, who tell their stories of courage and tenacity as they battle for speech therapy or medical cards for their children. Often, the publicity is the only way the authorities can be shamed into addressing their children’s needs.
Minister Phil Hogan makes no apologies on his local station for policies which hurt and the airwaves frequently turn blue when water charges are discussed.
Country towns are in crisis and although Kilkenny’s extraordinary tourism offerings are thriving Carlow town is struggling bravely to regenerate.
Europe evokes little engagement, though we did have a lively debate last week with nine of the candidates standing for the vast South constituency. It’s a depressing picture really, a far cry from the excitement about change and reform in the lead-up to the General Election in 2011. IN the run-up to Friday’s election, we’ve been doing nightly shows in each of the 12 local electoral areas in the county, and each night we get very strong reactions – but what matters varies from place to place.
Galway is a microcosm – because we have the city on one hand, and the county on the other. In the city, it’s all about transport: it’s about the bypass, it’s about public transport. Anti-social behaviour also comes up in the city – and also in some of the rural towns as well.
In the rural areas, it’s about broadband, it’s about safety in your home. It’s not the national issues. People are not talking about Alan Shatter and whistleblowers, they’re worried about being safe in their homes because there aren’t enough gardaí.
The fear is real. I’ve asked some of the politicians if they were getting abuse on the doorsteps.
One politician in Connemara got a pepper spray pulled on them, by a woman who was frightened in her own home. Another didn’t get an answer at the front, went round the back – and they called the guards. Another politician says she can’t get over the number of older people who when she knocks on doors in the middle of the day, are drunk because they are so worried, they are lonely. Because that’s it, that’s their life. Another major rural issue is broadband. We heard of a woman who comes into a café in Galway city to talk to her daughter who is getting married in a couple of months’ time on Skype because she can’t get it at home. It’s like something from days gone by, when there was only one phone in a village or on a council estate. That’s modern Ireland. I HAPPEN to broadcast to the five counties which have the highest number of ghost estates in the country and these estates and their problems feature again and again on my show.
Every week – sometimes every day – I have a caller asking why on earth they have to pay property taxes when they’re living in the middle of a building site?
They have no street lighting, no proper sewage systems, their driveways are unfinished… basically they’re living in dilapidated surroundings and yet the Government expects them to cough up.
The other issue is water charges. Boyle in Co. Roscommon has 20,000 people on a boil water notice, yet Irish Water intends to ask these same people for money for their water services. As you can imagine, this really gets people’s goats.
Health issues are also a huge issue in this part of the country, mainly because of the lack of services. This week, we heard suggestions that maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and Sligo Regional Hospital may be closed to make way for a centre of excellence at Galway. If this happens, it will be one of the biggest issues in the area in the last decade.
James Reilly has now come forward to say that no services will shut in the area. But didn’t Enda Kenny stand in the square in Roscommon and say that Roscommon A&E would never be shut and then he got into power and shut it?
The scars from that run very deep in this area and not many would be inclined to believe a word the say in Dublin about our health services here.’ EXHAUSTION is one of the issues coming up on the doorsteps in Kerry – people are tired of the struggle, tired of the counting, tired of the budgeting and tired of the battle with the banks.
That was the view of one of the canvassers I spoke to today about what they are seeing on the Kerry campaign trail. Seven years of recession takes its toll.
The traditional builders’ holidays in 2007 was when the first wave of construction workers and architects were laid off, that’s when it started.
Middle-income couples who, to onlookers, should be doing OK are in reality left with a very small amount of disposable income after bills, schooling and children’s activities costs are accounted for. The stock issues across the country of October’s water charges, the local property tax and medical cards feature here too.
Then there is the apathy – there’s more than one report of people being at home with the lights and the TV on but the canvassers’ knock being ignored.
We like our elections in Kerry – national turnout was 57% in 2009, in Kerry it was 66%.
That will be a number worth watching to see if the reported apathy and loss of faith in Ireland’s political system keeps people at home on Friday.
Kerry is a rural county and personal relationships play a big part in voting –some vote simply because they know the candidate.
And despite all our best efforts there are many who still don’t know and don’t care that there is an election on. THERE’S definitely a feeling out there that people have had enough: they’ve had enough bills, they’ve had enough tax, they’ve had enough of giving to the Government and having nothing left in their pockets.
I do a three-hour show, five days a week, so you can imagine the variety of issues we cover. But again and again, the things that keeps coming up is people saying they don’t want to pay the property tax, they don’t want to pay water charges and they’re sick of having terrible infrastructure here in the north west.
A poll carried out by a local newspaper this week showed a record number of people intending to vote for independent candidates in the local elections. That’s what we’re hearing from our listeners as well. People are fed-up with the status quo. They voted for change with the last government and it’s ended up costing them even more.
We get a lot of calls about health services here, particularly medical cards, especially with regard to children with leukaemia or other terrible diseases.
We also had a guy on this week who is registered blind but has lost his blind pension. These are real stories, affecting real people and we like to try and give everyone their say. Because the show runs for three hours we try to give as many people a say on as many different topics as we can.
We’ve also covered the Garda whistleblower controversy quite a lot. It’s something that out readers have a lot of interest in, which isn’t surprising given the history in Donegal. THE topics we cover on a particular day depend very much on what the listeners want to talk about but you can be sure of two things that will come up again and again: water charges and property taxes.
We could fill a show every single day with people incensed at the new charges.
People can’t understand why they will have to pay for water when it is often substandard. They’re already having to pay property taxes when the council won’t even take charge of the estate or road where they live.
Planning issues are a big talking point as well. This week we had more heated debate about a gaelscoil being built on public land in the city. It’s a story that’s been around a while but it still gets people talking.
Another issue which concerns people is security in and around the city. This week we did an item on elderly people afraid of being attacked in their homes. Unfortunately that’s the situation for some people now and we always reflect what our listeners’ concerns are.
People are really browned off with politicians and the Government in particular. There’s a real anti-establishment feeling out there and I think people are sick of the same old policies and the same old parties. They feel they are not working for them and they are making their feelings known with the elections coming up.
Any time I have a senior politician in, particularly a minister, people want to see me laying into them.
In fact I don’t think some people would be happy until I took up a hurl and beat them around the studio with it.