By Eoin Kelleher
ROSCREA’S ‘Election Forum 2011’ saw North Tipperary’s candidates put under the spotlight by members of the public ahead of this week’s General Election. About 100 people filled the ballroom of the Damer Court Hotel to hear candidates Kate Bopp, Alan Kelly, Máire Hoctor, Seamus Morris, Noel Coonan, and Olywyn O’Malley, explain how they would solve the country’s problems.
The candidates focused on job creation schemes, healthcare, banking debts, broadband, and how to use Ireland’s natural resources responsibly. The debate was hosted by the Roscrea Community Development Council, chaired by John Lupton and Stephen Crofton. Each candidate was allowed an opening speech, following by a Q&A, with closing remarks from each.
Billy Clancy, for ‘New Vision’, could not attend for family reasons. Alan Kelly, Noel Coonan, and Seamus Morris enjoyed taking a few initial swipes at the absence of Michael Lowry.
First up was Kate Bopp (Independent), a housewife who is spearheading her campaign with flyers “made at home in the kitchen.”
A law student and admirer of Economist Constantin Gurdgiev, and Declan Ganley, Ms Bopp said there needed to be a “fresh wind in the Dáil.” Ms Bopp wants to give local politicians more power, abolish cronyism, and is opposed to the EU/IMF bailout. The money to pay for everything should come “from within.”
All the oil, gas, and fish off our coasts is estimated at “E300 billion”, enough to pay for any bailout, said Ms Bopp.
MEP Alan Kelly said this was the most important election in a generation. The government had cost the people of North Tipperary “E96m”. Mr Kelly mentioned his personal record of service in terms of jobs delivery. The decision to bail out Anglo-Irish was “the single worst economic decision” ever taken. “If you want a politician who is a cute hoor, don’t vote for me,” said Mr Kelly, who promised to be a “national politician.”
Mr Kelly came under fire from a man who asked why he was campaigning to be a TD, when he should be out in Europe representing Munster as an MEP. As an MEP, he had exactly the same salary as the two TDs present, said Mr Kelly.
Deputy Máire Hoctor said her party had been “forced to confront the hard truth”. “There were mistakes made in the past but we were quick to correct them,” she said, to some boos in the audience. Fielding questions, Deputy Hoctor said she would support GM foods to make Ireland more competitive, and, “it is not the policy of Fianna Fáil to burn the bondholders. The reality is, Anglo Irish had to be saved, or all the Credit Union deposits would have been lost.” Shouts of “Not True” went up from the floor. One man in the audience said there was “a pact” between FF and FG to discredit the leader of a “certain” other party. “There is no pact or conspiracy to smear any leader,” answered Ms Hoctor.
Cllr Seamus Morris (SF) said Michael Lowry had decided “not to dignify us with his presence. That’s the type of campaign he’s running.” Cllr Morris called for fresh and imaginative ways to use our natural resources. He had been willing to go to Court to defend the rights of workers on the M7, up to the point of making personal mobile phone calls to Portugal to get the money. The ECB had driven a “stake” through the nation, and the bailout deal was the worst thing since the “Treaty of Versailles.”
Deputy Noel Coonan said the government “went up to Dublin and forgot to come back.” His number one priority was jobs creation, and revitalising town centres such as Roscrea’s, where local shops were closing down. Fine Gael has plans to improve broadband, upgrade the electricity network, and water infrastructure. In healthcare, “the money should follow the patient.” Deputy Coonan was put on the spot by a Roscrea woman, who wanted to know how FG’s plan to abolish “quangos” might affect local employment. Deputy Coonan said their plan would cut out waste, though “Roscrea 2000 will be saved.”
Olwyn O’Malley (Green Party) said it wasn’t an easy decision for her party to go into government with Fianna Fáil, but it’s easy to shout from the sidelines. Ms O’Malley emphasised the role of women in politics, and that healthcare should be based on medical need, not ability to pay. As regards the bailout, “that boat has sailed,” said Ms O’Malley. “We had no choice but to accept it.”
During questioning, Deputy Coonan said FG would not do any “secret deals” with Independents if elected. Perhaps one of the most revealing moments in the night came when one of the crowd asked how much each candidate was spending on the election.
Deputy Coonan said he didn’t have an “exact figure”, but it is around “E25,000 to E30,000” for a three-seater constituency.
Máire Hoctor is spending about E15,000, some of which comes from a Credit Union loan. Kate Bopp has spent around E800 so far, with “some more on diesel.”
Seamus Morris has spent about E2,500, and is expecting to spend some E1,000 more. Last time out, he “lost E10,000”.
Olwyn O’Malley “does not take corporate donations”. Her posters cost about E750, and she’s spent another E100 answering calls.
Alan Kelly said he’s spending “between E15,000 to E18,000”. Referring to Deputy Lowry, Mr Kelly said: “I’d like to see how he’d answer that.”