by Anita Guidera
AN ISLAND canvass in wintertime is not for the faint-hearted, and it wasn’t just the weather that was being contrary, as one veteran TD discovered.
Fine Gael’s Dinny McGinley(65) is campaigning in his tenth general election in 28 years in Donegal South West, and his mood was good as he headed for Arranmore Island, five kilometres off Burtonport.
His cheer was all the more remarkable given the overwhelming support Fianna Fail has received on the island in the past, although that support swung to Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty in the November by-election.
Those who know the bachelor schoolteacher, notwithstanding their
political persuasion, invariably describe him as “a gentleman”,
“courteous” and “nice, to a fault”.
But he is also a consummate professional, expertly dispersing a small but enthusiastic team of canvassers, armed with leaflets and posters to both ends of the island.
His first stop in the billowing wind was to say a quick hello to
retired lifeboat and lighthouse man, Charlie Boyle (79), whose home overlooks the port at Leabgarrow.
There’s no door knocking here as Dinny calls “hello” and strolls
gamely into the cosy kitchen where a softly-spoken Charlie sits at the kitchen table.
“Sure the fishing is the life and blood of this island. If you are
hungry now you can’t go out and catch a Pollock or you will be fined. It’s as bad as that,” he explained.
Charlie’s four children all live away, two in Ireland and two overseas.
“There’s nothing for the young people all around here. They are all
away,” he added quietly.
Then it was back in the car and the Island’s cultural centre at Leadhb Garbh where he was to meet a delegation of fishermen.
With tea and sandwiches laid on, the hospitality was congenial but the atmosphere was tense.
Lifelong fisherman, Michael Gallagher could scarcely contain his rage.
“It’s terrible when you are not allowed to catch what we have been
fishing all our lives. Our salmon fishing was just wiped out with the
stroke of a pen and all we are left with now is fishing for crab and
lobster,” he said.
When another fisherman, Neilly Kavanagh turned on the TD for not fighting for them in the Dail, a normally unruffled Dinny, momentarily saw red and reminded the islanders that his party had a produced a policy document promoting a voluntary buy out of the commercial net fishermen.
As it stands, the compulsory buy-out introduced by a Fianna Fail
administration, is being stubbornly resisted by around 20 fishermen on Arranmore and Inishboffin islands.
“It didn’t happen because we didn’t get into government. We haven’t been in power since 1987. I got thrown out of the Dail once for raising the salmon fishing issue,” said a defensive Dinny.
“Sure we were thrown off the sea,” retorted Neily.
Minutes later, in a room surrounded by photographs depicting the 1935 Arranmore Island boating tragedy in which 19 people perished, the fishermen adopted a more conciliatory approach in their battle for thecontrolled reintroduction of salmon fishing on the island.
“With a bit of luck you will part of a new government. You are in here canvassing and as people of influence on the island we are in a huge position to deliver big time for you. We are not going to give up in our fight,” said Jerry Early.
Dinny listened and promised cautiously, assuring the men that he would fight their case, regardless of votes.
“I have survived with little or no support in here but I owe it to you as my constituents,” he said.
He also assured the gathering on the Gaeltacht island that he believed the Fine Gael policy to remove compulsory Irish from the Leaving Cert curriculum was positive, insisting he would not stand over any policy that would harm the Irish language or the Irish colleges.
Outside, as the waves pounded off the southern shore, Dinny battledthe elements as he
attached posters to telegraph poles before stopping briefly at Neilly Gallagher’s traditional shop and pub where he was greeted warmly by the man of the house.
Back on the ferry, he reflected on the day and, as ever, his
conclusions were positive.
“I am delighted with the reception I got. I am glad I gave time to the fishermen while the team canvassed the island and as I always say after a visit to Arranmore, my vote can only improve.”