Kristofer Shekleton canvassing Kingscourt’s Shamrock Drive.

You’ll do your best for me?

Campaign trail

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Kristofer Shekleton asks. It’s his go-to opener, having first explained he’s running in the local election.

“Loads. Where do you start?” retorts a woman as she and her kids alight from a car. She had penned a ‘shopping list’ of issues to put to candidates, which she can’t put her hand on. Surprisingly she reports Kristofer is the first to canvas her.

“I see the stress that the health service is under,” she says. “And I see the stress that the people are under.”

“And no GPs,” she adds, acknowledging the problem exceeds a councillor’s remit.

“Housing is another big one. And roads!”

“An absolute disgrace,” Kristofer harmonises, and urges her to track down her list and send them on, his parting shot is always a variation of: ‘You’ll do your best for me on June 7?’

She assures he’ll make her “top five”.


Toss of a coin in Bailieborough-Cootehill MD local election race

In a constituency with 13 candidates, Kristofer could do with being high up in her top five. He’ll be reliant on a substantial Kingscourt vote considering he can only cover so much of the electoral area. He may be standing for the new ‘Independent Ireland’ party, but when it comes to knocking on doors, he’s a one-man operation in Bailieborough Cootehill Municipal District. The new party held its election launch in Dublin the day before we meet.

“Basically what ties us together is an appetite for common sense,” he says employing a catch-all phrase.

“Get back to the community, back to the roots,” he adds of what Independent Ireland is all about.

It’s Kristofer’s Kingscourt roots where we’re knocking doors - a circuit that included a small part of Main Street, Shamrock Avenue and Shamrock Drive, leading to the Bailieborough Road.

Not only does he know the residents by name, but he’ll often know their extended family. More often than not they’ll greet him with a warm “Kristofer!”

Such a welcome comes from one jovial man sporting a t-shirt declaring, ‘I’m Sexy and I Mow It’.

“You’re going for this job are you?” he says in mock surprise as Kristofer’s posters festoon every other telegraph post from here to Shercock.

The bon homie gives way as the man explains he’s a professional carer and staffing shortages are putting seemingly insurmountable pressure on care packages in the local area.

“Two, maybe three [professional carers] retired, no replacements. Now I’m talkin’ women who are doing 10, 12, 14 calls a day - no replacement. Sure we can’t fill them all and do our own calls as well.

“And it’s everywhere, not just here,” the man adds, suspecting the Children’s Hospital overspend débâcle is hitting budgets here.

Elsewhere housing was an issue.

“I pay €600 a month for here,” said one elderly widow who rents her home, “but all I get a week is €260 so I don’t have a penny. I’m on the council list but all I get is, ‘Just keep your fingers crossed’.”

The storage heaters in her home are a further worry.

“Oh Jesus and Mary, the bills were coming in at €800 so I don’t turn them on - all I have is an open fire.”

Elsewhere a mother reported progress in finally getting on the housing list, but still struggles as she awaits Housing Assistance (HAP).

“They’re slow,” Kristofer sympathises.

She appeared quite despondent as she reflects on the housing prospects for younger people including her older children.

“That generation is screwed, house-wise. It’s not fair on them, what can you do?” she asks rhetorically.

“I didn’t vote the last time, I just thought what’s the bloody point,” noting she’s undecided whether to vote this time either.

“Well there’s an independent voice here,” he said.

“That’s what we need,” she said. “Get rid of that shower.”

One woman surprises us as she pops her head out a window; working from home, she’s a part of the squeezed middle.

“We have to pay for everything. Both of us are working around the clock. We get absolutely nothing.

“And we wouldn’t be on top-class wages either the pair of us. You’ll probably tell us we’re lucky to have a job.”

“It is hard out there,” Kristofer empathises.

“We just fall through the cracks,” she says noting she can’t bring herself to look at her shopping receipt anymore, she simply pays it knowing she has no other option.

She commits to voting for Kristofer, as many here do.

Others are tuned into concerns of hyper local frequencies. One woman is irked by a communal green area, part of which is “like a swamp”.

Meanwhile a man says he’s “curious” about the planned extension for Coláiste Dun an Rí - “It’s busy there at the best of times,” he says. “I’ve looked at the plan and I didn’t see a provision for another entrance.”

Given the town’s size and major employers, the same man contends there should be more local amenities. He finds it “embarrassing” when visitors look for somewhere to eat aside from Cabra Castle - he’ll send them to Carrickmacross.

Immigration comes up three times in the canvas. Kristofer notices the topic “comes and goes” on the door in line with how much it’s in the news.

One man wondered: “Is there many more we’re going to get into the town, and the lack of facilities for everyone?”

A mother has children home from college who can’t find work for the summer.

“They got work last year, but now there’s nothing because obviously all those people coming into the country have taken all the jobs.”

An upbeat man wearing a Viet Nam baseball cap contends, “if it’s done right it’s not a problem.”

“There’s an awful lot of clever people coming into this country except we seem to restrict them: doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists mathematicians. I think there’s a lot of pluses in Ireland getting this injection.”

Kristofer counters: “You can’t bring the people in before you have the services - I don’t have a problem with immigration.”

It’s hard to escape the feeling that many of those canvassed seem weighed down, either frustrated with their own lot or dismayed by the general direction of the country.

Kristofer cites a professional couple with children with whom he’s friends: “And they are struggling. They are able to manage and get by, but at the end of the month there’s very little to go around and little to go in the bank.

“Other people might be on benefits or lower income - they’re squeezed and they’re suffering. There’s no-one exempt, that’s the way I see it, everyone is suffering.”