I’m going to start taking a closer look at the Kildare North candidates, going by party, alphabetically. First up, AAA-PBP, with Ashling Merriman.
It’s not as easy as it could be to find information about Merriman’s campaign online. Her website appears to be a recently erected WordPress blog, with one post that essentially contains an election poster. Her campaign FB page links to a different website, that appears to be permanently dead. Hmm (if any of this changes, be mindful of the date this was posted).
So who is she? I needed to go to her RTE candidate page to get some actual info first.
“A first-time candidate, Ashling Merriman works at Naas General Hospital, where she acts as a union representative. She has been active in the anti-water charges movement in the Naas area.”
The PBP page, which doesn’t come up easily on a Google search, has a bit more.
“Ashling has been living and working in Naas for over twenty years. She has worked in Naas General Hospital for eleven years where she is a union representative. In her job she promotes workers rights, fairness and equality. She wants to see real jobs created not underpaid, forced labour schemes.
Ashling was one of the leading organisers in the original 2,000 strong Right to Water march in Naas. Ashling continues to co-ordinate activity through leafleting and local assemblies. She is 100% committed to working with and for the people on local issues and against all the austerity measures that have been inflicted on us. More recently, Ashling has highlighted the terrible housing crisis. She is involved with the Right to Housing Campaign and has taken part in protests at Kildare county council on opening up boarded houses, taking over NAMA properties, introducing rent controls and an increase in rent supplement. Ashling also campaigned against a plan to knock down 44 council houses in Rathangan and replace them with only 22.”
On her own merits, I have little reasonable objection to Ashling Merriman. A union background, an emphasis on health from personal experience and active political involvement outside of elections. Her work in regards rent controls and rent supplement is something I admire. But when it comes right down to it, as with nearly everything with groups like AAA-PBP, there is too much anger and not enough substance. It’s not enough to endlessly bash the governments record and lead an endless train of protests against everything. Where’s the policy? Merriman doesn’t seem to have much in an online sense, no local manifesto, no images of leaflets, which is frustrating.
A few questionnaires, like this on The Journal, but which lack depth. Same for her results on Smartvote (you have to fill out the survey to get access to them, annoying) where she declined to provide explanations for her actual viewpoints. Smartvote is left with the “party line”. On whether it’s better to invest railways/trams or buses, the comment is “Invest in both”. Helpful.
But never mind, because after I wrote most of this out, one of her leaflets, with a local manifesto, came through the door! Yay! An emphasis on providing social housing and controlling rent in Kildare North is nothing I would object to, and neither are the ideas of banning zero hour contracts and minimum wage increases. But there is a certain Naas-skewed focus in a couple of the points, which makes the manifesto read like something for a local race. Merriman leaves the specifics of how to achieve these to the “National Priorities” section, which is what you would expect of AAA-PBP, with all of the usual problems.
You want to fix the health service, provide housing, reverse cuts? How are you going to pay for it? Inevitably then you get into AAA-PBP’s fantasy land wealth tax based economic plan, combined with USC reduction and various charge destructions, which simply will not fill the gaps in the Irish finances. They even sort of acknowledge it one point, saying that a “Robin Hood tax on the super-rich” would “help” reverse cutbacks in the healthcare system, which is actually a step down from their usual rhetoric. There’s too much thinking inside a vacuum with the AAA-PBP economic policies, like the idea that altering the Corporation Tax system to charge companies more wouldn’t led to some of those companies living Ireland. But none of this really matters.
Here’s the thing with an entity like AAA-PBP, one of those hard left marriages of groups for election purposes that will all too easily split up ala the United Left Alliance. The people at the top, while squabbling endlessly with other left-wing movements, aren’t so ignorant electorally as to fail to recognise where they stand to make gains. And that’s in Dublin, where they have always had the most traction, the largest supporter base. Outside of Dublin, they focus on larger urban areas. That’s why its four sitting TD’s are in Dublin constituencies, and why 26 of its 28 sitting councillors are in cities (the other two being in Sligo Town and Wexford Town). Working class areas in an urban environment, that’s where those votes are.
And while Kildare North could never be accurately described as “rural”, with the numerous mid-sized towns, tech industries and fairly large population, it would be fair to say that it is not entirely “urban” either. And, as such, it will never be the most fertile ground for AAA-PBP. The devil is in the details: After no hard-left entity contested the 2011 GE here, a single PBP candidate ran in the entire county of Kildare in the last local election, Martin Grehan in Maynooth. He got just over 5% of first preferences, enough to be competitive for the last seat, but proved underwhelming in terms of transfer attractiveness. In the end, in a place with 9 seats for 15 candidates, he couldn’t get it done. In comparison, Reada Cronin of Sinn Fein got double the first preferences and was elected on the first count. She’s running for TD now. I have no idea what Grehan is doing. Now it’s four seats for 12 candidates, on a GE constituency scale.
AAA-PBP will throw candidates into most constituencies, but the organisations make-up is heavily skewed towards urban areas, and Dublin above anything. In most other constituencies, candidates will be those of little electoral experience, little prominence outside of their immediate area (Merriman mentions Naas eight times in her leaflet, Kildare Town once, and no other places), and with a small budget to work with. That is sometimes enough to get a candidate over the line in a small local election constituency, but not in a general.
There’s also the reality that people within AAA-PBP hold onto their core beliefs so hard that everything becomes a red-line issue, and thus the chances of them entering government, even under some kind of left wing coalition headed by Sinn Fein, is extremely unlikely. Some call that a sign of integrity, but to the extent that it goes, I call it self-harmful stubbornness. There’s no compromise with the AAA-PBP, and they are the kind of group that will happily stay in opposition from now until the end of days. And that’s not something I can get behind.
Ashling Merriman seems quite nice, enthusiastic and sincere in her beliefs. I’d probably give her a fourth or fifth preference as it stands. But she really doesn’t have a prayer here. There’s a plethora of other left-wing candidates – Cronin, Young, Stagg (technically), Murphy – and she will not be at the head of that pile when the votes are counted. Maybe she knows that, and her candidacy now is about raising awareness of her central issues, raising her own profile in the county ahead of a potential tilt at the next locals and adding to the perception that AAA-PBP is a truly national party. Beyond achieving those things and getting into the middle of the pack on polling day – getting ahead of Young and maybe Fianna Fail’s Frank O’Rourke would be significant – there’s little else to say.
Next up, the Soldiers of Destiny.