Socialist Party Election News - Joe Higgins piece in Irish Times

Updated: 14th May

More than just an average Joe

Roisin Ingle with Joe Higgins,
an article in the Irish Times 11 May 2007, Fri, May 11, 2007

On the canvass:It's 7.15am at Castleknock train station. A grey-haired man in a mac is handing out leaflets asking people to "re-elect a tireless campaigner for working people". Most commuters are either wearing earphones or are rushing to catch the always packed trains. The rest smile and say "hiya, Joe" and "good luck, Joe" and "you always have the number ones in our house, Joe".

Of course, there is that one woman, a smartly dressed middle-aged blonde, who says in a stern voice "not on your life" and walks past without taking a leaflet. But the man in the mac doesn't seem to mind.

Meet Average Joe Higgins. He leads the Socialist Party, works in Dáil Éireann and drives a Toyota Corolla that has seen better days. The ringtone on his mobile phone blasts a funky if incongruous female R&B vocal, which was installed when he bought the phone. "I don't know how to change it," he says.

A single man, he lives in a modest semi-detached house in Mulhuddart in the constituency of Dublin West, which he bought from the council 12 years ago. Outside in the garden, Socialist Party members are busy constructing Joe billboards. Inside, the decor has remained in 1995.

The walls of his upstairs study are still hung with racing car wallpaper, a legacy from the family that lived here before.

He makes a tasty plate of post-early morning canvassing bacon and eggs. Although he's a TD, Higgins only takes home half the salary or the equivalent of, naturally, the average industrial wage. "You scrape by," he says. "But that's what all ordinary working-class people around here have to do."

Being an Average Joe is his secret weapon in Dublin West, where he is considered to be safe enough when it comes to retaining his seat on May 24th. Observers reckon Fianna Fáil's Brian Lenihan should also triumph, while Labour TD Joan Burton and the new kid on the block, Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar, will fight it out for the third seat in a constituency that has grown by up to 25 per cent since the last election.

We go for a spin in the Toyota around Dublin West. He points out the sprawling new estates that aren't catered for in terms of schools or local infrastructure. He points at one identikit housing estate. "Those people live 10 yards from a school, but when they moved in they were told it wasn't in their catchment area. The planning in this area is disgraceful. We are paying the price for decades of corruption in the planning department.The main parties spent so long in the pockets of developers in the 1960s that the same greedy culture still pervades," he says.

This is Average Joe's mantra: the workers spent the last 10 years building up the economy while the Government ensured big builders and developers reaped the rewards. He rails against inadequate public transport, housing estates' management committees and stealth taxes. His constituents are quick to tell you why they are voting for Joe.

"The bin tax," says Lisa McMurray as Higgins canvasses outside a local school. "He put his neck on the line for us over the tax, he stood up for us and he went to prison." Her friend, Ann Lynch, agrees: "Our husbands vote for him, they say, 'You better vote for Joe because he's the only one who does anything for anyone in this area.' I actually don't think he needs to canvass because he will definitely get his seat again. He is well respected around here, even our kids know who he is."

"Go on, Joe," shouts a young boy waving his fist in the air, if proof of his popularity among children were needed. "Ah, good man," smiles Joe.

The next day on the doorsteps it's the same story. Student Alan Armstrong will be voting for the first time. "I'm just voting for what is good for the area and that's Joe," he says. "You can see what he does for local people, he gets things done." Another woman says the whole household will be voting for him. "We always have, we always will, Joe."

Average Joe goes for a cup of tea in Hartstown Community Centre. Therese Connolly says she has no time for other politicians whom she chases away from the door. "I only have time for Joe. He stood up for us on the bin tax, on water charges, he protested against the mobile phone mast. He is different to the others. With Joe, what you see is what you get." The way she tells it, he's an above Average Joe.

© 2007 The Irish Times