The embers had barely started glowing on the general election campaign when the Mayo Advertiser met up in recent days with Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary in his office in Ballina.
The three-term TD, who served as a junior minister in the last Fianna Fáil government, hadn't wasted any time getting out on the doorsteps and was feeling fresh and ready for the weeks to come; the reaction he was getting on the door steps was overtly positive, he said, with the theme of change coming up time and time again.
As for the big issues raised on the doorsteps - a demand for change is the main message coming through, according to Calleary, who stated: "There is a big demand for change, certainly in both rural and urban areas, people want change. Farming also is a big issue, in relation to prices for beef in particular, but also there is just a sense of despair in the farming community, to be honest, a wondering of why are we doing this - and a frustration that there is no urgency within this government about their problems.
"Housing and health continue to be big issues, with the main themes on health being around people waiting on trolleys and waiting for appointments; but the overall theme is change and that is the feeling I have gotten, people want change, they want to see that change and I think they will vote for change."
Doing what was best for the country
For the past four years Fianna Fáil has been locked into a confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael, keeping the minority government in power, but the times called for it and it took a lot of soul searching in the party to agree to it, the Ballina native said:
"There was a situation in the immediate aftermath of the last election that we could have been out again within weeks of it being over - we stepped into the breach as a party, it wasn't easy, it required a hell of a lot of patience at the time, but with the context of Brexit being potentially so severe and the worst excess of Brexit being such a threat to the country, we felt we had to step into that gap."
As for getting credit for making sure that Ireland had a functioning government, some people will give it while others won't even think about it, according to Calleary: "Some people acknowledge it, for others it doesn't really feature - but I think people do realise what was happening and the threat Brexit posed to the country, in terms of the economy and the peace process and saw that we needed the green jersey on as a country.
"When you compare the stability we had here and that we were able to get the first part of the Brexit deal done - and it is only the first part - compared to what was going on in the UK and Spain, for instance, where they have had three elections in a year, we could not afford that instability politically. But that stability is there now and we have the first phase done - and now there are so many other issues that need to get the priority given to Brexit, such as health, housing, crime and rural development. It is back to the day-to-day issues whilst always keeping an eye on Brexit, but the effort and the energy needs to be focused on the other areas."
Investing for all in the county
All politics is local and while Calleary is a TD for the whole of Mayo, making sure that north Mayo gets its fair share is something he wants to see delivered on. "We look at and welcome any investment in the county, it is all welcome. But when we look at some of the big investments that have been put in the county in recent years, north Mayo is not seeing them.
"In the context of Ireland 2040, the famous government plan, the N26 isn't there, apart from in an AOB context. We had it to a certain stage and planning issues came in. I will acknowledge a lot of work has been done on planning to address the issues there, but the urgency that is needed to develop it is instead on other road projects in the county.
"We need the relief road urgently, not long-fingered. What we need is somebody with energy in government to deliver - not just to north Mayo. But also what we need is a change of approach in government, that we agree a certain minimum level of services in rural Ireland - in healthcare, in education, in transport, in broadband - that people will know if they move into an area that there is a certain level of service they can expect, beneath which it will not go, because it is a vicious circle - when we lose services we lose people; when we lose people we lose services; we have to put a floor on minimum services that include healthcare, education, access to services - and for access you need a sustainable road network and the N26 and the R312 is crucial.
"We are asking people in Erris to travel on that road to Castlebar without any investment. The money can be put there, we have seen money put into other regional roads - again there were planning issues and they have been resolved and to put the blame back on Mayo County Council is not good enough - their funds have been cut and they have to co-fund programmes to a level they never had to before."
Putting decision-making back in local control
Putting more decision-making back in the hands of local authorities and local people is something that Fianna Fáil want to do if they get back into power, added Calleary, saying: "That is going to be part of our policy and looking at how we get more money and reduce the financial burden on local authorities is crucial. I remember a time when the local councillors had the responsibility for allocating council money for local road projects and that was taken off them by Fine Gael and given to the department.
"That can't happen; councillors have to have the resources to make their own decisions. They are on the ground and they see the issues. The current system is unfair on councillors of all parties, where their hands are tied a lot of times in funding. We have to re-energise local government and bring the power back to councillors and we have to bring back our town councils. I am really passionate about that. We saw what town councils could achieve in Westport, Castlebar and Ballina. The towns are up against the threat of big cities getting bigger, online shopping hollowing out towns. We need to strengthen our towns and with strong towns you can have strong rural areas.
"It's not about the number of councillors, it is the presence and the powers - having your own local democracy and your own local services. It is the same with direct elections for Údarás na Gaeltachta - the people in the Gaeltacht areas need their own direct contact with somebody who is living within their local area and that is something we are committed to bringing back - direct elections into the Údarás area."
If you don't enjoy it get out
With the next few weeks all about getting out and about meeting the people and selling the message ahead of February 8, we asked Calleary does he enjoy being a public representative and all that comes with it. He was fulsome in his enthusiasm for the job and the odds and ends of it, saying: "Yes I do like it, it is long, it is seven days a week, at the moment you are doing 18-19 hour days, but I do enjoy it and I have a belief in politics. If you are not enjoying it, get out, because you are not doing yourself or your community any favours, the people who have put their trust in you. So you have to enjoy it and have the energy for it. The day I don't enjoy it is the day I step down.
“I'm an out-and-about kind of person anyway, I tend to be like that. I like talking to people. Hiding away in a room, you end up in a bubble and you don't get a sense of what is going on - but yes, I love this - it’s great, it’s been dry the first few days and the one thing I have noticed is we are getting people at the door; it’s January and people tend to be at home in the evenings and they are engaging and talking with us and they want to have their say - there is great interest in this election."