Facing the voters: Fianna Fáil Cllr Barry Conway attempts to gauge local feeling

The Irish voter is an inordinately polite genus of homo sapiens. She comes to her hall door brandishing a baby and a fork and says sorry for the state of her, as if she's blundered into somebody else's home, uninvited. Or he answers the doorbell in his football shorts and O'Neills sports socks, hoping he's not being mean but he's dashing out to a match. Or they all congregate at the door – the parents, the freckle-faced, pyjama-fragrant children and their grandmother – saying how rotten for you to be out canvassing on such an inclement night.

It's only after the first few doors that you notice the candidate never tells them what party he represents. It's an unspoken pact between them. As long as he doesn't volunteer the accursed words "Fianna Fáil", they can go on being nice and polite and pretending they don't think he and his lot are the devil incarnate.

"Hello, how are you?" he says. "My name's Barry Conway. I'm a local councillor. Just calling round to see how things are. Any local issues?"

"No," say most, before thinking twice and adding ominously: "Except for a national issue."

Sometimes, they ask: "What party are you?"

"You don't want to know what I think," says one man through clenched fury on hearing the answer and shuts his door muttering something about having work to do.

It's 7.30 on Wednesday night. The candidate has parked his Passat off Abbey Road in Blackrock, south Dublin, after a day's work as a senior partner with William Fry solicitors. He arms himself with a bundle of fliers bearing his contact details, turns up the collar of his tan jacket against the chilblain conditions, and sets off.

They're a lovely young family at the first house. She's Irish and working in the public sector. He's Canadian with a job in the private sector. Their two sons aged under five are cast from a John Hinde postcard.

"We're your typical middle-class people," the wife, Denise, introduces them, "paying up to €2,000-a-month on childcare. We've done everything we can and we're just strangled. Strangled," she repeats. "We don't have a problem with taxes. In Scandinavia, they pay high taxes but the state provides the services. In France, women's jobs are kept for five years for them after they have a baby."

Tom, her husband from Toronto, says, approvingly, he read in the evening paper there's a campaign being organised for people to send dirty nappies to Brian Cowen in protest. "I'd be from a Fianna Fáil family," Denise confides after the candidate has moved towards the next house, "but Tom and I wouldn't vote for them. We've moved house twice and paid €60,000 in stamp duty. Where did all the money go from the good times?" she asks.

At the next house, the woman says she and her partner own two restaurants and "spend is through the floor". They noticed the slide this time last year and cut their staff from 50 to 30. "We'll survive because we acted quickly but I'm not impressed with the leadership shown by your party. They're very slow to react and, any time they do react, they get it wrong."

Going from house to house, you wonder aloud to the candidate's back: Why do you stick with Fianna Fáil? "It's the grassroots... many ordinary members, my friends and colleagues," he answers with unexpected frankness. "They stick with you through thick and thin. Sure, you feel let down [by the party] occasionally."

He's an old Gonzaga boy with a house in Foxrock and a council seat originally bequeathed by Barry Andrews after he was elected to the Dáil. He rebuked Beverley Flynn for keeping her €41,000 independent TD's payment when Fianna Fáil took her back in and he said Celia Larkin's house loan from party funds in 1993 was "totally unacceptable". Now, as he reaches for another doorbell, he's saying John McGuinness "should not have been sacked" in the junior ministers' reshuffle.

"I think he's a sincere man. I've never met him but I think he's honest and genuine. There are too many sycophants. People like him are prepared to speak out."

Once the door opens, he's back on auto-pilot. A self-employed pharmacist stands in her hallway and enquires: "What party are you with?"

"Fianna Fáil."

"To be honest, I think ye're the greatest shower of crooks that ever walked the face of the earth."

He stands there and listens. Her rage abates, but her sense of grievance burns on. "I was with a patient today who had to be taken to hospital after a stroke. The doctor said he didn't need a scan but it was quite obvious he did. In the end, they admitted they had no CT scanner. The cost of one CT scanner is €1m. They could have bought it out of the €58m Martin Cullen spent on e-voting machines. They spent and spent and spent. And they spent our money."

In another house, there's a man who works as a porter in an AIB branch. He's eager to sympathise with the candidate. "Sure it's a bad time for everyone," he remarks. "The banks an' all."

Not until the 10th house does anyone raise a local issue. There's a planning application for the redevelopment of a disused factory that might contain asbestos. The candidate jots a reminder to himself in his Lismore hardback notebook. "Thanks very much for coming round," calls the householder before closing the door. "I appreciate it."

His neighbour comes to his door in his slippers and says he's "in the motor game". He's down to a three-day week and counting on his fingers the car showrooms that have vanished in recent months. "The budget didn't help," he adds, with a look that says he doesn't wish to offend, but.

Maybe we do get the politicians we deserve but our politicians are lucky the adage doesn't work in reverse. Not on the doorsteps in Blackrock, anyway – whatever about the polling booth.