You couldn’t fake it. There was clearly a warm welcome on the streets of Kilmallock for Niall Collins, who is seeking to retain his seat for Fianna Fáil. There was instant face recognition and a lot of assurances about votes.
And as we moved along the street, in and out of shops and business premises, the sense of being on a roll deepened.
“I have six more votes at home for you,” declared one man who came up to shake Niall’s hand. “You are home and dry,” declared another.
But no candidate, and certainly not one with a pedigree like Niall Collins’, takes anything for granted when on the election trail. A certain tension is always there, spurring the candidate on, keeping the candidate moving on to the next house or the next road, always looking to clinch that vote.
And it takes energy.
Canvassing, Niall acknowledges, has changed a bit over the years.
“It is harder to get people at home. People are busier in their lives,” he says. Now, he adds, canvassing takes many forms. He goes to schools, to work venues, to Masses. “Social media is very important . But I am still a big believer in the traditional door to door.”
Having been out on the election trail for more than ten days now, he is adamant about the mood, which he believes is reflected in the polls. “There is a mood for change. I think people feel they want a change in government. I am detecting that on the ground.
“We have had ten years of Fine Gael in government. People are very responsive to Míchéal Martin and the policies we have set out, particularly in relation to health and housing,” he says.
Fianna Fáil’s proposals on the pension issue too, which has been a live one throughout the previous week, have also gone down well, Niall believes.
“Who is running with you?” he is asked, a chance to say he is delighted to have Michael Collins as his running mate. He agrees there should always have been a second candidate.
“The organisation wanted a second candidate. The officer board went and met the National Constituencies Committee on that,” he explains. As for what happened over the past fortnight: “It wasn’t fair on Eddie Ryan, on the organisation. It wasn’t fair on me either.”
It comes as no surprise that he, like other candidates is encountering the health crisis on the doors. “Health is an universal issue all around the county,” he goes on. “Every day out canvassing people are raising the chronic situation in the Emergency Department. People are hugely fearful of having to go there.”
More medics, more nurses, more consultants and more beds are his answer but he also spells out the need for more GPs in the community.
“I am worried about Limerick County. If we don’t reverse the trend of GPs leaving, more than half of Co. Limerick will have no GP in ten years,” he says.
More immediately is his worry about the scaling back of the ShannonDoc service in some areas.
Rural decline is another issue coming up on doorsteps.
“When you go through towns and villages the amount of empty and derelict buildings is shocking. And it is staggering to see the number of empty houses in the middle of a housing crisis. The government is not turning around the houses fast enough. That is going to be a priority for us,” Niall declares.
In particular, he stresses the need to cut red tape and to return more power to local authorities. No housing project worth under €6m should have to be sent to Dublin for approval, he says. There should also be an incentive to renovate older and derelict buildings in town centres, he believes.
But the housing issue cuts very close to the bone on this canvass. “My house burned down last Tuesday,” says a young woman who comes up to thank Niall for having contributed to her GoFundMe campaign, set up to help her after her home was destroyed.
“It means the world to me. I will never forget you for that.”
To his eternal credit, Niall looks unexpectedly abashed. And then pleased.
On this canvass trail, however, there is no hanging around, and we head for the next business premises, a fourth-generation hairdressing salon. There, Nicholas Wall is adamant he will vote, but is reluctant to say who he is backing. It will, however, be for whatever TD can “remember who they are working for” he says, before adding enigmatically: “A change is as good as a rest.”
Childare and the cost of it has also raised its head around the county while broadband is an issue that “has never gone away,” Niall says.
The problem, as he sees it, is that the government has entered into a contract and there would be a huge penalty to pay if a different government were to withdraw or tear up that broadband contract.
But the roll-out of the broadband programme needs to happen much, much faster, he says and off he rolls himself, on to the next country road, determined to stay in the game and to stay on top.
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