TOM Neville moves fast, covering the ground at twice the speed of his team of canvassers.
Having been elected as a TD for the first time in 2016, he is clearly determined to repeat that achievement and with a large constituency to cover, speed is of the essence.
“Are you wearing a Fitbit?” I ask Tom’s actress wife, Jenni Dixon who has joined the canvass in Rathkeale.
“Yes,” she grins before revealing that Tom too has one on the go and has been clocking up tens of thousands of steps daily.
Up and down the Main Street we go, in and out of shops and business premises, a lot of hands shaken, a lot of face-to-face encounters.
Shona O’Sullivan in EuroSpar gives him the thumbs up. “If you have an issue, you know who to go to,” she says of the man she regards as her local TD.
Outside the shop, Bridie O’Donnell spots Tom on the street and pulls over in her car. She will definitely be voting for him, she says. “He has done me a lot of turns,” she explains and his vote is secure.
Elsewhere, the harsh reality of running a small business are thrashed out with Noel White while Ann Marie Dinnage tells him: “It is important for us there is somebody in the town.”
“As long as I am elected, there will be an office in the town,” comes Tom’s response.
Health and housing are of course coming up on the doorsteps, Tom explains. “What is starting to appear more and more is the economy, in relation to where we are and where we are going.”
Issues about tax and take-home pay for the squeezed middle are also emerging, he says, along with childcare and infrastructure.
But local issues, and personal issues, are also raised. “I am paying a fortune every month for medication,” one woman declares. What is he going to do about it? Out comes the phone, details are taken and the commitment given to come back to her.
“I believe in face-to-face interaction at election time,” Tom says. “That is where you can get to the nub of the issues.” He believes it has also helped that he served as a councillor on the ground for several years.
But what does he say to convince people to vote for him. “I am in a position to have some influence on the way we move forward,” he explains. And he believes being approachable is one of his key assets. “I have a record over four years and I see myself as putting on the green jersey of Co Limerick.”
As for returning Fine Gael to government, he says: “There is a costed plan in place and we need to keep moving.”
“I understand the frustrations of people,” he continues. adding that issues and problems don’t bypass any door. And he acknowledges that on some issues, e.g. health, there is still a long way to go. But he points to the new 60-bed unit planned for UHL. “There was an objection to the plan but we managed to get it lifted quickly,” he says. That is the beauty of being in the party in power.
Some are more amenable to his message than others. “We know things can’t be fixed overnight,” says one woman about the health system. But another woman is incandescent. “The foundations are crumbling,” she says.
Tom believes mental health should be getting a much higher profile in this election than has been the case. And he argues that funding for sports and the arts are crucial in the campaign to promote and maintain good mental health.
Meanwhile, MEP Seán Kelly, a veteran of many campaigns and who is along to help the canvass, acknowledges that it is not all smooth going for Fine Gael. As he puts it: “It is harder to get the third term than the first.”
But he is adamant Fine Gael. is “not going as badly as the opinion polls would suggest”. Besides, he adds: “Every constituency is different. It is the individuals in those constituencies that are going to be elected.”
In Co Limerick, this is very true indeed. Over the past two decades, Fine Gael in the county has bucked the national trend for the party, most memorably in 1997 when they won two of the three seats in the old Limerick West constituency, ending a half-century of Fianna Fail domination. That second seat was taken by Dan Neville, Tom’s dad, and Fine Gael is not ready to give away its 2:1 advantage.