PATRICK O’Donovan’s canvassers are punctual and keen to get started on the job in hand although the evening is bitterly cold.
With less than a week to election day, the pressure is on to cover as much ground as is humanly possible and ensure their man gets back in. But the pressure is tempered with good humour, not least from Patrick himself who jokes about being “mauled” on the canvass. And not by a disgruntled voter.
Instead, his shins bear the scars of teeth marks from a dog who set upon him.
“I got antibiotics but what people want to know is what did the dog get?” Patrick laughs. “I tell them the dog is doing well too.”
Apart from the threat of dogs, getting to all corners of the constituency is not easy, as all the candidates in Limerick County have been finding out in this election.
“The scale of the constituency is enormous,” Patrick acknowledges. “And the time is short.”
But, even in a pressurised campaign, Patrick makes sure to take time out before the evening canvass to be with his two young children, John and Mae. Otherwise, they would only see him before he sets off again in the morning.
For Patrick, the stakes are high. Twice elected TD for Limerick County, he has been a Minister of State since 2016 and has had a high media profile, appearing regularly on radio and TV programmes.
But will his media outings defending the government go against him now?
“I am standing on my record,” he says stoutly before adding: “I don’t believe anybody should be in national politics unless they are prepared to stand up for what they or their party stands for.”
“If you are nine years in government, it is inevitable you will find people asking why didn’t you do better,” he explains.
“I always ask, is Ireland a better or worse place than the first time I stood in front of you in 2011?”
At that time, he recalls, “I was meeting people going out the door going to Australia.”
Whether it’s social welfare payments, agricultural payments, childcare or support for the elderly or those with disability, Patrick is adamant: “You can’t deal with any of these if you haven’t got a functioning economy.” And he is very keen to get that message home to voters and remind people of the dysfunctional economy of 2011 when unemployment was heading to 15%.
“Now,” he says, “you have a choice. Do you want to go back to the boom and bust cycle or go forward incrementally?
“I am not promising the sun, moon and stars. I don’t do that. I give very clear, very black and white honest answers. We can’t do anything of the things we want to do without the money.”
He is warmed by the response he is getting on the canvass, although like many candidates, he has found that it is getting harder to meet people face to face.
“A huge amount of people are not at home.” That is the downside. “So where are they? They are at work.” There lies the good side to this story.
But he is aware of a certain restlessness, the so-called ‘mood for change’. “Change to what?” he asks.
“Change to high tax, to high spending or progressive spending on public services and rewarding people.
“From a Fine Gael point of view, we want a change too,” he continues. “We spent the last nine years building financial security. Now we want to change and take that surplus, that has been hard-earned and put that hard-earned cash to good use,” he says.
But tonight, Patrick is on home ground, in Churchtown where he grew up and where he knows everybody by name and there are no tough questions.
“You’re covered,” declares one man. “No problem,” comes the response at many doors where there is easy exchange.
But then, canvassing comes easily to him and he recalls his uncle taking him off, aged 15, to do a leaflet drop in Ardagh. That was in 1992 when Michael Finucane won back a seat for Fine Gael and began the resurgence for the party which in 1997 broke the half-century old dominance of Fianna Fail in the constituency and gave the party their breakthrough two seats.
That position was reversed in 2002, when Michael Finucane lost out to his running mate by one vote and Fianna Fáil was back to two seats.
But a comeback by Fine Gael in 2011 delivered two seats again and the party hopes to retain these two seats for the third time next Saturday.
A big part of that hope, for Patrick, is rooted in his record and in what he believes he has delivered for Limerick County. But he is taking nothing for granted.
“Just because you are a sitting TD doesn’t mean you are safe,” Patrick says.
And he bounds off, to knock on even more doors.
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