WITH just days to go until the general election, Willie O’Dea’s campaign machine is at full throttle.
The former Defence Minister has canvassers working for him almost around the clock, and says he has as many as 100 people at a time pounding the streets.
But the real secret to the Fianna Fail man’s ensuring success is not what he does during election campaigns, it’s what he does between times.
“Willie would go to his constituents twice a year, door-to-door. Possibly they might not be able to go to him so he goes to them. He responds to everyone, he’s contactable, he’s always available. He will go to the very end of what he can do for anybody,” says one of his canvassers, Dooradoyle’s Brian McDermott, “And 99 times out of 100, he actually sorts out the problems and the issues that arise.”
Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon, who has worked alongside the 68-year-old politician for almost 30 years, adds: “Some politicians when they are elected are there for four or five years, and they sit back a bit. Willie never does. When this election is over, he’ll probably be out knocking on doors again!”
Indeed, it’s the dedication to his community which is probably why he finds canvassing at election time so easy.
When the Limerick Leader catches up with the 2016 polltopper in Fairview, the veteran TD receives a welcome which many of his political rivals would kill for.
One man calls out from the upstairs floor of his two-up, two-down, asking Willie to wait a while so he can come down and say hi to him.
In turn, Willie knows everyone in the street.
“Is Ger at home today? How about Mary,” he asks one of his army of canvassers.
It’s his propensity to get the smallest jobs done which draws criticism in some quarters – but a strategy has seen him top the poll in all but one of the last seven elections.
One of his canvassers jokingly points to a pothole outside St Brigid’s Church, saying: “We ought to get that sorted”.
One person, however, who says he is not impressed by the current crop of TDs is 20-year-old Jack Gorey, who is voting in his first Dail election.
“I believe that particularly Willie who is going around here, has done things for the community in terms of fixing our roof and potholes. But when it comes to progressive change, they fall short. Willie has been in the Dail for longer than I’ve been alive. But what’s changed in Limerick,” he asks, saying he will be voting for Solidarity-People before Profit this time.
This is the only time on Friday’s canvass Mr O’Dea faces criticism.
Instead, drivers honk their horns, shouting ‘Aboy Willie’, as he reassuringly advises one woman that her disability allowance will not be cut off.
The politician is in his element really.
”While I enjoy doing it, I’ll keep doing it. If I stop enjoying it, I’ll stop doing it,” he tells the Limerick Leader.
Geraldine Keegan says: “Willie is very good to us. He goes around, he’s always on the road. He doesn’t wait for elections to come up, and I find that important.”
“He’s approachable, and gets you what you want,” adds Sabrina O’Dwyer.
Nicola Ryan, who gave birth to twins Ryan and Lee prematurely was left waiting for 18 months to an MRI scan for one of them.
It was only after she enlisted the help of Mr O’Dea that the crucial scan was fast-tracked.
“He did everything to help this little boy,” she said.
Much of Mr O’Dea’s vote is a personal one, with one man asked who he will transfer to, telling me that it will be Sinn Fein and Maurice Quinlivan.
“I just don’t know the other Fianna Fail candidate [James Collins],” the man, who did not give his name said.
“Ye know you’re guaranteed a number one here,” says Mary Hoare, “The other fella Michael Noonan, he did nothing for Limerick”.
Perhaps wisely, Mr O’Dea declines to comment, offering a broad smile.
After Saturday’s election, the TDs supporters will head out for a few drinks.
Canvasser John Lillis tells me that one topic is off limits – politics.
Anyone who breaks this is fined €10 immediately! The pints will surely be well earned.