03 Oct 2022

SLIDESHOW: On the canvass with Jenny Blake in Limerick city

ON A DAMP, foggy evening outside Garryowen Stores, a dozen Social Democrats stand close together, like a huddle of penguins trapped in an Arctic breeze.

Except it’s not that cold, and this waddle is discussing strategy and tactics on how to woo the next tranche of residents.

There’s a warmth in the air among the purple troop, with their ebullient preparations and the added scent of Fusco’s Chipper, the incense of Greenhills Road.

The star of the story, underdog Jenny Blake, arrives and they move the huddle to the side of the store, home to the famous €115m Euromillions ticket that was sold 15 years ago.

The director of elections, Jimi Kavanagh, leads a pep talk, as drizzle arrives. It doesn’t dampen their spirits or first-time candidate Ms Blake, quite literally, as she has a rainbow umbrella protecting her thick salmon-pink coat and straight platinum-white hair.

Like Mother Duck, Jimi leads the canvassing team, in single file, through the green of North Claughaun, and ready to start knocking on doors.

“Sorry to disturb you on a wet evening,” Jenny starts, her Dublin accent slipping through the informal greeting.

On nearly every doorstep this reporter is at, the majority of residents either show no interest or have not been following this election. “You probably never seen me before?” to which the woman at the door says “no” with a smile.

“I am a first-time candidate, and the reason why I am running is because I spent the last 10 years in mental health and addiction.”

“You’re not from Limerick, though, are you?” copping onto her accent.

No, but she has been living in Limerick for 20 years, having worked with Novas, mental health and addiction, and previously with ex-prisoners and probationers through the Pals project.

“My main issues are to work to strengthen communities, and that means supporting families in all the areas.”

On the next door, there is more substance to her approach, probably due to the injection of confidence after the resident says “it’s time for some fresh blood”.

She speaks about how her family home was repossessed and how she felt somewhat helpless, despite working for Novas at the time.

“My mam had said to me: ‘You need to use our story, you have the blessing to use it’ to remember how difficult it was and to try and change. That happened because of the Eviction Bill. So, I think we need people, representing Limerick, representing the country, who have lived experience. Professional experience, and not just experience in politics.

“So, I said, I’ll put me money where my mouth is and give it a go, you know?” The resident replies: “Well, you can’t do as bad…” he laughs, everyone laughs.

But it’s not all happy-clappy. Launching into her background on the next door, she is met with a frank, but polite man close to his retirement.

“So that’s mainly what you’re doing which, probably, doesn’t apply a whole lot to me at this stage.”

Ouch. Already a tough sell in the first 10 seconds. But she’s eager to suss out what bugs him. And even though he doesn’t “have a whole lot of interest” in politics, he has strong views on the hospital and the possibility of pensioners joining the dole queue. She says that the Soc Dems will support keeping the pension age at 65, and are sticklers for progressing Slaintecare, their co-leaders’ main talking point.

One of Ms Blake’s parting words with this reporter is how she wants the Left parties to be more collaborative with community projects and causes.

“If somebody is really genuine to solve the problems of Limerick, then I am going to work with them. And I’d be encouraging everyone else to do the same.”

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