FORMER Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has likened a general election campaign to walking the Camino trail in Spain.
“You get up every morning, you go, and then you fall into bed that evening, then you get up and go again,” the Labour election hopeful tells the Limerick Leader.
Indeed, over the years, the Corbally woman would have no doubt walked the equivalent of a Camino during her many years of canvassing.
And there have been many rocks in the pathway, no more so than at the 2016 election when she scraped into the last seat after a dreadful campaign for Labour.
She was one of only only seven TDs who emerged from the wreckage.
With the party not really recovered from that nadir in terms of the opinion polls, it’s widely felt among Ms O’Sullivan’s team of canvassers that she faces a similar battle this time around – one of her campaigners, Cllr Conor Sheehan telling a would-be voter that she is in a “dogfight” for the final seat.
But with people like master-strategist Joe Kemmy – the brother of the late Jim – on the team, optimism is high that Ms O’Sullivan can defy the odds and hang on for a sixth consecutive election.
“We are fully aware the Labour party is not too high in the polls. But we’re hoping Jan’s long time in politics here can deliver for the people and it will stand to her. We’ve found a lot of people had not realised she was the only woman elected to the Dail in Limerick since 1921. I’m sure many of the women in Limerick wouldn’t like to have to wait another 100 years,” he said.
We meet Ms O’Sullivan and a group of committed volunteers in the shadow of the Gaelic Grounds, before heading into the Ashbrook estate off the Ennis Road.
As has been the case this election, the three big issues are health, housing and pensions.
While she acknowledges the economy may have continued its recovery under the Fine Gael minority administration, the Dail candidate, who was first elected in 1998, believes “the important things have not been dealt with”.
“The fact you have people in their 80s lying on trolleys for days. We’ve met many people on the doorsteps who have experienced this. Despite the money that’s in the economy, people feel it is these kinds of things which are not being prioritised or invested in. There is a strong sense that we are badly treated in this region,” Ms O’Sullivan added.
One of the first people we meet on the canvass is Walter Fogarty, a former schoolmate of the Labour TD from Villiers School.
While their education is something the pair have in common, Walter proudly states that he is “pro-life”.
They respectfully disagree on this point, but Ms O’Sullivan says: “I’d hope you’d agree with me on a lot of other issues”, something he acknowledges is the case.
Asking for that all important number one vote, Walter smiles “you never know your luck”.
”Well, I hope my luck is in,” Ms O’Sullivan responds.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader after the exchange, Walter says: “I don’t know if anyone is going to win this election, but I think a lot of them are going to lose it, if you know where I am coming from.”
At the next house, Maureen Hobbins admits she is worried about the “auction politics” being offered by many candidates.
“I wouldn’t like for them to be throwing money away,” she admits.
Her husband Phonsie, however, says: “It’s always good to see change. They [the last government] are a little bit too smug about themselves. A change is needed. They are gone pretty complacent.”
Kieran Jordan says he will be giving his first preference vote to first-time Green party candidate Brian Leddin.
“The young lad, I’d know the mother. He’s lucky he’s not Fine Gael or Fianna Fail,” he states. “Fine Gael has destroyed the Defence Forces.”
Sensing a chink of light, and realising that even votes down the order are important, Ms O’Sullivan said: “If you could give me the number two, that’d be great. The Greens and ourselves would be compatible. We’re both progressive left parties.”
There was better luck at the home of Mary Donovan, who especially asked one of Ms O’Sullivan’s canvassers to speak to the lady herself to personally thank her for intervening in an issue.
However, at another home, one woman only half opened the door, saying she will not be voting for Labour, prompting Mr Kemmy to quip: “We’d better not waste a leaflet then.”
Asked further, the woman, who did not give her name, said: “Jan O’Sullivan has done sweet eff all for Limerick.”
This was as bad as it got for the Dail candidate on the election trail, however. It’s a far cry from 2016, when Ms O’Sullivan came under attack from the Anti-Austerity Alliance and its candidate Cian Prendiville.
The hard left party targeted her and compared her unfavourably to her political mentor Jim Kemmy.
It almost worked for the group, which came within 200 votes of unseating the long-serving deputy.
Things are different now – but Jan is still facing a threat from many different sides to a seat that Labour has held for decades.
It’ll no doubt be a long count after the February 8 election.
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