Thursday 29 September 2016

O'Dea hopes working his magic on the ground will help him to keep seat

Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30

Greta Dean greets Willie O’Dea over her wall during canvassing in Garryowen, Limerick. Photo: Brian Gavin
Greta Dean greets Willie O’Dea over her wall during canvassing in Garryowen, Limerick. Photo: Brian Gavin

Willie O'Dea doesn't have a secret weapon (or glamorous assistant) up his sleeve to help him return to government. And though he has never cast a spell, a local magician is among his canvassers as the Limerick veteran looks to get himself re-elected on a promise to fix the country's social welfare system.

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Braving persistent rain, Mr O'Dea believes he will not need to pull off any tricks to gain re-election but knows some extra magic may help his party return to government.

"The weather is my worst enemy at the moment. I fear the rain far more than I fear Sinn Féin, Fine Gael or Labour," he says.

"I love this part of it. I come into my own when I am out and about, meeting people on a regular basis and people who I have been engaged with over the years.

"You meet a few characters and I have the craic with them."

Mr O'Dea's team are characters in their own right.

Local councillor Kieran O'Hanlon is the main man leading Mr O'Dea, local magician Seamus Tobin and 12 others around Garryowen as the campaign gets going in earnest.

"It is like Jesus and his 12 apostles have descended," quips one local looking at the entourage. However, the group are well received in an area O'Dea is probably happy to bring reporters to. But the atmosphere is totally different to five years ago.

"It is the hard work that Willie puts in," says Councillor O'Hanlon.

"Willie is like a dynamo, not the magician (Dynamo), we have to take the batteries out of him every night."

During his hustings, families ask O'Dea for help seeking carers' allowance payments, speed bumps, and road signs. They know he may not be able to help but that he will do what he can.

"As for the future, well the one thing that I would love to be is Minister for Social Protection to reverse all of the cuts being proposed by the present government. The whole social welfare system needs an overhaul and needs to be turned on its head. It is no longer fit for purpose.

"Instead of having a social welfare system that is a straitjacket, I want it to be a trampoline."

Garryowen resident Dominic Lipper greets the canvassers at his door and pledges allegiance to the long-serving TD.

His brother, Mick, was a prominent Labour politician and is known locally for driving the victorious Limerick hurlers' by train to the All-Ireland final in 1973.

However, despite his political lineage, Mr Lipper said he would have no intention of voting for a government party.

"I couldn't care less about them," said Mr Lipper.

"I was on a trolley in the hospital waiting for my legs to be removed for two-and-a-half days. I was in agony."

His family turned to Mr O'Dea for help two years ago and appreciated his efforts.

"Willie taught me how to stand up again and walk," he jokes, while pointing at his new prosthetic legs.

"This man comes once a month to my house. He'll tell you 'I will' or 'I won't'. There's no such thing as 'I'll try' and we admire the honesty."

O'Dea says once a month is an exaggeration but concedes a strong presence in the area will help to pull votes.

"I never second-guess the electorate because people change their minds," he says.

"I don't do the area every month, probably just twice a year, but we have leaflets in letterboxes and councillors on the ground regularly so it does seem like omnipresence."

Irish Independent

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