Hard-working TD had an army of his own
Published 19/02/2010 | 05:00
WILLIE O'DEA always made the numbers add up when it came to a general election -- he has been topping the poll in Limerick East for more than 20 years.
An instantly recognisable face to all across his constituency, Mr O'Dea has clocked up thousands of miles on the footpaths and streets during his tours of duty which have worn the soles off many shoes.
Come election time, he boasted a dedicated army consisting of hundreds of supporters who campaign on his behalf across every village, town and rural road in the Limerick East constituency.
Constantly working, Mr O'Dea's campaign for the next general election starts the morning after he has been declared first past the post and the walking tours begin again.
To date, he has contested nine general elections for Fianna Fail in Limerick East.
His only defeat at national level came in his first general election on June 11, 1981, when he narrowly missed out in the five-seat constituency after gaining 4,297 votes.
At his second attempt in February 1982, Mr O'Dea captured the third seat after he received 7,425 first preference votes.
Running mate Des O'Malley, then still of Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael's Tom O'Donnell were ahead him in the poll.
He held on to his seat nine months later with the second general election of 1982 when he collected some 7,306 votes.
In 1986, Des O'Malley broke away from Fianna Fail to form the Progressive Democrats (PDs), with the Limerick constituency strongly established as the new party's heartbeat.
Mr O'Malley topped the poll in the 1987 election with O'Dea in second place collecting 9,268 votes, but crucially Fianna Fail lost a seat in a hotly contested race.
Come June 1989 and contesting his third general election, Mr O'Dea topped the poll for the first time with 9,658 and gained almost 21pc of the total votes cast.
However, while decimated elsewhere, the PDs still held on to their two seats at the expense of Fianna Fail and Mr O'Dea.
In November 1992, Mr O'Dea earned 10,990 votes, but again, the thorn in his side -- the PDs -- still retained their two seats in Limerick.
Five years on, Willie finally brought home a second FF TD with party colleague Eddie Wade -- on his fourth general election campaign -- receiving the bulk of his transfers after O'Dea collected 12,581 votes (25pc of the total share) in 1997.
By 2002, O'Dea was now a well-known government figure and collected 13,174 (26pc of the total poll) at his seventh general election.
However, it was the 2007 election which was the high-point of O'Dea's career and best exemplified the extent of his vote-gathering machine when he tallied a massive 19,082 votes, or almost 39pc of the total poll cast.