Lonergan gets his hands dirty at the mart, where issues come thick and fast
MARTIN Lonergan had dressed suitably for a canvass of a mart – above the waist he was attired in smart shirt, tie and black jacket, and below he was clad in jeans and wellies. Moreover, he was sporting a bright green rosette that would be the envy of many a competitive Best in Show beast, urging people to vote Number One for him.
It was drizzly Wednesday morning, with the animal auction in full swing just outside the town. Attentive farmers hung over the concrete wall, watching as sheep and cows were briskly herded in and out, business conducted with a raised finger or two.
"Are ye buying or selling?" was the opening greeting among the men as they watched the rams and ewes being put through their paces. But yesterday the Independent candidate – and protege of Independent TD for Tipperary South, Mattie McGrath – was in the market for votes, rather than for livestock.
Martin (32) from Goatenbridge, Ardfinnan, is a first-time candidate, having decided to run as an Independent after his bid to get on the local Fianna Fail ticket last November was foiled by two votes. Since then, he's been putting in the hard yards around his area to get his face known. "We started canvassing in mid-January in the wind, rain and cold, when the hats flew off our heads," he laughed.
He worked his way slowly along the benches; this was no high-speed grip-and-grin. There were leisurely chats about the day's going price for sheep – "mine won't be ready for another month", he told a couple of be-capped lads, referring to the sheep and cows and calves on his own farm. "It's a small farm, only 30 acres," he explained.
Various issues were aired as he chatted his way around the mart. One serious bone of contention was the ongoing issues with the quality of water in areas such as Skeheenarinky – a new water treatment plant has been promised for the area for next year, but it's been a long wait.
"We have fierce complaints about the water – we can draw it, but can't drink it," said Robert Welsh, while Jimmy Fitzgerald, who lives near Burncourt, recounted how his house had been plagued with water quality problems for over 12 years, and the family buy their drinking water in Lidl and Aldi stores.
There was even a bit of good-humoured slagging from some of the farmers. "Number 1?" remarked a smiling Patsy Hayes from Limerick, pointing to Martin's rosette. "If we could match ye with the sheep, we'd be grand," he joked, then wanted to know what the candidate would do for the area.
"I'd work hard," he began, before going through a list of his plans, which include fighting for the retention of all hospital services in south Tipperary, particularly those relating to mental health.
"The problem of rural isolation is real, there are so many elderly people living alone," he told them, and the men nodded in agreement.
Mental health is an issue close to Martin's heart. "I lost my own father Sean to suicide eight years ago," he said, "so I want to ensure that the services we have are protected and improved."
He wants to tackle the problem of rural isolation.
"There might be small green shoots in the cities, but here we've no rural transport and we're in danger of losing the post offices. There are so many widows who never learnt to drive and whose only social outlet is to walk to the post office, get their pension and meet people. What will they do?" he asked.
Unsurprisingly, Martin frequently invoked the talismanic name of Mattie while conversing with voters. "He's a household name," he declared, although one farmer joked: "Sure I can't understand a word he says, especially when he gets excited. But he's a great fellow for getting things done all the same."