SOME months ago members of the Scottish parliament visited Limerick to have a look at the huge regeneration plan for four of the city’s rundown estates.
As their bus drove through crime-ridden St Mary’s Park on a Saturday morning the official from the regeneration agency who accompanied the group said: “I see the local minister ahead, I’m sure he’d like to meet you.”
The Scots assumed they were to meet a clergyman minister.
When they were introduced to the country’s Defence Minister they were just bowled over.
A senior minister doing door to door visits in a part of Limerick where certain residents only venture out when they are wearing bullet proof vests.
O’Dea is a serial canvasser. He thrives on that close contact with his constituents. He lives with his wife Geraldine in a small terrace house in Naughton’s Place just off Henry Street. Indeed it is so small that when people wish to see him, Willie uses the nearby Windmill Bar.
When he travels back to Limerick each Friday, his Toyota Lexus state car is lodged in the Henry Street Garda headquarters and his Garda drivers shadow the minister on foot.
Willie O’Dea walks to make sure people see and meet him.
His home is about a half- hour walk from his constituency office in Farranshone. He varies that journey by taking six different routes to ensure maximum contact with constituents.
Willie O’Dea came up the hard way in politics. He was reared on a farm in Kilteely and got his secondary school education at Ballyfinn boarding school, the same alma mater as Gerry Collins.
He went on to study law and accountancy and lectured in law in Dublin and Limerick.
A weekly advice column in the farm section of the Limerick Leader introduced Willie O’Dea to the wider Limerick public. Not alone did he give advice in the column, he encouraged people to personally contact him if they wanted advice on legal and accountancy matters without a fee.
Soon he was networking within Fianna Fáil.
In those days the O’Malleys and the Herberts were the aristocrats of FF in Limerick East. But O’Dea systematically got his people elected and eventually overthrew the O’Malley and Herbert hold on FF.
Charlie Haughey harboured a distrust of O’Dea and made sure his Dáil career did not budge. O’Dea eventually made it to cabinet as Defence Minister.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen seemed well disposed towards moving him up the Cabinet ladder.
One thing is certain about Willie O’Dea’s political future. He will tip the poll in the new Limerick city four-seater Dáil constituency.
It is estimated he will lose about 7,000 votes in the old Limerick East. This will be a cause of concern to junior minister Peter Power, who got elected last time with 5,000 transfers from O’Dea.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved