Michael Noonan clocks up the miles on canvass trail

Since the election was called, Finance Minister Michael Noonan has pounded two distinct, peculiar routes, writes Jimmy Woulfe

Michael Noonan clocks up the miles on canvass trail

His driver, Gerry Rigney, says he would hate to think about the mileage their BMW 4x4 has clocked up on the N7 between Limerick and Dublin. Between these journeys, Mr Noonan continues his trek through every estate in the city.

Today, Mr Noonan begins with a canvass and then it’s on to Dublin for meetings at party headquarters before he heads for RTÉ and a Six-One interview with Brian Dobson.

He was out yesterday afternoon for a canvass of Shannon Banks, his 53rd of the Limerick campaign.

“I have to spend a lot of time in Dublin during the campaign and that means a lot of time in the car. I have a great campaign team here in Limerick and that’s essential in allowing me get work done in Dublin as well as keeping up with the campaign here on the ground,” he said.

Timmy O’Connor has been with Mr Noonan since his first campaign in 1974 when he won a seat on Limerick County Council. A retired post office official from Broadford, he said: “I am one of the three canvass organisers. We have three canvasses a day, at 11am, 2pm, and 7pm. In all we have a pool of over 160 canvassers.

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“We are getting a very good response and people appreciate what Michael has done for the country and for Limerick. We are very confident we can hold our two seats with Michael and Kieran O’Donnell.”

Aileen Browne, from Charleville, is another of Mr Noonan’s canvass organisers. “I got to know Michael when I moved to Limerick in 1998 for a time,” she said.

She joked that by day she’s out looking for blood with the blood-transfusion service and by night she’s out looking for votes. Ms Browne was director of elections for Fine Gael in Limerick in 2011. “I ran in the local elections in 2014 and I finished sixth in the five-seat Fermoy Municipal District.”

Shortly after arriving in Shannon Banks, Mr Noonan encounters Gerard Brilley, a former pupil of his at Crescent College Comprehensive where Mr Noonan taught English, economics, and geography. Mr Brilley, aged 54 said: “He was a very good teacher and he gave us a good grounding. I’ll give him the vote.”

Down the street, Pat and Christine Murphy were pleasantly surprised that the minister was paying a personal call on them. Mr Murphy, a retired accountant said: “I’ve been living here 42 years and this is a first.”

Ms Murphy gave Mr Noonan a warm welcome: “It’s lovely to see you and have you calling. I know you are a very busy man. There are ministers and ministers, but you have done excellent work for the country. We are people who appreciate what you have done and we’ll look after you on Friday.”

As the canvassers move through the estate, Alan Kavanagh, one of Mr Noonan’s advisers, gives directions to fan out and get to as many doors as possible. Every few minutes he directs the candidate to residents who want to have a word about one thing or another.

Dan O’Connell, from Abbeydorney, like Mr Noonan, also taught at Crescent Comprehensive before he retired.

He said: “When I first came to Limerick in 1976 to teach at the Comp, Michael trained me in as a ‘probationer’ young teacher. I have campaigned with him since he gave up teaching for politics. It’s a privilege to be involved with a man like him and to be a friend of his.”

Mr Noonan, speaking to the canvassers, said: “Keep working right to the end, because a lot of people haven’t made up their minds yet. What I would say to the undecided voters is that everybody has a concern about the future of the country and that Fine Gael and Labour in government have a good record in getting the country out of the state of bankruptcy it was and getting a strong recovery under way.

“It’s important if we want to have proper health services, more nurses, more gardaí, more teachers, that we have a strong recovery to give us the resources to do all the things we want to do. So I am saying to people: Support the re-election of the Government.”

Asked about the possibility of a hung Dáil, Mr Noonan said: “I wouldn’t be concerned about it yet. We’ll wait and see. The polls are contradictory in many ways and I think one can rely too much on the polls. The canvass we’re on is much better than the polls, so we’ll see what happens.”

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