Having contested his first election in 1967, it’s fair to say that Cllr Jerry Lodge has been around the canvass block quite a few times.
Certainly his recognition factor is strong as Samuel Abayomi of Portlaoise Leisure Centre beamed “I know Jerry very well,” but he wasn’t so sure who Micheal Martin was when the party leader joined the Portlaoise councillor on his campaign last week.
It appears that there is an appetite to vote Fianna Fail again judging by the reaction when the party canvassers called to houses in St Brigid’s Place. “You should have been Taoiseach,” was the comment of one resident to Deputy Martin.
“People are more willing to chat this time,” Cllr Lodge said, adding that there had been a much more antagonistic attitude on the doorsteps for the last local elections. “Fair enough, we were in charge for long enough but definitely this time people are more positive,” he said.
“You should have f**king stayed in power,” one person told the Fianna Fail leader, before bemoaning the state of the country under the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.
Another car pulled up with the driver saying he has been waiting to change his local authority house for over four years. “I don’t want to be in the house. I will give you my number one vote if you can help me out,” the man told Cllr Lodge. His passenger told Deputy Martin that the local council is doing nothing for the homeless people in the area.
“We have a lot of homeless people in Portlaoise. This is the worst town in the midlands for homelessness,” the passenger declared, before the car pulled off again once Jerry had undertaken to give the driver a call later that evening.
Maura Brophy raised the issue of speeding in the estate, and highlighted the need for speed ramps, particularly after the tragic death of young Maria McGinley Greene. “We need speed ramps, I don’t know how many times I have brought it up,” she said.
A number of pensioners in the area brought up the income cuts which they have been forced to endure. Maureen O’Connor said of the various cuts: “I am strangled with it. I raised fifteen children from here and I never got a thing...I don’t owe anyone anything and still I have to pay property tax”.
“You know you are in trouble when the leader of the party calls to your door,” another woman jokingly declared. A younger woman said she wasn’t registered to vote but would now like to vote, having met Micheal Martin. She gave her details to some of the Fianna Fail canvassers so they could organise her registration.
Other concerns raised included the closure of the Dr Hickey’s clinic in Portlaoise Town Centre and suggestions that medical card patients will be transferred to the Cedar Clinic, a mile and a half away, on the Mountmellick Road. One woman said while it had been claimed that no decision had been made, she had received a letter saying who her new doctor will be. The reality of the consequences of traffic concerns in a residential area were then brought home when Stephen Greene and Amanda McGinley Greene met the group. Amanda said they had been looking for speed-ramps in the area, “and now our daughter has died”.
“I am angry,” Mr Greene added. “Even if the ramps were put in now, it’s not going to bring back our daughter”. He said Portlaoise Leisure Centre was opened without adequate pedestrian safety measures being put in place in the area. “They are putting the cart before the horse,” he said.