A passionate advocate for change

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Shelia Cahill and Breandain MacGabhann with Claire Keating (centre), Green Party on the campaign Trail in Adare Picture Brendan Gleeson

Limerick Post journalist, Alan Jacques, joined General Election 2020 candidate Claire Keating, Green Party, on the campaign trail while she and her team canvassed Adare.

YOU can feel the omnipresence of the two civil war parties on arrival into Adare.

Niall Collins and Patrick O’Donovan’s gaze latches onto you from almost every lamppost in this picturesque village. It is almost as if they are knowingly reminding you, almost by way of telekinesis, that ‘we’re your only men’. They grin down, safe in the knowledge that they already have your vote in the bag.

First-time election candidate Claire Keating of the Green Party is going to have her work cut out for her if she is to fulfil her ambition of being the first woman in County Limerick elected to the Dáil.

And the Croagh woman’s work was made even harder last week after her party leader Eamon Ryan’s comments that the proposed Limerick to Cork motorway “makes no sense”. He made out the future of transport in Ireland is rail and argued the motorway is just a “huge expense”.

The Limerick Post joined Claire and her team on the election trail in The Village, an exclusive residential estate adjacent to Adare Manor.

It is just midday and there is a sleepy air about this peaceful West Limerick sanctuary.

Curtains twitch and doors remain unanswered in many houses with curious residents peeping out their windows before going back, disinterested, to their lazy weekend rituals. The frost is biting, but for the most part, the electorate isn’t!

Breandán MacGabhann, who is out canvassing with Claire, admits that the Green Party is a “tough sell” in the county.

“People have a preconceived attitude that we are anti-farmer and anti-rural. It is a hard stereotype to break through,” he accepts.

“I’m out here to talk to people, I’m available to listen to them, and to try and do my best for them,” the candidate herself tells me.

“My own parents would have been Fine Gael supporters in the past before I explained the positive changes we are trying to make. There has been a lot of positivity,” says the woman who was a leading light in the Limerick Against Pollution campaign.

Interestingly, at one house Claire visits in Adare during her canvass, a woman reveals that she is worried for her grandchildren’s future. She also admitted that it was her own children who educated her about climate change.

It has been suggested in local political circles that the high profile of LAP’s campaign to block Irish Cement’s plans to phase out fossil fuels in favour of burning alternative waste-derived fuels at its Castlemungret plant, made Keating a ‘shoo-in’ at last year’s local election if she had decided to run.

So why didn’t she?

“The Limerick Against Pollution campaign was at a crucial stage. It wasn’t the right time,” she says.

Claire is eager to press on, put out her stall, and meet with her constituents face-to-face. If anything, I feel I’m holding her back from the task at hand.

She makes for a passionate and motivated addition to the County Limerick ticket, and clearly wants to make a difference to the people in rural communities.

Claire, who runs a pharmacy in Newcastle West with her husband, wants to see vacant and derelict homes all over County Limerick restored to make towns and villages “more liveable”. She also takes the view that there isn’t enough funding for care supports for vulnerable people to have a safe place after leaving hospital and not enough support for mental health.

She also wants to see local farmers’ incomes protected through the climate crisis and Brexit.

These are all key issues in General Election 2020.

However, the biggest issue Claire has faced on the doorsteps in the early days of her campaign has been the lack of public transport in rural areas.

“Outside Limerick City, you need a car to travel, which is fine for some people but not for everyone, especially the young, the elderly, and people with disabilities. We need better transport services, so that everyone can get around,” she insists.

Her party leader’s comments on the Limerick to Cork motorway have also raised concerns on the doorsteps in County Limerick this week.

Reminded of another Eamon Ryan upset last October when he called for car sharing in rural Ireland, I just had to ask!

So, did you carpool out to Adare this morning?

“No, we were all coming from different directions. But that’s the thing; the infrastructure isn’t there to allow people to use public transport anyway.”

I leave Claire and her team with the sense that the Green Party have their heart in the right place but are generally misunderstood.

They are advocates for change, for a better greener future for all, but we will have to wait until February 8 to see if the ‘green wave’ that swept across constituencies in last year’s local election is still riding high.

More Limerick Post General Election 2020 coverage.