You know who I am, and what I stand for


NORA BENNIS is nice. You can tell by the smile lines around her 56 year old eyes. And if you still don't believe it she will tell you herself how nice she is.

She dressed for the canvass trail as if going to a child's Confirmation - green trouser suit, a blouse with a halo of white folds spilling out over the neck and cuffs, and high heeled blue suede shoes.

The candidate who intends to be Limerick's first woman TD (or first Lady TD, as her workers put it) flashed perfect teeth on the city's doorsteps.

"I'm Nora Bennis," she told those who didn't recognise her. "You know who I am. You know what I stand for. I'd like your vote in the election."

What about her feet, pinched into those buckled shoes? After two hours pounding asphalt did they not hurt?

"No," she smiled. All her Irish dancing as a child left her with high arches. Flat shoes would be uncomfortable.

Before she hit the trail she sat in a hotel lobby sipping a bitter lemon and explaining her pro life, pro family and pro community stance.

"I can see things very clearly," she said. "I can see where things have gone wrong." The bitter "fruits of the liberal agenda" were a world where "women are forced to work outside the home". So she would pay them £100 a week to stay there. Nora doesn't bother with the specifics of where the money will come from.

"It's there because they've plenty of money for everything. It's up there in the mouth of the Celtic Tiger."

Nora wants another abortion referendum, although her election leaflet makes no mention of it. She believes contraception is antilife and homosexuality debases human nature.

"Nora Bennis will fight to leave no stone unturned in her efforts to project a positive image of her native city and country," the leaflet declares.

Her first set of election posters were torn down after 24 hours, she said, so an army of workers has been pasting her face on to card board. She has about loo election workers, including her husband Gerry and her eldest daughter, Grainne.

One of the faithful was an elderly man in his Sunday suit carrying a steeltipped black umbrella. He used it for emphasis as he explained why he admired Nora and hated what the "liberal agenda" had created. "The greatest issue facing the country, of course, is the abortion issue.

In one driveway a young woman gunned the engine of her black Fiesta and told him: "You've just lost a vote," before she drove away with a furious look on her face.

"I just pointed the umbrella," he said in a puzzled voice. "I think she took it the wrong way."

At another house Nora waits while a teenager in her school uniform goes to get the heavy bunch of keys to open the porch door. "There you are," Nora said, "modern Ireland."

At Rushdale Drive she pointed out the house she lived in when she first got married. They paid just over £2,000 for it, a little extra because they wanted a sunburst front door. "It cost that little bit extra." Somebody has since dumped the door and gravelled the front lawn.

At the next house a handsome young fellow with a cigarette and long hair tells Nora politely that he thinks there are "extenuating circumstances" in which it might be better not to bring a life into the world. "Some day I'll discuss that with you," she said.

"Wasn't he lovely," someone remarked as we walked away.

"Yes," Nora smiled. "But I'll prove him wrong."

That was as difficult as it got that night. One woman said she would not be voting and closed the door gently with an apologetic smile. Another summoned Nora to her door to complain about the new pedestrian route linking her quiet road with one of Limerick's badlands.

She rolled up the election leaflet into a tight concertina to emphasise the point about broken windows and old ladies being mugged. "Oh, and if you're going to give £100 to every stay at home mother I'll be out of a job," the woman said nicely. "I've a creche."