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Candidates in Dublin Bay North during last night's debate in Coolock.
Candidates in Dublin Bay North during last night's debate in Coolock.
Image: TheJournal.ie

Gangland crime and coalition red lines: Dublin Bay North candidates debate in Coolock

Fine Gael candidate Catherine Noone didn’t attend the debate.
Feb 4th 2020, 7:02 AM 13,624 32

CRIME AND POTENTIAL coalitions dominated discussions between candidates at a debate in the Dublin Bay North constituency yesterday evening. 

The large constituency, which stretches from Howth to Coolock, has been under the spotlight in recent days following comments from Fine Gael candidate Catherine Noone in which she described Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as “autistic”.

There was a higher degree of media interest than is usual at the debate, which Noone was scheduled to appear at. 

However, the senator failed to appear, leaving Fine Gael with no representation at the debate, which was hosted by local radio station NearFM. 

Ciaran Murray of NearFM confirmed to TheJournal.ie that Noone only pulled out of the debate yesterday after previously committing to attending. 

The Times, Ireland Edition first reported the senator’s comments last Tuesday, which she made while canvassing in the constituency. 

“He’s autistic like, he’s on the spectrum, there’s no doubt about it. He’s uncomfortable socially and he doesn’t always get the inbetween bits,” she said.

Noone subsequently apologised for the comments. 

With 18 candidates contesting the five-seat constituency, only seven candidates appeared this evening. 

None of the candidates seeking re-election – Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton, Fianna Fáil’s Sean Haughey and Sinn Féin’s Denise Mitchell – attended the debate. 

The constituency is potentially one of the most open in the country following the departure of the two outgoing TDs Finian McGrath and Tommy Broughan, with Labour, the Greens and the Social Democrats all seen to be in line to take the seats. 

Crime

The Coolock area, where the debate took place, has recently been at the centre of gang crime. 

Partial remains of 17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods were found in the Moatview area of Coolock in January.

The teenager was killed in what Gardaí described as a “brutal and savage” murder.

All candidates were critical of the recent violence in the community, with many linking it back to the drugs trade. 

Candidates took varying approaches, however, to tackling the issue. Fianna Fáil’s Deirdre Heney was among the most trenchant.

“We need to be tougher on criminals and give Gardai more power of search and seizure, where instances of criminality and drugs are involved”, she said. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Solidarity-People Before Profit’s Michael O’Brien disagreed, however. “The so-called war on drugs has been an absolute failure,” he said. “This thing of a law and order approach to try to deal with the problems of addiction in Irish society has proven an absolute failure.”

Labour candidate and former drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin backed a health-based approach to addiction. 

Echoing O’Brien, he said: “We need to realise that 70% of drug convictions are for personal use. That’s a huge waste.”

“It should be spent on targeting criminals,” he added.

Pensions

The debate also mirrored some of the major talking points of the election nationally, such as pensions, hospital waiting lists and tax. 

Raising the issue of pensions, one man told the panel that he’d seen plenty of elections and that this “was the most promising one yet”. 

“We’ve been promised everything,” he said, calling the pensions issue the “elephant in the room”. 

It was one of the rare moments of applause on a night when few of the politicians seemed to win significant support from the audience.

Stardust

One issue that united the panel was the Stardust tragedy.

Antoinette Keegan, whose sisters died in the fire and who has campaigned for justice for the victims, asked the candidates whether they would ensure that the recently announced inquest would be human-rights compliant, with sufficient resources provided to the coroner to carry out the investigation. 

All candidates committed to the request. 

“There is no ask from the Stardust families that should go unheeded,” O’Brien said. 

Another issue that united the panel was the treatment of migrants. Social Democrats candidate Cian O’Callaghan called on politicians to show leadership on the issue. 

“People in politics need to show leadership on this rather than anything that creates the opposite impression,” he told the audience.

Abortion

The candidates were more divided on abortion.

Last night, when questioned on whether she would support a further liberalisation of abortion law in Ireland, such as changing the 12-week limit on terminations in all circumstances, Fianna Fáil candidate and local councillor Deirde Heney said that she would oppose any further liberalisation.

She was joined by independent candidate Linda McEvoy. “I am not staunchly pro-life or the extreme wing, but the answer is no,” she said. 

The Green Party’s David Healy, who is also a local councillor, said he wouldn’t support any liberalisation, but said that his party might take a different view.

The answers prompted one of the most highly-charged interventions of the night, with Ó Ríordáin saying that he was “taken aback” by the answers. 

Expressing his concern at a Fianna Fáil government backed by the Green Party, he said: “These things are hard won and they were hard won very recently.”

Coalition

With the polls showing no clear winner, the coming days could prove crucial as parties are questioned on who could form the next government. 

The night started with candidates asked whether they would support Leo Varadkar as taoiseach. 

Independent candidate John Lyons was among those to reject the idea. 

“The policies they implement are vicious,” he said, while Fianna Fáil’s Heney said that she “would prefer if that wasn’t the case”. 

Ó Ríordáin, who was in government with Fine Gael between 2011 and 2016, said Labour shouldn’t support the party again.

“Definitely not,” he said. 

The results are in, now keep up to date with all the latest on government formation efforts with our regular newsletter


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Dominic McGrath

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