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Final Countdown

21 candidates, seven seats: A night on the doorsteps in Dublin's most hotly contested council area

Former TDs, a lord mayor and Dublin’s longest serving councillor are all in the mix. / YouTube

WITH 21 CANDIDATES vying for just seven seats and a handful of Dublin City Council’s ‘bigger beasts’ almost certain to reclaim their spots on the local authority, the North Inner City electoral area is being regarded by some of the less higher profile candidates as something of a ‘group of death’.

According to Maynooth University’s Dr Adrian Kavanagh, who crunches the numbers on this sort of thing so we don’t have to, the North Inner City ward has the largest number of candidates in all of Dublin’s four local authorities. 

Aiming to catch up with as many candidates as possible in the peak canvassing time between evening rush hour and sunset on Monday, managed to link up with ten of that 21 person field. 

As they enter the final furlong many candidates are spending every available waking hour glad-handing commuters and knocking on doors to try and secure those all important preferences come Friday. 

The state of independents 

This time five years ago there were 19 candidates in the running in the northside ward. Christy Burke, the long-serving Sinn Féin-turned-independent councillor who later served as lord mayor, was elected on the first count alongside SF’s Janice Boylan.

“It’s like the Galway Plate” this time around, Burke observed as he finished up his nightly canvass just off Sheriff St flanked by around a dozen supporters. With a few days to go he reckons his team have visited every street in the ward at least twice during the campaign. 

This is home turf for Burke. But while he may have been on the council since the summer of 1985, he says he takes nothing for granted at election time.

“I’m asking for their number one. Or number two. But I’ll also ask for a three, four, five, six, seven – all the way down the line to 21 in this case. I’m too long around, I’ve seen people lose their seat over two votes, four votes, I’ve seen people go to the High Court – so you have to get out there and fight for the votes.”

Like other incumbents we spoke to over the evening, Burke conceded councillors’ powers were limited – but the position at least made it possible to cut through a few layers of bureaucracy to help locals out with ongoing problems. He’d just called in to a woman in her 90s who was waiting for the council to come and fix her windows: “I’ll be on to that in the morning at 7 o’clock and I expect it to be done around ten.”

Screenshots for DB.00_00_10_16.Still003 Nicky Ryan / Nicky Ryan / /

A short walk away on the North Strand, another of the area’s higher profile figures, two-term independent and current lord mayor Nial Ring was about to start calling around to a few of his long-term friends and supporters. 

Back in 2014, it went to 13 counts before all candidates were elected in the North Inner City. Ring himself made it over the line on the ninth count. 

And while he says his position as lord mayor may count for something (the title is prominently highlighted on his new campaign posters, and he’s wearing the chains of office over a business suit as he canvasses) he insists he’s running on his record.

Housing and dumping were the two main issues emerging on the doorsteps, most of the councillors we spoke to over the evening said. Ring agreed, and said he’d be continuing his campaign to have privatisation of waste collection in the city reversed. 

Being lord mayor can be a double edged sword however. The occupant of the Mansion House attracts far more media attention than the average council member, and Ring has had to put up with his fair share of negative press of late – including headlines about the mayor’s office running out of its annual allocation of free beer from Guinness brewer Diageo.

Just last week another newspaper story revealed Ring had invited patrons of four local pubs to his official residence. But according to the mayor: “That was 50 people from the local pubs out of 3,500 but at the end of the day it was opened up to everybody – everybody who applied to go in there was welcomed in there.”

He insists that – occasional slagging from locals aside – far from being criticised, he’s being praised in the area for opening up the Mansion House.

“I’ve never regarded it as my house and it’s not an elitist house, and that’s what is annoying some sections of the media that for some reason there’s the normal Dub going in there … there’s special needs children.” 

Burke and Ring are the only two independents currently representing the ward. Two others, Éilis Ryan and Gary Gannon, elected in 2014 when there were eight seats up for grabs in this area, have since joined political parties (The Workers’ Party and the Social Democrats respectively). 

The current 21 person candidate list contains a glut of independent hopefuls, and among the most high profile is another Ballybough local, Anthony Flynn, best known for his work helming charity group Inner City Helping Homeless. 

Handing out flyers and calling on his last few doors of the night accompanied by a band of supporters wearing custom yellow vests, Flynn said he reckoned there was room for another strong independent voice in the area. 

Speaking as his campaign vehicle – decked out with ‘Flynn’ posters – did loops of the block blaring out top 40 hits, the housing activist said he’d campaign to have proper rent caps introduced in the city.

The extent of the housing and rental crisis was evident throughout the area, he said – he was constantly calling on doors where people were sleeping on sofas or where adults had been forced to move back in with their parents.  

As far as the canvassing goes – like other candidates we spoke to, Flynn said that after two major referendums, an Áras race and a general election in the last four years, many locals were sick of people knocking on their doors.

“Generally, for us, the reception is very good. But there was only ten and a half thousand people in this constituency that voted in the last local election out of a register of 25,000, and 60,000 people living in the area – so what we need to do is to encourage people to come out. We registered a lot of young people in this area over the last few weeks. We’re hoping those people will get out and vote.”

For Flynn, Ring and other candidates in the area, the fact that the Spice Girls are headlining in Croke Park on Friday night could well hamper turnout. Flynn said three local polling stations would likely be affected. Ring opined: “People will be locked in their houses after five.” / YouTube

The parties 

Supporters of the high-profile independents who spoke to us on the trail said they reckoned Sinn Féin might be making a mistake by running three candidates in the area, with so many left-leaning parties and candidates in the race.

Janice Boylan, a proven vote-getter, brought home a sole running mate last time around – with a second colleague just missing out. The party will be trying the same tactic on Friday, with Boylan concentrating her efforts on the north-west of her constituency and her colleagues doing most of their canvassing further east. 

The single-term Sinn Féin councillor, who we met earlier in the evening on the far side of the ward in Smithfield, said she had built up her experience working as a member of the council’s housing and planning committees in the last five years. She maintained (as all candidates tend to) that she was getting a warm reception on the doors – but Boylan, too, admitted people appear fatigued by the volume of elections and referendums.

“When you knock on people’s doors, if they know you they come out and have a conversation with you – but there’s an awful lot of ‘not ins’. That generally says that people just aren’t answering the doors.

Sometimes what happens is they don’t see the locals as a big platform for decision making and that is a good point to make, because central government have taken nearly all the powers away from us – so people are a little bit more standoffish this time around, but that’s in general … they’re just sick of elections.

Like Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil is also running three candidates. Brian Mohan – who missed out on a seat last time around – and Denise McMorrow are joined on the ballot by Imran Khurshid, a solicitor originally from Pakistan who moved to Ireland twelve years ago. 

Canvassing off Arbour Hill Road accompanied by around ten supporters he said he had made a decision to join Fianna Fáil as its policies seemed most aligned with his own views, and it had welcomed his membership. The local party organisation had a “very positive attitude to immigrants,” he said – noting that about 30 to 40% of the local population of the North Inner City were not born in Ireland. 

Said Khurshid: “There’s no representation for them in Dublin City Council – so it’s time we had more diversity.”

On the political front, Fianna Fáil is also without representation on the council in the North Inner City ward due to a slump in support in the capital in the wake of the recession. 

Local FF organisers may be pinning hopes on their three-candidate approach, but the other main Civil War party is taking a radically different approach – with Fine Gael running just a sole candidate in Stoneybatter resident and current councillor Ray McAdam. 

Just a few streets away from Khurshid, we spoke to McAdam as he made his way methodically along the doorways of Ard Righ Road, one of dozens of terraced streets typical of the area. 

It was around 8pm when we spoke, and McAdam said he’d been out at seven that morning making the most of the fine weather to make sure he spoke to as many potential voters as possible. 

With so much local development going on in this part of the city, he said it was important residents be made aware of the direct input they could have into future planned projects. 

The centre ground

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ended up with just 17 of the 63 seats on Dublin City Council after the last local elections, leaving Sinn Féin as the largest party alongside a large group of independents of various hues. 

“We need to see change in the city council and we need to see the centre ground taking leadership, showing leadership,” McAdam said. 

When it comes to the last few available seats in the ward, smaller parties will also expect to be in the mix – including Labour, who have former TD Joe Costello running and the Social Democrats who have two candidates in Carol Deans and Ellie Kisyombe.

Ryan, of the Workers’ Party, and Ciaran Cuffe of the Greens will also hope to retain their seats – with both also on the ballot in the European elections. 

Screenshots for DB.00_00_05_01.Still002 Nicky Ryan / Nicky Ryan / /

Closer to the city centre, on Henrietta Street, we spoke to People Before Profit’s Gillian Brien, a long-time activist who said she felt compelled to step up and run for election after she realised even her three-year-old son was becoming inured to the level of homelessness on Dublin’s streets. 

Like Ryan and Cuffe, Brien is also her party’s candidate for the Euros this Friday. 

On nearby Dominick Street, preparing to erect some newly delivered posters, independent Neil Armstrong (he’s heard all the jokes) told of how he’d gone back to education to study law after getting in trouble with his mortgage in the wake of the financial crash. He said he was hoping election to the council would provide him with a platform to campaign on housing and homelessness issues. 

Elsewhere, Marius Marosan, a longtime community worker who chairs the Romanians in Ireland group said that, like Fianna Fáil’s Khurshid, he too had been encouraging members of the migrant community to learn their rights and to get on the register.

He added: “If we decide to live in Ireland we need to get involved in the political life.”

With such a crowded field, we could be in for an epic count once staff at the RDS start going through the ballots from Saturday morning. After Boylan and Burke were elected on the first count back in 2014, the rest of the candidates faced an anxious wait to find out their result, with five of the eight (as it then was) elected on the 13th count. The last candidate made it over the line with just 606 votes. 

As we left them, most of the candidates said they’d be out on the trail as much as possible until Thursday evening. A handful claimed – a little unconvincingly – that they hadn’t crossed paths with any of their opponents over the recent weeks and months, in spite of the fact that, during the brief time we spent on the trail, many of them were operating just a few streets away from each other. 

The final candidate we caught up with, outside Cusack’s back on the North Strand, before we, too, called it a night was Joseph McGucken – a comedian who, though he’ll be appearing on the ballot under his own name, has erected posters under the name of an alter ego, his character Fintan McCormac (‘The only man talking sense’).

McGucken, who’s built up a sizeable social media following, won’t be calling to any doors. At all. 

“Councillors going knocking on doors. I don’t understand why. It’s intrusive on their everyday lives, they have people knocking on their doors and if they get elected nobody goes knocking on their doors then, so I don’t even see the point of it it’s just so ridiculous.” 

He adds: “Vote for me. I’ll do nothing. I’ll say nothing. Everything will be grand. Everything will stay the same.” 

With 21 candidates to choose from, and pitches like that on offer, it can hardly be argued that the residents of the North Inner City don’t have enough alternatives to choose from. 

Also running in the area: Marcin Czechowicz (Independent), Declan Hallissey (Sinn Féin), Belinda Nugent (Sinn Féin), SG Raja Sekhar Reddy (Independent)

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