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my hometown

'Sick and tired': Death from a thousand cuts in Dublin Bay North

Ronan Duffy finds his home constituency squeezed on all sides by stressed services and families labouring under extra charges.

Pasted image at 2016_02_12 03_51 PM

As part of our election coverage, we sent some of our journalists back to their hometowns to report on the issues concerning the people who live there.

Rónán Duffy from Raheny, Dublin, visited the village and its surrounding area to find out what’s gone wrong and right since the last election five years ago – and what people want to see happen after this election. 

THE ANGER NOW is that people see the economy getting better and that it’s not being seen to be benefiting everybody.

Conor Doyle volunteers at Dublin community radio station Near FM and describes in a nutshell how many people in North Dublin will be voting in four days’ time.

Described as the ‘constituency of death’ because of its competitiveness, Dublin Bay North is a large mainly residential area that’s been squeezed from two small constituencies into one big one – a combined six Dáil seats into five.

It includes some of the most well-heeled parts of north Dublin and some of the more working-class areas where the anti-water-charge movement found its voice.

It’s also where I grew up, went to school and more recently returned to live from the city centre.

PastedImage-52695 Raheny Village at the corner of Watermill Road. William Murphy / William Murphy / /

Speaking to Doyle by phone in our mutual home of Raheny, he tells me about the issues people are talking about.

It’s about a month out from the election and Doyle describes the massive disconnect between what people have saying to him and what politicians had been chattering about.

“There’s all this fiscal space nonsense about how much you can spend and where are you going to spend it and that the economy’s doing great.”

If somebody is standing up in a meeting in certain areas of the constituency and saying the fiscal space is anything between €8 to €12 billion. People don’t care, that means nothing to them.

He’s not exaggerating about what it’s like facing a room in this constituency. A recording of TV3′s People’s Debate with Vincent Browne in Clontarf was cut short in December when it got rowdy and gardaí were called.

Doyle and his colleagues on the Northside Today show on Near FM have been trying to speak to each of the candidates putting themselves forward. It’s not an easy task with 20 people set to appear on ballot papers from Howth to Kilbarrack to Clontarf.

But if people don’t care about fiscal space, then what do they care about?

Doyle has a brief think.

They just want to know who’s going to sort out Beaumont Hospital? What’s their pension going to be next month? Other bits and pieces and about what’s already been taken away from them.

nearfm / SoundCloud

What about water, are you hearing much about that?

Doyle says he is, but feels it’s much more nuanced than a simple desire not to pay.

He thinks people’s main problem with Irish Water was the hamfisted way in which it was introduced. That and the fact that installers were literally drilling in front of people’s homes.

“I think that there’s still a lot of people out there who say, ‘you told us you’d never do this’. The promises were made back at the start of the manifestos and that’s why the Labour guys are under such pressure.”

The issue was that this was just was imposed and that guys arrived outside your house and were installing these meters. You take the property tax, you got that in the post, you did it online but nobody actually came out to measure your house.

Another one of the issues Doyle mentions is hard to ignore.

Beaumont Hospital. That giant bad headline-grabbing punchbag that’s never too far from people’s lips – especially among the older people in Dublin Bay North, of whom there are plenty.

A&E targets Ambulances wait outside Beaumont Hospital's crowded Emergency Department. Niall Carson / PA Images Niall Carson / PA Images / PA Images

It’s one of the oldest constituencies in the country with the 2011 census recording about 23,000 people aged over 65. In all but one age bracket over 45 years, Dublin Bay North is older than the rest of the country.

It’s a legacy of previous generations moving to these once new suburbs and younger millennial families now heading out further westwards – just one aspect of a complicated housing problem that’s common across the capital.

It has led to extra pressure on health services, of which Beaumont Hospital is at the front line.

The horror stories that emerge from the hospital frequently get nationwide attention, but it’s a day-to-day issue for those who live nearby.

And it’s not just the patients who have to attend. In the case of older people, their families also face the worry of making sure they’re being treated properly. / YouTube

Fine Gael councillor Naoise Ó Múiri speaks to me in his office in the north inner city. He says he’s been out canvassing in some form or another since last summer and that Beaumont constantly comes up on the doorsteps:

Senior citizens accessing Beaumont themselves and the sons or daughters of senior citizens who find it difficult to watch their parents struggle in Beaumont. A lot of it would be senior citizens going into A&E and being on trolleys.

Ó Múirí says that for him, primary care must be a big part of any solution. With an over-eagerness to go to the emergency department sometimes a problem, GP services, he says, are key.

Ó Múirí is one of a packed stable of three candidates from Fine Gael running in the constituency, only one of whom, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, is a sitting deputy.

The other is former local election candidate Stephanie Regan: someone who’s hitched her campaign almost entirely on opposition to a local seawall and mental health care.

IMG_9992 A contentious seawall on the coast road in Raheny has been the subject of recent controversy.

If Fine Gael top brass had their way, ten-year councillor Ó Múirí wouldn’t even be on the ballot paper.

They, conscious of strategy and gender quotas, wanted just the other two on the Fine Gael ticket.

But local members knew if they revolted and left Bruton out of the selection he’d be added on anyway. After a passionate speech from Ó Múirí, that’s exactly what happened.

He says he understands that there’s a need for gender quotas but feels they’re ”a bit artificial”.

Stressing that he wants “working parents” to be the most important issue for him if elected, Ó Múirí says he’s no regrets about how he came to be running.

I put myself forward because I’ve run before and I’ve had support locally before and I felt, for the people that supported me, that I had to do that.

IMG_2166 Outhouse on the grounds of All Saints's Church in Raheny Village.

‘Sick of it’

Even though Beaumont remains an issue for many of the older citizens living in Dublin Bay North, there are also feelings of apathy.

It’s a trait not usually associated with an age group politicians traditionally rely upon, or fear, depending on the prevailing sentiment.

Marian Foster runs the hair salon Raymar on Raheny’s Main Street. She’s done so for 14 years with the previous owner there a similar length of time before that.

I chat to her over the noise of some of her contemporaries getting their mid-week blow dries.

IMG_9993 Marian Foster of Raymar hair salon in Raheny.

She explains that many of her older clients don’t chat about politics much these days, but when they do it’s usually a lot of indifference.

We’d a lady in here this morning and she’s going to Australia and she says she’s glad she won’t be here to vote. That lady was sixty-odd years of age. We’re of the generation that would always vote, and yet she said to me ‘Marian, I’m sick of it and I’m not even listening to the radio’.

Marian herself feels the same.

She explains that she thinks Fine Gael has done a good job in improving both the economy and Ireland’s image abroad, but that she has no interest in chatting to politicians.

She will vote though, and says that her husband will make sure their children are also registered. They’ve moved out of the area.

I wouldn’t be the type of person who would want to attack politicians, but I have no interest in sharing my views with them anymore. I’m really sick and tired of hearing the same thing from all of them.

IMG_2159 Vernon Avenue in Clontarf adorned with election posters.

As a business owner though, what’s important to her from the next government?

“The most important issue for me is making sure that they’re not going to hit the pay packets again, because that affects my business,” she says.

People can’t spend. There’s definitely a sense that people have gotten over the shock of the so-called recession and they’re spending again, but they’re much more cautious.

This caution has a direct impact on her business.

“If people spend you will be able to pay your bills. People will feel happier, people will get their hair done more often, people will go to restaurants.”

snip 1 The controversial seawall being built on the coast road in Raheny near Dollymount Beach.

Away from the salon, about ten minutes drive away is Artane Castle. It’s one of a number of shopping centres in the area that were built over thirty years ago but remain busy.

The carpark is mostly full as I meet with with People Before Profit councillor John Lyons.

He’s one person who’s banking that the voter disillusionment described by Foster will translate into votes for the smaller parties.

Lyons says he has sensed some apathy among local people but that describing it as cynicism would be more accurate.

“There’s a certain amount of cynicism out there because politicians say one thing at an election and then when they’re in power they say the exact opposite.”

People are very disappointed… I think you have to prove in practice what you say to people on the doorstep. Particularly the Labour Party. I don’t think they know how badly they’ve let down people over the past four-and-a-half years.

It’s no wonder that Labour isn’t far from our discussion. Their turf is exactly where the biggest election battle is being fought.

As much as any constituency across the country, Dublin Bay North can be seen as a barometer for Labour’s performance in the eyes of the electorate.

In 2011, the then-constituencies Dublin North East and Dublin North Central elected a combined three Labour party candidates, which was half of the total number up for grabs across the two constituencies.

IMG_9996 Cllr. John Lyons is running under the AAA-PBP banner.

In the intervening years, Tommy Broughan left the party and Seán Kenny announced his retirement. So there’s now only one Labour member seeking election - Aodhán Ó Riordáin, who was elected for the first time in 2011. 

It means Lyons will join maybe ten others scrabbling for left-wing votes, most likely those lost by Labour.

Lyons isn’t even the only candidate running under the AAA-PBP platform, but he remains confident of getting elected, predicting he’ll do it at the expense of Labour.

It’s a major battle we have on our hands. We think we have a chance of taking one of the seats and I’m best positioned to take that seat. I think Sinn Féin will take a seat, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and perhaps another independent.

Peaceful protest

Mentions of Irish Water have been relatively rare in the media since in this election campaign. They are not rare in North Dublin.

The on-street water meter protests that became synonymous with the ‘peaceful protest’ mantra had their roots in the heart of this constituency.

water protests 2014 A demo at Briarfield in Kilbarrack in April 2014. Facebook / DublinSaysNo Facebook / DublinSaysNo / DublinSaysNo

Donaghmede, Raheny, Edenmore and Kilbarrack all played host to face-offs between installers, gardaí and protesters.

Eventually, that groundswell fed into the wider Right2Water movement nationwide and into the massive demonstrations from late 2014 and into 2015. The movement to boycott the charges followed and now there’s a drive to make sure this momentum turns into electoral expression.

For parents-of-three Patricia and Eamonn Woods, it’s absolutely an election issue.

“We’re already paying for water. It should be abolished,” Patricia says.

It’s the people that are working for the water, the bigger people that are working for it are making the money. The people that are setting it up are making the money and it’s not even working. And it’s going to be privatised, we know it’s going to be privatised.

They say they feel they’ve been been hit with more and more charges over the lifetime of this government. Eamon is also down by €135 a week since the start of the recession.

PastedImage-6042 Instagram Instagram

Living in a semi-detached home in a typical Marino estate, Eamon says it feels as if their family has been financially responsible but are paying for the mistakes of others.

That’s a lot of money with three kids. And ye get nothing back, and all the extra charges thrown on then, your quality of life is affected. We kept our feet on the ground – I mean, we’ve a 16-year-old car and a 10-year-old car there.

Again typical of the area, they describe themselves as being ex-Fianna Fáil supporters, an allegiance their families before them also shared.

This is something they told local Fianna Fáil candidate Deirdre Heney who talked to them on their doorstep just before I did.

They’re not, however, considering a return to Fianna Fáil. Nor are they considering a vote for Labour, a party they predict to be “decimated”.

The national issue of water aside, the Woodses are also annoyed by local problems they feel politicians won’t listen to. They feel they are being left in the middle as other people are being looked after around them.

Their daughter, for example, wants to be a teacher and they feel an “anti-urban bias” against would-be teachers from Dublin.

Similarly, Eamon coaches the under-16s at the local Marino Boys football team and tells me that they haven’t been able to play since November. Granted, there has been some heavy rains making pitches unplayable, but other teams still manage to get a game.

Eamon says that the big Dublin schoolboy clubs get priority pitches in Fairview Park and politicians only get photographed in the Northside People newspaper if they bring facilities to poorer areas.

IMG_2161 Waterlogged pitches with Donnycarney Church in the background.

It’s the community based teams like Marino Boys that get left behind, he says.

The problem is that Marino Park, which is our main home pitch beside our ground and club house, the bonfire was on it. And there’s also other damage on it. And it’s not very good anyway.

“The other pitches that are there go to the other clubs like Stella or Belvo. We get the worst pitches because we’re a community team not being from an underprivileged area. That’s the truth of it.”

Patricia agrees:

Kids are kids, and we’re being differentiated against because we’re from this area. Whereas kids in East Wall, they’ve got three astro pitches and they’ve got the use of Alfie Byrne Road at a discount price.

It’s a small thing but it does illustrate a lot about this area, especially for politicians.

Catering for nearly 150,000 people across more than 54,000 households is not easy when people’s backgrounds and needs are so different. When different areas are competing for the same facilities and when their priorities are often so distinct.

There’s no one-size-fits-all vote winner, no one issue to back your horse behind.

What is clear is that people notice when they’re being ignored. Or when they feel others are being treated better.

It’s about fairness and people aren’t likely to let you forget it.

Read: I went home to Cork city to see how people feel ahead of the election >

Read: Has the recovery made it to Sligo? I went home to find out >

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