TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

Liberty eye on your politicans

How well do you know your councillor? What are their views on contentious issues? And how well are they performing for you? Lisa Deeney finds out


Catherine Byrne

Fine Gael councillor Catherine Byrne was born and bred in Inchicore. She comes from a community background and not necessarily a political one. "It doesn't matter what party you are in so long as you do what you can do for the community," she told theLiberty.

Cllr Byrne asked 18 questions at last year's City Council meetings for the South West Inner City constituency. She raised some questions concerning repairs to Dolphin House, traffic levels, dumping of derelict cars and the housing waiting list. "Sometimes it is very frustrating as I am a doer. It's the whole bureaucracy of the system," she said. She admitted that she is "more aware of things in Inchicore" than the Liberties. "I am on the ground level here. I am involved with the residents of the Ashgrove community centre on a one-to-one basis, in dealing with such things as housing transfers and health problems," she said.

On refugees: "I have no problem with people of a different colour or race coming into the country." However, she added that "the system was not ready and it did cause a lot of bitterness and anger concerning the housing of refugees".

On drug abuse: "Education is the key. Elderly people are mugged, and their lives are turned upside down," she told theLiberty. "To a certain extent rehabilitation works but education is the key."

On abortion: "I had a very Catholic up-bringing. I have had five miscarriages and I believe in the fact that the unborn child has a right to live." If there was a referendum on abortion tomorrow Cllr Byrne said she would vote no. However she added that, if there was a personal situation where abortion came up, she would not know what to do.

On a FG/FF coalition: "I think eventually down the road we might have a Fianna Fail/Fine Gael coalition government," Cllr Byrne told theLiberty. "Nobody might have the numbers. It's all about joining hands," she said.

On being a woman in politics: "I am very ambitious. Politics is difficult for women. I have a house and five kids to look after as well. Women politicians have a different approach to men - a more humane type of feeling than men."

On TDs and councillors: She believes it is "a loss to the city council not to have TDs". "Some TDs have been on the council a long time and they have great knowledge to pass on. I have learnt a lot from Gay Mitchell for example."

Cllr Byrne will be running alongside Gay Mitchell in the next general election.

Ciaran Cuffe

Cllr Ciaran Cuffe has been an active member of the Green Party and a city councillor in the South East Inner City for the last 10 years. Cllr Cuffe, who recently became a father, topped the Liberty poll in asking a record-breaking 21 questions at the City Council meetings last year. "I think the local authority should be more responsible and should respond quickly to issues," he said. Cllr Cuffe concentrated on environmental issues concerning the Corporation's policy on tree preservation, the car-free day preparations and the issue of the cleansing of cycle paths. Also on his agenda last year was the trend of children killed or injured in road traffic accidents in Dublin's inner city. He also concentrated on Dublin's traffic problems. However, Cllr Cuffe admits "it is hard to influence the local authority when it comes to transportation because it is a complex issue".

On refugees: "Obviously people are concerned about change within the area. It is a new community now. The general feedback is very welcoming and understanding of the desperate situation some of these people have left. It is very important that we shoulder some of the burden."

On drug abuse: "We should legalise certain 'soft drugs'. The Government does not realise the scale of the problem. Sufficient local drug treatment centres are important. It is fundamentally a social justice issue. Part of addressing the drug issue is the decriminalisation of softer drugs."

On abortion: "Personally, I think we should do everything we can to reduce women travelling abroad to have abortions with such little information, and in very difficult circumstances." Asked if he agreed with abortion he replied, "Let's say I am more pro-choice rather than pro-life, but pro-choice can also be a pro-life decision".

On the timing of next General Election: Cllr Cuffe estimates that the next General Election will be in May or June of this year. He will be running for the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown seat and Green Deputy Mr John Gormley will be running for the South Inner City. "There is not two Green seats in the area. It is the way the political system works. It is the nature of the beast. We don't have the opportunity to do everything in one area."

Kevin Humphreys

Cllr Kevin Humphreys believes being from the inner city gives him an advantage. "I have a unique input in the area as I was born here." Cllr Humphreys asked 17 questions at last year's city council meetings, on subjects ranging from railings on Bishop's St to improved wheelchair access on Clanbrassil St. He also concentrated on the tourism aspect of the south inner city by asking for sign posts the Jewish Museum and George Bernard Shaw's birth place.

"Gary Keegan is only a new councillor since March and I will wait to see how he develops. Ciaran Cuffe is very focused on environmental issues. I've seen no change in Ciaran since his nomination to run as a TD in the Dun Laoighaire/ Rathdown area. As councillors, we endeavor to work well together for the benefit of the community, where party politics are put aside."

Cllr Humphreys believes that the inner city is one the few places left in Dublin where everyone still knows their neighbours. "The crime rate has stabilised. The south inner city is not as unsafe as portrayed in the media."

On drug abuse: "There is no one solution. It has to be tackled by education and housing. The problem is now being considered by central Government, as drugs have started to go out into the nicer suburbs."

On unemployment: "Unemployment has fallen in the inner city. Unfortunately a lot of these low-paid jobs will be lost if the recession comes. Some people have missed education the first time around".

On refugees: "There is too much concentration of refugees within the inner city, so conflict does arise. People see their children waiting years and years to get accommodation in their own locality. Depending on the (housing) allocations, attitudes can go up and down. But there is more acceptance now."

On abortion: "There should be no more referendums on abortion. It has created additional problems. The proper manner is legislation through the Dail - abortion is purely a legislative matter and far too complicated for a constitutional referendum."

On the timing of next General Election: "I don't know when there will be a next General Election. My main concentration is in local government. I have no ambition to run in the next general election."

On local government: "It hasn't enough power. There has to be a clear separation - a dual mandate. TDs should not be allowed to be councillors. Too often, the city council meetings are hi-jacked by Dail Deputies. It is not good for the city."

On a coalition government: "I don't draw the line. I see that there will be a Labour-led gvernment. And whatever party wish to support Labour's policies, we would welcome their support."

Cllr Humphreys supports the idea of broadcasting City Council meetings. "The question of accountability could be brought back to the community," he said.


John Gallagher

A native of the Liberties area, Labour councillor John Gallagher believes "people owe it to their community to be involved and to contribute something back". Cllr Gallagher has always had an interest in politics and was first elected to the council in the last local election.

"I haven't missed a council meeting for the last 20 years, although I was refused entry at one meeting. It is an advantage being actively involved in community affairs. I see it on both levels as a councillor and as a community representative."

Cllr John Gallagher did not ask any questions in last year's City Council meetings. "I ask very few questions. I believe with people you don't do everything for them. You try to tell them what to do - empower them. Advise them to the section of the Corporation that will help them. Encourage them to learn things themselves and let them deal directly with Dublin Corporation officials. Sometimes it is not necessary to say much if you agree with what is happening."

On drug abuse: "The dealing is coming from different parts of the community recently. The police know who it is and are trying to combat it. Many drug addicts in the past were stealing to get heroin and now many are on treatment. Some young people in the area are jumping from softer drugs to cocaine. If this trend continues, it would be a disaster".

On prosperity: "The Celtic Tiger hasn't helped everyone in the area. There has been a situation in the last couple of years where new apartments were brought into the area for professional people. However, in certain flat complexes in the area it hasn't helped everyone. The figures are distorted as a result."

On abortion: "I believe many people who haven't got children would love to adopt. I do not want to impose my view on women, as I am not a mother. If there was more support given to women, there wouldn't be as many abortions."

On housing: "I have five to six people in my office everyday looking for housing. There is simply not enough housing because of the influx of immigrants. The Government has dealt with the housing issue very badly."

On the Corporation: "There has been a change in Dublin Corporation. There now seems to be an effort to involve the community more."

Cllr Gallagher presents bingo every Wenesday in St Nicholas of Myra Community Hall and receives what he calls "a height of abuse" from old age pensioners when he calls the wrong number out. "By mixing with the community you have a better chance of helping them," he believes.

Gary Keegan

At 34, Gary Keegan of Fianna Fail is the youngest councillor in the south-east inner city area. Originally from Baileboro, Co Cavan, Cllr Keegan was co-opted in March, when his FF comrade Eoin Ryan, became a minister of state. He describes his consituency as "very competitive". "There are only three councillors. There is a lot of co-operation within the parties. We work together." But he added that "on the ground it would be myself and Humphreys".

Cllr Keegan believes Labour were "totally irresponsible" and "ran away from an important decision" at the recent political football match over refuse charges. "Labour are struggling. They are grasping at straws just to get the headlines ... and Cllr Tony Gregory behaved disgracefully."

Since March, Cllr Keegan's contribution included questions on a range of subjects, from clamping to wheelchair access to libraries to beer keg restrictions in Temple Bar. "My bottom line is to improve the quality of life for people," Cllr Keegan said. "I couldn't be any more active. I go to every meeting I know about. Physically I don't think I can do any more."

On representation: "Community groups are not necessarily representative of the people. I am not dependent on community groups for information."

On refugees: "I am happy they are now being allowed to work. I know people still have a problem with them ... if they come here to work and not to live off social welfare, then yes we need these people here."

On abortion: "It should be limited. I don't want an abortion clinic in every street and town in Ireland. That makes it too easy."

On a FG/FF coalition government: "Not a chance, that's exactly what Labour want. Sometimes the whole bureaucracy of the (Dublin Corporation) system is very frustrating."

Fianna Fail councillor Mary Mooney declined to be interviewed by the Liberty as she was "too busy".

Attendance rate at city council meetings: Jan-Dec 2000

The councillors in the south west and east inner city have a great attendance rate at the city council meetings. There were 16 meetings for Dublin Corporation last year, including emergency meetings.

Catherine Byrne: 15

Ciaran Cuffe: 16

John Gallagher: 16

Kevin Humphreys: 16

Gary Keegan: 14
(co-opted in March)

Mary Mooney: 16