Dublin Central is the cockpit of Ireland’s politics. It has changed shape often over the last few decades but currently takes in the inner city and inner suburbs of Dublin, but only on the North side. The constituency has an electorate of 62,180 and is served by four deputies, following the death of Tony Gregory, which necessitates the by-election.
The Gregory Factor
The senior politicians at the last election were Bertie Ahern and Tony Gregory who had been contesting the seat since 1982, with Ahern around since 1977. They intensely disliked each other, probably dating back to when Bertie’s boys added ‘H-Block candidate’ to Gregory posters in middle-class suburbs. All this was disguised by Bertiespeak about what great friends they were, but the clearest evidence for Bertie’s real attitude is that he spoke to every independent TD in the whole state about forming the current coalition, except Gregory. In recompense Bertie was crucified by Gregory’s machine in speeches at his funeral. Maureen O’Sullivan was cheered when she noted, “his funeral is not a photo opportunity”.
Gregory and Ahern were both hard workers with a prodigious knowledge of their constituency. Gregory was a class warrior and Ahern a consensualist. And Gregory was sincere and often sociopathic, whereas Bertie is insincere and pathologically sociable. I served ten years on the Corpo’s Historic Area Rejuvenation Project (HARP) committee, which handled the area between Collins Barracks and O’Connell St. Gregory was all over every inch of the place, formidable in defence of the parochial interests of his “Community” constituency. Initially he was hostile to my approach, which was to try to get the officials to lean heavily on developers to serve the public interest. My system-based approach didn’t appear authentic enough to him, so he characteristically avoided eye contact. On occasions he would outmanoeuvre me, just because he could; and he’d get very annoyed if I attacked the officials, presumably because he needed them to deliver on his own agenda. In return for this they would give him nearly everything he asked for – as long at least as it didn’t subvert the developers. In the end he mellowed towards me and I socialised with him several times over the years. He was worth the wait and I came to like him. A pintsman with a love of foreign holidays and more interest in the conversation of young women than in any other form of company. He was one of the most unshakeable defenders of his community, a dedicated, articulate and intelligent public servant and a well-rounded if sceptical human being. Many in Dublin Central will be seeking a clone of Gregory. Regrettably there is none.
Cllr O’Sullivan was Tony Gregory’s election agent for thirty years and styles herself “the Gregory candidate”, carrying on his legacy for “equality of opportunity, community empowerment and fairness”. She is an intrepid, well-spoken and hard-working teacher but lacks his charisma and aggression.
In 1987, Gregory and Sinn Fein’s Christy Burke spent two weeks in Mountjoy Prison after protesting in support of Moore St street traders. Like Gregory he focuses on Drugs, Social Housing and Education. He listens to, and represents, his community in an extraordinarily dedicated way. These guys must put in twelve hour days on behalf of their constituents. Burke chaired the HARP committee for some years after Gregory stepped down. Somewhat less charismatic and more inscrutable than Gregory he also appears less nuanced or humorous. He always referred to me as Mr Smith with just a hint of menace. He is also dealing with an unfortunate allegation from Tom Gilmartin at the Mahon Tribunal that he was one of three men who said they were from the IRA and warned him to stay away from Clondalkin. Burke claims this is mistaken identity. Cllr Burke is pinning his hopes on long-time supporters of Gregory opting for him over Maureen O’Sullivan or, at least, that he will benefit from her transfers if she is eliminated first.
Maurice Ahern is a Fianna Fáil councillor and the forgettable Millennial Lord Mayor of Dublin. He is a former Alderman and is the former Leader of the Fianna Fáil group on the council. And Oh yes … he goes running and he’s 70. That’s it for Maurice. Even his website can’t say anything else. He did do some honourable work on behalf of the Malahide Community Council which took some brave actions in the planning arena, but that will not play particularly well in Dublin Central. The main thing about Maurice is that Bertie is his brother and owes him one for not getting him onto the ticket in Dublin North in 2002 or into the Seanad in 2007. Bertie, remember, brought in his second-rate minder, Cyprian Brady, on transfers in the last general election, even though Brady polled only 2.71% of the first-preference vote. So Bertie still matters. His intervention at a crucial meeting of 250 the day before the convention was crucial to secure Maurice’s nomination over Mary Fitzpatrick, the best FF hope for the seat at the next general election who was famously shafted by Bertie at the last election.
The former Taoiseach wanted to postpone the by-election. But party headquarters aims to bury likely failure amid the fallout of the European polls. By lowering expectations, Bertie is hoping to manage the fallout from a loss but he clearly intends to keep the St Luke’s boys in place anyway to fight another day perhaps with a big name like GAA celebrity, Dessie Farrell. For the moment it is significant that few government ministers are pounding the doorsteps in aid of the udder brudder. None of this suggests Maurice would be anything other than a mistake unless the political priority, for Ireland as it enters a vortex, is to be reminded of a sort of faded Bertie.
The Green Party’s Geary is originally from Limerick but lives in Stoneybatter and is a solicitor. He now works in the renewable energy sector. He was legal spokesman for the Irish Alliance for Europe during the 2008 Lisbon Treaty campaign and is currently Chairman of the EU Committee of the Law Society. A coolish cucumber he delivered himself of a wide-ranging if rather under-passionate vision of Dublin Central at the recent Green party convention.
The Workers Party Candidate is a republican socialist who wants to “bring class politics to the fore”, despite being a solicitor, and focuses on crime, drugs, housing and opposition to Lisbon.
The Immigration Control Platform candidate, a native Dubliner, believes mass immigration and multiculturalism have been forced on us undemocratically by the establishment. Vote Irish.
Fine Gael’s Senator Paschal Donohoe is the generally accepted frontrunner in the race. He returned in 2002 from a senior job in Procter and Gamble in England – to a moribund Fine Gael, driven apparently by little more than a zeal for the common good and a worryingly-nebulous “desire to use my real-life experience of the economy to make a contribution to developing solutions to our national problems”. He had also contracted traces of an English accent, exacerbated by a slight speech impediment. He performed creditably (9%) in the 2007 general election and used his subsequent Seanad election to work full-time in his constituency, unlike treble-jobbing Ivan Bacik. He lives in Phibsborough and is the vaunted Chair of the Ireland’s Future in Europe Oireachtas Sub-Committee. He has left Enda Kenny off his campaign brochure and has instead hitched his star to Richard Bruton – who has regularly been canvassing with him. His position is precarious, though he is certainly talented and fresh: Dublin Central is a combination of working-class Dubs and progressive blow-ins. Fine Gael does not have a history of a significant presence there and the last big-names on their ticket were then Minister Jim Higgins in the 1990s who lost his seat in 2002; and ultra-social-conservative Alice Glenn in the nineteen-eighties. There may simply not be enough middle-class suburbs to feed a Donohoe victory.
Ivana Bacik is a Senator for Trinity where she is Reid Professor of Law. She practises as a barrister and represented, for example, Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan over non-recognition of their same-sex marriage by the Revenue Commissioners – which is currently under appeal. She is known in particular for her gratingly high media profile and for her long-term clear and honest advocacy of safe and legal abortion. She has been described as “Labour’s queen of political correctness”. She is strong on policies, favouring decriminalising cannabis, state-funded childcare, free contraception, stricter environmental regulation, and a climate change bill, expanded social housing programmes, extended paid parental leave, state funding of political campaigns, gay rights (including same-sex marriage) and a publicly-funded health care service, “based on need, not means”. She was vociferous in opposing savage cuts to the Equality Authority. Implicitly criticising Senator Bacik, who does not live in Dublin Central, Cllr Christy Burke has said: “I’ll still be in the constituency the morning after the election representing my constituents in Dublin Central.” Bacik is a very progressive sort of candidate but in this poor and often complicated constituency he has a point.
It is likely that after Talbot and Steenson, the Greens will be eliminated and, although none of the candidates has been clear as to where they hope their transfers would go, these transfers will probably go to left-wing candidates, Bacik and O’Sullivan, rather than to Fine Gael. We predict that Christy Burke will then be eliminated with transfers going to O’Sullivan. Ahern will be eliminated leaving O’Sullivan, Donohoe, and Bacik to battle it out. It is likely that a sense will develop over the next weeks of which of these candidates has steel in their political spine.
Outside the national personalities of Gregory and Ahern, Dublin Central has tended to be a stew for neophytes. Patricia McKenna and Mary Lou McDonald attest to this. Despite its glamorous name the constituency rewards candidates with a track-record of progressive hard-work, not middle-class do-gooders. G