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25 June 2009 Edition

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THE WICKLOW WAY: Sinn Féin Town and County Councillor John Brady

FIGHTING TALK: Gerry Adams and John Brady (centre) talk to worried Wicklow residents about the cuts in education

FIGHTING TALK: Gerry Adams and John Brady (centre) talk to worried Wicklow residents about the cuts in education

On the ground, the sky’s the limit

SINN FÉIN made definite breakthroughs throughout the 26 Counties in the recent local elections. County Wicklow is an example, securing three town council and two county council seats. The party’s growth in Wicklow took off in 2004 when Sinn Féin got its first elected representatives since the 1970s. COUNCILLOR JOHN BRADY of Bray Town and County Wicklow talks to ELLA O’DWYER about the teamwork and hard graft that harvested the result.

WHILE the big news from Wicklow is the election of two Sinn Féin county councillors, John Brady and John Snell, the story doesn’t start there.
“We’ve pulled a great team together in Wicklow in recent years,” Brady recounts, “and we did very well here in the local elections. I contested Bray Town Council, running in Bray South, and my party colleague, Rossa Murray, stood in Bray West. We were both elected. I took the second seat in Bray South (only two votes short of topping the poll) and Rossa took the second seat in Bray West.”
Sinn Féin’s Eamon Long retained his seat on Wicklow Town Council, being elected on the fourth count. “Eamon did fantastic for us. It was myself and Eamon who made the breakthrough in 2004 when we were both elected.”
Katherine Hannon Kennedy stood in Bray East, making more inroads. It was the first time Sinn Féin contested that constituency for the town council so, as John says, it too was “history in the making”.
Gerry O’Neill increased the party vote in Baltinglass and Anthony McCoy won 3.4% of the vote in Greystones.
The county’s results are not to be frowned upon by any means and the icing on the cake was John Brady and John Snell taking two seats on Wicklow County Council. It was a big breakthrough in ‘The Garden of Ireland’ and the result of hard graft and patient persistence.
“Back in 2004, I took the first republican town council seat in Bray since Seamus Costello in 1977,” John Brady recalls.
“I admired Seamus, who’s still held in high regard here in Bray. He was a person for the people and a very strong voice on the town council.
“I grew up in a housing estate in Bray called Old Court. When it was being built in the 1970s, Seamus Costello tried to get the development stopped because he foresaw the problems it would bring. It was built during the housing crises of the 1970s as a short-term solution to provide temporary accommodation. Seamus saw that once the estate was built it would stay.
“How right he was about that and about the problems that would arise down the road. The buildings in Old Court were faulty, especially in terms of fire safety, and when they redeveloped the estate in the 1980s, those faults were just reinforced.
“That estate is a death-trap fire-wise and there have been a number of fatalities in the estate over the years through fires. It was badly built in the first place.”
The Fire Service has been an issue associated with Wicklow over recent years.
“We’ve been working with the families of two firefighters who died here 18 months ago – Mark O’Shaughnessy and Brian Murray. We’ve been raising the issue around Bray Fire Service over the years. The fire service is run by the county council.”
The fire services in Bray have been operating a system known as ‘call vetting’, where they operate with ‘retained’ or part-time fire fighters.
“We’ve had some absurd situations here where a house is on fire and a neighbour might ring, and yer man on the phone will say ‘Will you go out and make sure it’s a fire?’ Sometimes they’ll send out a patrol first to double-check before they call out the retained fire fighters.
“Retained fire fighters are not full-time. They’re only on call. They might be working in other jobs which means that when they get the call on the bleeper they have to go to the fire station and get kitted up before they can even start going to the site of the fire. It’s a cost-saving exercise which has led to many fatalities. It all comes down to money.
“We’ve been campaigning for a 32-county fire authority funded by the state to manage firefighting. That would mean taking the servce away from local authorities and a stand-alone agency being set up with total control of finances for the fire services and allocate funding where needed.”
As with all constituencies, another priority issue for Wicklow at this time is employment. “The priority has to be job-creation and retention, particularly in north Wicklow – the Bray region – where unemployment has shot up by 130% in the last 12 months alone. It’s creeping towards the 5,000 mark now.” 
John Brady believes that elected representation at council level can open further doors down the line.
“A Dáil seat would be the ultimate objective. But for now it’s important to give a voice to the people of Wicklow – and who knows what can happen?
“We built on the breakthrough of the 2004 local elections, when Eamon and I took town council seats. Once you’re working on the ground and tipping away there, the sky is the limit. People acknowledge that the work is being done. It’s evidence that bigger things can happen.”
The Wicklow Sinn Féin team are very upbeat after their recent successes, and justifiably so.
“We put in a fantastic campaign here in Wicklow and we had a great team behind us; a great director of elections, Jason Doyle, and Mick O’Brien of the Organisational Development Unit.”
The support team and the calibre of the candidates aside, John returns to the theme of the daily graft – the work on the ground.
“It’s all about working with the community – empowering them to help themselves. That’s what we’re about in Sinn Féin – empowering people. We need to get more and more involved in community activism. That’s where you’ll see party development in the future.”

TEAM WICKLOW: The Wicklow Sinn Féin candidates with Kathleen Funchion and Pat Doherty 


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