16 July 2009 Edition
INTERVIEW: Larry O'Toole, new Sinn Féin group leader on Dublin City Council
Running a tight ship in Dublin
SHORTLY after last month’s local elections, where LARRY O’TOOLE topped the poll in Artane/Whitehall, he was appointed the new Sinn Féin group leader on Dublin City Council. He tells ELLA O’DWYER about what he hopes to bring to the role, the priority issues for Sinn Féin on Dublin City Council and the desirability of an ‘Alliance of the Left’.
THE group leader’s role is an important one, as Larry points out.
“It’s important in that as group leader I can help ensure a united front amongst Sinn Féin colleagues on the council. We need to be running a tight ship while at the same time working with other parties to deliver on our policies.
“Most importantly, we must be politics and policy driven. We need to have a kind of a mission – we need to be looking at our Sinn Féin local government manifesto and be guided by that and to drive that manifesto. While that has been happening all along, I think we could be tighter on policy.”
For the term ahead Sinn Féin has a number of key priorities.
“The priorities for Sinn Féin on Dublin City council now are housing, traffic and public transport, protecting the city environs in terms of preventing any more bad planning and getting people back living in the inner city. We need to get it to be more of a living city. Over the years a lot of people have been moved out of the inner city. There was a time when people lived above shops rather than move out of the centre of Dublin. We want to see the regeneration of Dublin’s inner city.”
A long-standing trade union activist as well as a respected republican across the political spectrum, Larry is a strong advocate of Sinn Féin’s participation in an alliance with like-minded parties and people on the Left.
“I believe that it’s time for a Left alliance at Dublin City Council. We can work with like-minded people on the Left – be it the trade unions, Labour or whoever is in line with our own policies.
“We have had a number of positive meetings with the Labour Party since the election and will continue to engage positively with Labour and others to develop a policy-led agenda for change. We believe that working together we can deliver real change in our city.
“It is time for Dublin City Council to stand up for Dubliners and put all the people of the city first.”
With the recession and the resultant collapse in funding available to the council there are big challenges for Sinn Féin councillors.
“The challenges are tremendous. There’s been a several million shortfall in funding with cuts left, right and centre so it’s not just central government that’s attacking the most vulnerable but the council is too.
“There have been cutbacks say in the provision of adaptations for people with disabilities, meaning that disabled people needing adaptations to be made in their living accommodation won’t get them.
“It’s the same in the area of housing maintenance. Dublin City Council has produced a new housing maintenance policy in an effort to duck its responsibility to maintain its own properties. Maintenance will no longer be carried out for tenants in arrears of more than six weeks. This is simply a way of intimidating council tenants. If repairs were carried out in less than six weeks after they have been requested it would be a far better use of Council resources than chasing people living in substandard accommodation in need of repair for a few euros. These are issues facing ordinary people every day.”
With six city councillors, Sinn Féin has a councillor on each committee along with one chair – Killian Forde of the Finance Committee; Críona Ní Dhálaigh on the Planning Committee; Louise Minihan on the Housing Committee; Dessie Ellis on Environment; Seamus McGrattan on Art, Culture and Youth Affairs; and Larry on Transport.
“We’re fortunate to have six councillors because we have each a committee covered.”
There’s a proposal for creating a directly-elected mayor of Dublin in 2011. The mayor would be elected by the people as opposed to by the council but Larry has reservations.
“I have reservations on the whole thing. There’s a danger that the mayor could be no more than a kind of presidential figure with no real political power. They would be paid a big salary plus accommodation without being really able to deliver.
“Unlike London, where the Ken Livingstones of this world can make a political impact, the problem with Dublin is that political power is too centralised. All the real authority rests in central government rather than in local government. This affects the ability to secure and allocate funds locally.
“Over the years the powers of local government have been gradually diluted by successive governments.”
Larry was very involved in the Save Moore Street campaign and is appalled by the overall planning surrounding the proposed development.
“This development will cut across the yards of the houses in the terrace which in effect form part of the heritage site. The development would be completely out of character with O’Connell Street and would change the Moore Street we know.
“The houses would be dwarfed and the whole character of the area lost forever. But Sinn Féin on our own are too small a group on the council to have been able to halt the development so we could only put forward our objections and support the Save Moore Street campaign. I’m afraid the development could probably go ahead.”
Always a battler, Larry is looking forward to the challenge ahead for Sinn Féin councillors and the party in the capital.
“We’re taking stock now and we have to get Sinn Féin back to where it was, as a campaigning party active on the ground and fighting in the council chambers and city halls to get local authority services to deliver tangible results for people on the ground.
“Sinn Féin in Dublin are going to make an impact.”
PEOPLE FIRST: Larry O’ Toole with Helen McCormack and Denise Mitchell
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.