1 October 2010
INTERVIEW: Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Dessie Ellis
Dessie can do it
DESSIE ELLIS is organised. Very organised. He has to be. His desk in his constituency office in Finglas (part of his house) is covered in constituents’ case forms.
They’re in neat, segregated piles, according to their type. I give up counting them when I reach 38. And that’s without those in working files on the desk behind him.
When I turned up for the interview with An Phoblacht at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning, there was already a constituent in with Dessie about an issue. As I was putting my coat on to leave, just half an hour later, there was a young mother waiting anxiously to see him. In between, I had to wait while he followed up one telephone enquiry about progress with Environmental Health on the smell and flies coming from a plant near Jamestown Road and upsetting families nearby, swiftly followed by another about helping a local soccer team.
That was just the start of the day for Dessie. He’s usually in the office from 9:30am to 4pm unless he’s called out to meetings or visiting people.
“I don’t think you can push someone’s case as effectively if you haven’t seen it first-hand and have a clear picture of it,” Dessie says. It’s time-consuming but that’s what Dessie does.
Dessie keeps fit and sane with his love of karate. He has a Third Dan ranking (one of the highest) so it’s no wonder he’s a formidable force and full of confidence in taking on the authorities. I wouldn’t argue with him!
The Dáil constituency of Dublin North-West is a huge area. Most outsiders would identify it with the overwhelmingly working-class areas of Finglas and Ballymun. Dessie used to run a TV shop in Finglas Village in the 1970s and 1980s and was one of the very few who would rent TV sets to people from the towers and flats in Ballymun in an era when people couldn’t afford their own. The constituency spreads beyond, though, taking in parts of Glasnevin, Whitehall and Santry and runs up to Lanesboro, Turnapin and Dublin Airport on its northern boundary. He was elected to Dublin City Council in 1999 and it’s no wonder Dessie’s job is one for six days a week.
There’s been “a huge increase” in social welfare enquiries, he says, but there’s also more delays in claims being processed, especially Medical Cards. “Maybe it’s because of staff embargoes but offices also seem to be making more demands on people seeking their entitlements. Everything is slower.”
While dealing with individual cases and getting much-needed funding support for clubs and voluntary groups are the bread and butter of every councillor, Sinn Féin in the area takes campaigning politics on the streets, out to the shopping centres and door to door.
“It’s important that people are reminded of the bigger picture, of who and what are behind the conditions they live in and the effects that things like billions for the banks, Anglo Irish, privatisation and cuts in services will have for our communities. They have to be shown an alternative.”
In the last few weeks, Sinn Féin members across the constituency have set up stalls lobbying against water charges or collecting petitions against ESB cut-offs and price hikes at Charlestown Shopping Centre, Centra in Ballymun, Main Street in Ballymun, Dunnes Stores in Finglas and Finglas Village.
“You have to get out there. Nothing beats that personal contact.”
Dessie gets angry when I ask about the media’s portrayal of Finglas as some sort of no-go area and synonymous with crime and gangsters.
“There’s no no-go areas,” Dessie says determinedly, “unlike the media would have you believe.
“The trouble is in small pockets and caused mainly by a few families,” Dessie says, “but for most of the people here there’s nothing like that happening. In fact, there’s a huge number of families originally from Finglas who want to move back.”
He has little time for the media and the way they sensationalise out of proportion things that happen in Finglas and Ballymun.
“I’ll ring up and chase down journalists who write articles that distort the picture in Finglas and Ballymun. I’ve no problem with factual reporting but sloppy journalism for a cheap headline that has a real effect on the lives of people living here and kids growing up and coming from here I won’t accept. I’m straight on the phone to the reporters responsible.”
Budget cuts won’t help services trying to keep young people out of trouble and give them not just hope but jobs with prospects, Dessie points out. He pays tribute to organisations like the Finglas Youth & Resource Centre, The Den in Finglas, St Helena’s Resource Centre, The Reco in Ballymun and “a huge number of individuals, tenants’ and residents’ associations, voluntary groups and football clubs, childcare providers and suicide counselling supports who do tremendous work”.
Dessie is a member of the Local Drugs Task Force so he knows the situation first-hand.
“We were making progress across a whole number of areas to improve people’s lives but now were facing cutbacks in funds for the LDTF and the Partnership companies set up to sustain community development.
“The fabric of our communities is being eaten away at by cuts imposed by Fianna Fáil and we have two Fianna Fáil TDs here - one a minister at the Cabinet table making cuts - who are members of that government,” Dessie says.
“They’re part of that Government and there’s no getting away from that.”
Dessie is born and bred in the area. That’s what fires his passion in where he’s been reared and still lives.
“I can’t remember anyone over the 11 years I’ve been elected getting up in the Dáil and standing up for Finglas and Ballymun and the vast majority of decent people living and working here. I’ve done that at City Council level but there needs to be someone inside and outside the Dáil who can do that. As a Sinn Féin TD, I can do that as well.”
Contact Dessie Ellis
Office: Tuesday to Friday (9:30am to 12:30pm), 19 Dunsink Road, Finglas
Clinic: Thursdays (6pm to 7pm), Axis Centre, Ballymun
Telephone: 834 3390 Mobile: 086 854 1941
Email: [email protected]