13 September 2000 Edition
Building the Equality Agenda in Cabra
Nicky Kehoe, Dublin City councillor, explains what makes Sinn Féin different as a party.
Every week, once or even twice a week, 30 to 40 people who have worked with Dublin City Councillor Nicky Kehoe go to doors with leaflets telling people what's going on. They keep residents informed of the answers he received to his council questions. These range from what happened on the area committee, news about lights, crossings and traffic, about an outbreak of meningitis in school, the school warden service, house building, playgrounds, child care, etc. ``People can't have a say unless they know what is going on,'' says Nicky.
It goes on and on. Lorraine O'Reilly is one of those who work tirelessly in the area. She hands over a sheaf of the latest leaflets - teeming with ideas for change and news of what is happening. ``We meet together every few weeks. We talk about ideas for the area, what's happening on the council,'' she says. ``We talk about policy for housing, for transport, the development in the city, where you can't move for the traffic jams. We talk about refugees, what's Sinn Fein's policy. The papers have people all wound up to think the refugees get £200 a week and drink money on top. They don't. They get £15 plus board, and they're not allowed to work.''
``You mustn't substitute the machine for the politics, for people,'' Nicky, a former republican prisoner, says. ``You have to draw people together. Jail teaches you that. To listen to them. To be flexible, and not use power to rub people up the wrong way.''
Regularly they go to canvass doors. ``Nicky Kehoe's here. Is there anything you want to bring up with him?''
``We stopped them building a bridge over the river which would bring all the traffic down the Fassaugh Avenue here,'' Lorraine says. Ban the Bridge. A hundred of us stood up at the roundabout one evening. Then soon after that, the Corpo said they weren't going to build a bridge after all. It's the people who won. They just said `No, We're not having it'.
``There are so many positive things that can be done in Dublin city,'' says Nicky. ``We should have a Municipal Art Gallery on Corporation Street. Why don't they pedestrianise O'Connell Street? We need proper transport, a public transport system and a start on the LUAS. They need to have a housing authority. Look, here is a list of 45 families looking for housing last week, which I took into the Corpo, everyone of them. We're looking for the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin to give up some of the church lands in the city for social housing. Christy Burke has been fighting that in the council for years. The council can't CPO Church lands. Someone just rang up just now. She'd old, and broke her hip. She's lying on a trolley in casualty. They want Nicky to do something. That's a disgrace. People lying on trolleys because they've no beds.''
And so he goes on - a floo of ideas, of what needs done. More than enough for 24 hours. They don't stop, Nicky and his wife Marie. ``I haven't all the answers,'' Nicky admits. ``I am a builder, not an architect, but I'm on the Planning and Economic Development SPC (Strategic Policy Committee) and I can keep fighting to make sure the people's views get taken into account. We want economic properity and jobs for everyone, but not by trampling all over our community.''
But what can you do on the council when the voting pact which Labour and Fianna Fáil have can out-vote you everytime? What's the point?
``The council is changing a lot,'' says Nicky. ``The area committees have made a great difference to getting things that people want done. We have to get the Corpo officials to pay attention to the people, not just some but all the people. It's inclusive politics
``That is empowerment. That moves us towards equality. That's the fight we are all involved in - for the republic that they all sold out on down the years. It's simply about enabling the people: building hope against all the corruption, against the place seekers, the vote getters, and endlessly frustrated hopes against a vision for an equal voice - equality. That's what the peace process has shown - that the minority, looking for justice, for equality, can win through.''
Well, and what about drugs meetings with 1,000 to 2,000 people at them? It's easy, after all, to turn a large crowd against drug addicts, a witch-hunt against the `anti-socials'. They could have been our sons, after all?
Nicky tackles this one straight. ``See the drugs. We didn't know where we were going. So we got it down to three things: stop the dealing; facilities for the addicts and educate the kids. Drugs are killing people, even after 20 years of it. It needs to be treated as an emergency, we have to have units where addicts can get treatment set up in every hospital, and there have to be facilities for these kids to rebuild their lives - methadone is not enough. And the Gardai - they were on the platform and took awful hard words from the people - We're not the police force. And again there is no point in being bitter against them either. Bitterness turns you and you're like them. They didn't want to work with us, saw it all as counter-insurgency, but we're elected and they have to.''
And he goes on: ``It's our relationship with the people that makes us different. We're not looking to tell people, but to listen to people. That's the difference, and to listen to people, well you have to be near them, to be there.''