The Fianna Fail pre-election battle bus rolled into Malahide last week, as the party held its two-day think-in at the Grand Hotel for its Oireachtas members, as well as supporters and local councillors.
Dublin Gazette spoke with party leader Micheal Martin and the party’s two general election candidates for the local Dublin Fingal constituency, sitting TD Darragh O’Brien and Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee.
First up was party leader, Micheal Martin, who was confident of landing the two seats.
He said: “It will be a challenge, but we’re confident of winning two seats. We’re mindful of the challenge, which will require a huge effort on behalf of the members.
“I have been out canvassing with both Darragh [O’Brien] and Lorraine [Clifford Lee] in the constituency and the reaction has been very positive.
“Darragh is a very strong political representative with a huge profile and Lorraine is gaining ground all of the time.”
When asked if the Confidence and Supply (C&S) arrangement Fianna Fail has with Fine Gael has damaged the party in the eyes of its members, Deputy Martin said: ”Most people welcome the fact that Fianna Fail gave stability to the country when it was needed.
“We laid down policies that we wanted implemented, in return for us facilitating the formation of a government.
“TDs are not coming to me complaining about C&S, as some believe.”
Deputy Darragh O’Brien was asked about his vision for Dublin Fingal for the upcoming general election.
He said: “My vision for Fingal is that we’ve got to be fundamentally able to provide affordable homes for people. People from this constituency who are paying exorbitant rents, and childcare costs, can’t afford to save for a house and are trapped in a rip-off rental market.
“I would like to be the next Housing Minister, to deliver affordable housing for working people. That’s my number-one priority.”
In response to a question about why, as an outspoken critic of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, and as the main Opposition spokesperson on Housing, he did not support the Sinn Fein motion of no-confidence in the minister.
He said: “The fact is that a no-confidence motion is not going to provide one single house, or save one person from being evicted from private rental accommodation, or one house from being repossessed.
“No matter what Fine Gael minister is there, it won’t make any difference. Fine Gael don’t think that the State should intervene. Instead, they think it should be left to the market. We believe that the State needs to lead and to intervene.
“So really, a no-confidence motion is a symbolic gesture put forward by Sinn Fein that would have no effect on policy whatsoever.
“Schools provision is also critical and we hear that kids are starting school at six years of age in Rush and Lusk, because we haven’t provided the schools for the growing population.”
On BusConnects, he said: “This would be a disaster for north county Dublin and if this is implemented, there’s no question that people will be isolated.
“That the Government are proposing to reduce public transport in this area – it’s bonkers; it makes no sense at all.”
On Metro plans, he said: “After multiple promises by the Government, we still have no Metro. It is still in the planning stage – no DART to Balbriggan. Public transport is worse than it was 10 years ago.
“Metro cannot go on stilts through Swords – it would destroy the place.
“I have engaged already with the NTA, along with local councillors, Darragh Butler, Adrian Henchy and Eoghan O’Brien, and I am quite confident that the changes, removing the stilts option and bringing it underground [are best].
“The housing problem can be solved by supply and affordability over both public and private housing. The Taoiseach was totally wrong to place the blame for housing on local authorities.
“The Government needs to take the shackles off Fingal County Council and provide more money and let them at it. Leo Varadkar and Eoghan Murphy blaming the four local authorities in Dublin for their failings is pathetic.”
On the Greater Dublin Drainage Scheme’s plan to dump sewage off the Portmarnock coast, he said: “Cllr Eoghan O’Brien and myself have led the campaign with local community activists in Portmarnock and Baskin, getting 14,000 objection signatures to the original consultation.
“One positive thing is that the project has now been reduced to a one million-person equivalent plant, to a 500,000-person equivalent plant.
“There are alternatives to this plant. There are 15 treatment plants in Fingal, all treating waste locally.
“There is an 80,000-person equivalent plant in Portrane, where the local community campaigned to have a plant there, instead of a monster sewage treatment plant.”
On the DART to Balbriggan, he said: The DART hasn’t been extended and it should be. We are at capacity at Connolly station. You cannot get any more trains in per hour to the city.
“What is badly needed is a new inter-connector in the city. The DART to Balbriggan and on to Drogheda make complete sense, but it can only happen if the inter-connector happens, and I will be pushing this hard, prior to a general election.”
When asked if Fianna Fail would consider a coalition with Sinn Fein if the figures stack up after the election, given the new leadership within Sinn Fein, Deputy O’Brien was crystal-clear.
“There is no earthly way that this scenario will happen. We have been very definite about this always, so you can take it that this is a non-runner.”
Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee was asked if the fact that she is not a native of the constituency, albeit living in Donabate, would be a disadvantage.
She said: “That may have been an argument a number of years ago, but I contested the 2016 General Election and performed very well, narrowly missing out on a seat.
“My husband was born and raised here in Malahide, so I have very strong family connections here.
“Since the last general election, I have been performing very well in the constituency, working very hard, knocking on doors and meeting people through my clinics, so I don’t think that will be an issue.”
When asked if, as a resident of Donabate, she was happy that proper infrastructure is planned to cope with the significant building projects that are planned for the area, she said: “The Distributor Road is progressing very well at present and this is a very important piece of infrastructure.
“I think that until that is up and running, we cannot proceed with any further construction on the peninsula.
“There’s an extra school planned and I will be asking the Minister for Education to push ahead with those plans.
“It will be 2020 before a new primary school is opened, which is badly needed, especially with the expected increase in population.
“The train service in Donabate, which is at capacity by the time it reaches Donabate station, is another major issue. If you have a further 1,200 houses there, you can assume that there will be a further 1,000 commuters which will be trying to access trains.
“BusConnects is another cause for concern, because many people don’t use the train, relying on the bus.
“The plans that are there at present don’t take into consideration where the construction in Donabate will be – down at Ballymastone.”
She is also seeking an increased garda presence in Donabate, without necessarily having a garda station there.
“There are issues in Donabate, as there are everywhere, but as this is a peninsula and subject to isolation.
“The area is a good distance from Swords, Malahide and Rush stations; it is a worry not to have an increased garda presence.”
When asked about the issues that are important to her coming up to a general election, she said: “I will be looking at cost of living issues all across north county Dublin.
“We’re the youngest and fastest-growing constituency in the country and issues around childcare are very important, as well as transport and housing, which will be top of my agenda.
“People living here want to access education, as well as job opportunities and there needs to be an infrastructure for job development and job growth in north county Dublin.”