Election 2020: the view from Dublin Bay North

Councillor John Lyons running for election in Dublin Bay North, pictured in the evening on a ladder, smiling as he lifts a post with a large poster of his head and shoulders, on which is written Vote No.1, Cllr John Lyons, Independent Left.
Councillor John Lyons is running for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North and has a real chance of a seat.

Nine days into the campaign, how does the picture look for Independent Left?

When senior Fine Gael members took the decision to dissolve the Dáil on 14 January and began campaigning for a general election campaign they were feeling complacent. The other parties were looking towards a May date and were caught without election materials to hand, while Leo Varadkar had his posters up before the election had officially begun. The timing seemed right, not least because Fine Gael anticipated benefiting from the fact that Varadkar appeared impressive beside Boris Johnson in the negotiations around Brexit and the Northern Assembly was up and running again, with the Irish government having played a part in this.

Moreover, in the champagne bubble that surrounds Fine Gael, the world looks extremely positive: the number of millionaires in Ireland has increased by a third since 2013, to 78,000 and these millionaires are paying income tax at the same rate as people earning the average wage. Many of Ireland’s wealthy are landlords (a third of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail TDs are landlords) and are enjoying a growth in their incomes from tenants who are desperately squeezed. In North County Dublin, average rents rose by 5.6% in 2019 to €1,728, having risen by 11% in 2018.

With unemployment below 5% and economic growth levels relatively healthy compared to the rest of Europe (around 5% in 2019 and a predicted 4% for 2020), Fine Gael strategists rubbed their hands and set out for what they assumed would be a very good election for them.

In fact, it is going to be a very bad one.

The problem with elections, from a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail point of view, is that you have to go outside the champagne bubble and listen to voices that don’t normally concern you. And while the 78,000 millionaires are powerful voices and highly networked to these parties in the day-to-day running of Irish society, they are vastly outnumbered when an election takes place.

Fine Gael suffering a backlash in Dublin Bay North

By now, Fine Gael have discovered that there exists a huge body of people who far from enjoying increased prosperity are suffering enormously. For the majority of people in Ireland in 2020, life is extremely stressful. Yes, we have jobs. But the money we earn disappears into rents and mortgages, into childcare, into bills, including medical ones when the services we need urgently aren’t there. Everywhere, there is pressure on our living standards and obvious neglect of public services, especially health, education and transport. And alongside these very immediate causes of stress is the wider issue of a planet that is getting distinctly warmer and jeopardising our futures and that of our children.

Not one person has mentioned Brexit or the Northern Assembly in our canvassing. We hear awful stories of long waits for health services, which bear out the figures that, for example, that Dublin North has 2,400 children on the waiting list for speech and language therapy (in contrast to the waiting list of 10 for Dun Laoghaire, and 0 for Dublin South East).

The anger at Fine Gael is palpable and while Richard Bruton’s seat is safe (Dublin Bay North has its affluent areas and in a constituency that voted heavily for Same Sex Marriage and Repeal, the government might get some credit for those referenda), he won’t be able to bring home Catherine Noone.

Fianna Fail share the blame for deprivation and neglect in parts of the constituency

A lot of the same anger is directed at Fianna Fail too, understandably given the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement that meant Fianna Fail propped up Fine Gael. It’s very common to hear a mistrust of politicians all together from those we canvass. And for communities in Dublin Bay North that have experienced far more than a decade of neglect such anger is entirely justified. In the circles that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail move, there is no consequence for creating pockets of real poverty, desperately poor services, feeble civic amenities, or schools deprived of facilities. For the rest of us, an approach which has favoured the wealthy has resulted in very severe consequences. There has been a rise in drug use and in the appeal of criminal gangs for young, disenfranchised people. Many people have said they are afraid to go out of their homes and there are parents in parts of Dublin Bay North that simply cannot let their children run out and play, instead they take buses to get to safer areas. And since Fianna Fail are as complicit in the creation of these circumstances as Fine Gael, they are not likely to be able to bring in Deirdre Heney, though Sean Haughey is certain to keep his seat.

Is there a seat for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North?

With both Finian McGrath and Tommy Broughan retiring, the consensus among the political correspondents of RTE and the Irish Times is that this will boost Labour and the Social Democrats relative to everyone else. Yet from our canvassing and from what we can learn from the 2016 election, it seems like Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left is currently best placed to appeal to those who voted Tommy Broughan and has a lot to offer those who voted Finian McGrath. The two independents were very different of course. Tommy Broughan was a Labour Party TD opposed to coalition with Fine Gael and who – quite rightly – on 1 December 2011 stood firm on the issue of not extending the ruinous bank guarantee scheme. As a result, he was expelled from Labour and subsequently worked with left independents like Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, and Mick Wallace, with whom he formed the Independents4Change technical group in the Dáil.

On a whole range of policies around housing and health and especially on the principle of not going into government with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, Tommy Broughan is far more closely aligned with John Lyons than Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour) and Cian O’Callaghan (Social Democrats). A consistent theme of Tommy Broughan’s political career was the need to challenge the two main parties of the right and this has to be reflected in the values of his voters. 

By contrast, Finian McGrath obviously did believe it worthwhile to join with Fine Gael in government. It’s not at all clear, however, that his voters would agree that this was a success. Not only has Finian McGrath to share responsibility for the housing crisis and the failure to reduce hospital waiting lists, but even in his own remit, as Minister for State for Disability Issues, his record cannot be considered a success. The one section in Irish society for whom employment did not rise under the Fine Gael-led government is that of people with disability, two-thirds of whom do not have jobs. In primary and secondary education, while the number of SNA employed has risen, their hours have been reduced, and along with the fact that the number of children in need of support have increased, the situation for children with special needs is worse than at any time since the savage Fine Gael-Labour cuts to their service of 2013.

From the transfer patterns of the 2016 election, it is likely that many of Finian McGrath’s voters would be disappointed in his decision to join a Fine Gael-led government and his record when in cabinet. Only dribbles of transfers came his way when Stephanie Regan and Naoise Ó Muiri of Fine Gael were eliminated and there was no obvious gain either for Finian McGrath from the elimination of Deirdre Heney of Fianna Fail. His former voters certainly seem likely to favour the non-government parties but it’s not clear at this point that they will focus on Labour and the Social Democrats, more likely is that they will spready fairly evenly, also coming in part to John Lyons, Denise Mitchell (Sinn Féin) and David Healy (Green Party). Which brings us to the Greens.

Have the Green Party made a terrible mistake in Dublin Bay North?

Given the surge in support for the Green Party in Dublin, it’s understandable that Paddy Power would make David Healy a 2/9 favourite to win a seat in Dublin Bay North. David Healy is the Green Party’s spokesperson on climate and that is definitely an important issue for people we have been talking to. Our own view is that the Green Party will not deliver a radical enough solution to significantly alter Ireland’s contribution to global warming. Partly, this is because they are ready to go into coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, despite some internal opposition, but also because their big idea is a heavy carbon tax, which is not going to be a socially just way of tackling climate change. Even so, the Green Party are set to do well as an expression of people’s concern about the state of the planet.

Yet the candidate they have selected for Dublin Bay North is out of line with the official Green Party policy and with voters here in one very important way: he was against the Repeal of the Eighth amendment, voted ‘no’ and expressed support for the ‘no’ position at the time. Dublin Bay North had the second highest turnout in the country for that referendum and with 74.69% yes, was one of the strongest regions for repeal. By contrast with David Healy, John Lyons assisted in the formation of Dublin Bay North’s Repeal the 8th campaign, and, as one person put it on Twitter, was tireless in working for that campaign.

A screenshot of a Tweet (in dark mode) which reads: I know that people are keen to support candidates with a good track record on Repeal. On my first canvass with @DBNRepeal, I was trained in by @CllrJohnLyons. His work on the #repealthe8th campaign was extensive & tireless. Lucky for us he's running in #DublinBayNorth #GE20
One of many tweets highlighting the pro-choice record of Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left, a candidate in the General Election 2020 in Dublin Bay North

Kate Antosik-Parsons of the Dublin Bay North Repeal the 8th Campaign explains why she will be giving her number one vote to Councillor John Lyons.

The Green Party had other potential candidates for the constituency of Dublin Bay North and ought to have been set to take a seat at this point in the campaign. Now, however, there will be hundreds of voters who are unsure about returning an anti-choice candidate, no matter how supportive they are of other Green policies.

What is the likely result in general election 2020 in Dublin Bay North?

The constituency has five seats. With Sinn Féin running a strong campaign nationally and having just the one candidate in Dublin Bay North this time, Denise Mitchell will consolidate her seat. Richard Bruton (Fine Gael) will do well and be elected after the elimination of Catherine Noone. Sean Haughey will probably improve on Richard Bruton’s 2016 performance and take the top spot, not only because of the indication of the national polls, but last time around Avril Power took some of the Fianna Fail vote.

There will then be two seats left and our estimate is that three candidates will be close: John Lyons, David Healy and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, with Cian O’Callaghan a little bit off the pace. The main difficulty Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has is not only the awful record of Labour when in government, which people haven’t forgotten, but the fact that the national party is so anxious to position itself as respectable and responsible, that they have policies to the right of Fianna Fail, who cynically know when to make promises on housing and health that they won’t deliver on.

Whereas Independent Left have no fear of offending developers and those pushing for privatisation of health, or those on high incomes who we would tax for the resources that public services need, Labour are looking anxiously over at these same people in the hope of appeasing them.

For that reason, we are backing ourselves to win a seat and for the Green Party to edge out Labour, despite the fact that David Healy was on the wrong side of the Repeal referendum.

Thomas Daly of Darndale FC, endorsing Councillor John Lyons for Dublin Bay North in election 2020.

New Stardust Inquests for Victims of 1981 Fire

All the pain we’ve been put through, all the stuff we’ve gone through for the truth. This is what we fought for, campaigned for, and what we wanted.

This is how Selina McDermott greeted the news on 25 September 2019 that there will be a new inquest in to the Stardust fire. Selina’s sister Marcella (16) and her brothers, George (19) and William (22) died on the night of 14 February 1981 at the Valentine’s Day disco at the Stardust nightclub, Artane. In all, 48 people died that night with another 11 badly disfigured, 214 physically injured and hundreds, too, traumatised ever since.

Starting in a first-floor storeroom, a fire that night developed rapidly, in part because despite a lack of planning-permission, flammable materials were present in great quantity, including nearly 250kg of cooking oil in five drums. Although the Fire Brigade were alerted in minutes a blast of heat and the melting of ceiling material, followed by the lights going out created a catastrophic situation.

The Butterly Business Park, the site of the Stardust Fire of 1981

Most of the dead and injured came from Artane, Kilmore and greater Coolock, where the community has never ceased to suffer. Not only because of the pain of the losses, but also because of the way in which our political and legal system has failed us.

Independent Left Councillor John Lyons’ response to the announcement of the new inquests was to welcome it as hugely important but he added that this should never have taken so long.

The families of the victims and the survivors of the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state have been through hell and back many times over the last thirty eight years, from the initial political cover up by way of the Keane tribunal to years of political indifference, and the more recent con job that was the McCartan Report, which can only be described as a disgraceful insult, the families kept fighting, kept demanding answers as to how forty eight young people died in that building.

They have been vindicated by the decision of the Attorney General to open up new inquests into the forty eight deaths. But the survivors and the families and friends of the victims should not have had to wait nearly four decades to get the answers they deserve. If the fire had taken place in Blackrock rather than Artane, there is no way that people would be left waiting so long for justice. The working class communities of Coolock and Artane know this to be true as the treatment they have received from the Irish state, successive Fianna Fail and Fine Gael-Labour Party has been nothing short of a scandal.

The fact that the Keane tribunal of 1981 found that the fire was probably caused by arson – a finding that was always disputed and eventually ruled out – meant that the owners, the Butterly family not only escaped compensation claims and therefore proper accountability for their actions, which included the obstruction of fire exits, but they were awarded IR£580,000 in compensation.

The Stardust had been developed without planning permission and the fire authorities had denied Paddy Butterly permission to retain the club unless he installed another fire escape.

Although a 633-page was sent by the Gardai to the DPP, the only person to face charges arising from the tragedy was John Keegan, whose two daughters died that night, for confronting Paddy Butterly.

The Butterly family were – and probably still are – highly networked politically. In his memoirs, published just for family and friends but leaked, Paddy Butterly reveals that a former economic advisor to Labour Tanaiste Dick Spring worked for the family for two years. While he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, Fianna Fáil’s Kevin Boland had a chat over coffee with Paddy Butterly nearly every morning. “We were all Finna Failers”, reports Butterly, and adds that Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch asked Butterly to join Taca, their party fundraising group for wealthy businessmen.
‘‘What you had these people for,” explains Butterly, “was to help get things. I don’t mean by giving them money. But if you wanted to know something about your business or you wanted someone who could do something, you didn’t get the answers by writing into the papers. You asked these people.”

The injustice of the treatment of the Stardust families and their lack of access to political power in comparison to the situation of the Butterly’s explains why it has taken so long to obtain this inquest. And why it has been such an uphill struggle.

Independent Left’s Niamh McDonald paid tribute to those who never gave up the pursuit of justice:

I would like to congratulate the families on their sheer determination that got them this inquiry, without their hard work and persistence the establishment would have been very happy to see no justice being served. It is a disgrace that this government and successive governments have forced grieving families to fight for justice.

When, in 2006, Eamon Butterly, owner of the Stardust, opened The Silver Swan pub in the business park where the fire took place, protesters played the following Christy Moore song for ten weeks outside the bar, every night between six and eight pm.

They Never Came Home, was released in 1985 and was banned, with Christy Moore being found guilty of contempt of court for having written it. It remains a powerful statement on a terrible tragedy and a political system that has only contempt for working class communities.

They Never Came Home Lyrics

Christy Moore

St Valentine's day comes around once a year,
All our thought turn to love as the day it draws near,
When sweethearts and darlings, husbands and wives,
Pledge love and devotion for the rest of their lives.
As day turns to evening soon night-time does fall,
Young people preparing for the Valentine's Ball,
As the night rings with laughter some people still mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Down to the Stardust they all made their way
The bouncers stood back as they lined up to pay
The records are spinning there's dancing as well
Just how the fire started sure no one can tell.
In a matter of seconds confusion did reign
The room was in darkness fire exits were chained
The firefighters wept for they could not hide,
Their anger and sorrow for those left inside.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
All around the city the bad news it spread
There's a fire in the Stardust there's 48 dead
Hundreds of children are injured and maimed
And all just because the fire exits were chained.
Our leaders were shocked, grim statements were made
They she'd tears in the graveyard as the bodies were laid
The victims have waited in vain for 4 years
It seems like our leaders she'd crocodile tears.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Half a million was spent on solicitor's fees,
A fortune to the owner and his family
It's hard to believe not one penny came
To the working class people who suffered the pain.
Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to years
Our laws favour the rich or so it appears
A woman still waits for her lads to come home
Injustice breeds anger and that's what's been done.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.

Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the Stardust disaster, asked people to give John Lyons (Independent Left) their number one vote in Dublin Bay North in the general election of 2020.

John has been very, very helpful to us, been a huge support, given us a lot of time and effort. He’s been on the campaign for a long, long time. He has been fantastic for justice for Stardust and also other issues in the community. Please give him your number one vote.

Antoinette Keegan, member of the Justice for the Stardust 48 group.

’48 by Gemma Kane is a must-see play about the Stardust tragedy

Actor and playright Gemma Kane has a personal connection to the disaster at the Stardust, her parents were there that night (and escaped). ’48 is told through the perspectives of four people who – with a lot of humour – share their lives and dreams in the run up to their fateful night out.

The cast are Gemma Kane, Emily Fox, Laurence Falconer and Niall O’Brien, the play is directed by Clare Maguire and produced by Ali Fox. It will be shown on 12 February and 13 February 2020 in the Axis Theatre, Ballymun.

Gemma Kane, Emily Fox, Laurence Falconer  and Niall O’Brien are sitting on a stone wall under some trees. They are dressed in 80s clothes, as the characters from '48, a play about the Stardust tragedy.
Gemma Kane, Emily Fox, Laurence Falconer and Niall O’Brien: the cast of ’48, a play about the Stardust fire.

39th Anniversary Vigil of the Stardust Tragedy

On 13 February 2020, a vigil was held to commemorate the Stardust tragedy. Singer Christy Moore, longstanding supporter of the Stardust families, attended, along with North Dublin Gospel-Choir, Eamon Dunphy and Charlie Bird. Dublin City Council supported the event and provided a marquee outside the former Stardust venue at Butterly Business Park on the Kilmore Road in Artane.

Justice for the Stardust48

A plaque to remember the 48 victims who lost their lives in the Stardust - Michael Barrett, Richard Bennett, Carol Bissett, Jimmy Buckley, Paula Byrne, Caroline Carey, John Colgan, Jacqueline Croker, Liam Dunne, Michael Farrell, David Flood, Thelma Frazer, Michael French, Josephine Glen, Michael Griffiths, Robert Hillick, Brian Hobbs, Eugene Hogan, Murtagh Kavanagh, Martina Keegan, Mary Keegan, Robert Kelly, Mary Kennedy, Mary Kenny, Margaret Kiernan, Sandra Lawless, Francis Lawlor, Maureen Lawlor, Paula Lewis, Eamon Loughman, George McDermott, Marcella McDermott, William McDermott, Julie McDonnell, Teresa McDonnell, Gerard McGrath, Caroline McHugh, Donna Mahon, Helena Mangan, James Millar, Susan Morgan, David Morton, Kathleen Muldoon, George O'Connor, Brendan O'Meara, John Stout, Margaret Thornton, Paul Wade.
Memorial Plaque to the Stardust48
The stage at the marquee for the 13 February 2020 memorial event for the Stardust 48. It shows a microphone, a red curtain and in front of it in large yellow figures: 48. A pop-up banner on the right of the pictures says: forever in our hearts.
The stage at the marquee for the 13 February 2020 memorial event for the Stardust 48.
A full marquee at the moving Stardust 48 memorial, 13. February 2020. The picture shows a marquee with temporary lighting and chairs, It is full with people standing at the back.
A full marquee at the moving Stardust 48 memorial, 13. February 2020.