Tuesday 21 November 2017

Darkness falls on campaign trail as hope overshadowed by crime

Christy Burke speaks to local man Barney Bolger while canvassing in the Sheriff Street area of Dublin. Photo Arthur Carron
Christy Burke speaks to local man Barney Bolger while canvassing in the Sheriff Street area of Dublin. Photo Arthur Carron
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

It was the darkest, most miserable night of the election campaign to date. Throughout the grim stairwells and balconies of Dublin's inner city flat complexes, Christy Burke and his team are met with tales of despair and even desolation.

An old-age pensioner pleads for help to pay his bill; a middle-aged couple say their home has been destroyed by flooding.

And on another doorstep, a young mother weeps over her living arrangements - she is sharing a bedroom with six other people.

This is Dublin's north inner city.

These are the people whose stories obliterate the claim that the recovery is spreading to all.

But as Mr Burke and his 15-strong team battle the elements and canvass into the night, a new darkness sets in. Just before 8pm, Mr Burke takes a phone call he will never forget.

"Neddy Hutch, are you sure? He's dead?"

He talks to his campaign team, many of whom are in the process of receiving the same news via text message.

"I called for calm and no retaliations. This is going to add more misery to a community already struggling," Mr Burke says in disbelief.

Over the next 10 minutes, the veteran councillor receives at least six phone calls from constituents detailing the horrific murder carried out a stone's throw away.

"We expected them to retaliate - but by God, they moved quickly," Mr Burke says to me. "Neddy Hutch was harmless, he is a soft target," he adds.

While Mr Burke had intended to canvass the markets area of the city for up to another hour, the events in nearby Ballybough place a sense of insignificance around the upcoming election.

Sirens can be clearly heard as Mr Burke comforts his two young granddaughters, Mairead and Cathlin Manning, who are also out on the canvass.

The political veteran knocks on a couple of more homes in the knowledge that he has a strong chance of taking a Dáil seat on February 26.

He hands out his final election leaflet before calling it a night.

The leaflet contains the slogan 'Christy Burke - one of our own'.

Even if he fails in his election efforts, Mr Burke will continue to lead with distinction in a constituency that has once again fallen victim to gangland crime.

For he knows that at some point in the future, he will receive a similar call delivering similar bad news.

Irish Independent

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