Tuesday 20 February 2018

Labour's 'new generation'

John Manning

A YOUNG new Labour councillor from Portmarnock sees himself as part of a 'new generation' in the party that got involved in politics in reaction to the economic mess the country found itself thrown into five or six years ago.

Cllr Brian McDonagh (Lab) swam against the tide in the recent local elections and found himself elected while many of his party colleagues lost out.

Talking about his motivation for getting involved in politics and joining the Labour Party, he said: 'Duncan Smith, my Labour colleague, used a slogan in his campaign: 'New Generation.

'It refers not really to an age thing but it was useful to describe a lot of us that joined the Labour Party around the same time around 2008 or 2009.

'We joined for pretty much the same reasons. We were people who would have been interested in politics but never really saw ourselves as people who would get actively involved but then we were confronted with an economic collapse and for me, at its heart was a cavalier attitude towards public service and public policy.

'At around the time of the bank guarantee, I was someone who gave out a lot about other political parties so I joined Labour and there was a group of us who joined around that time and who are ideologically driven but pragmatic and regarded Labour as a party that always provided a rational approach to economics with a social conscience.'

The Labour Party councillor is in no doubt that as the new council takes up the reins in Fingal, the single biggest crisis facing it is a lack of housing, particularly social housing with long waiting lists and high rents making some Fingal residents homeless.

He said: 'I think that the single biggest crisis facing us at the moment, there's no doubt about it, it's homes.

'I think a lot of us have been surprised by how quickly we have turned around from having a surplus of houses and empty houses to having this shortage.'

Cllr McDonagh added: 'There has always been problems with housing but the scale of this is savage.'

The Labour councillor said that making an impact on that crisis is his top priority for the next five years. He said: 'In five years, if Fingal County Council has increased housing provision and together with central Government has worked to solve our housing crisis and we have played our part in making that possible, that would be success for me.'

When the councillor joined the Labour Party, it was on the crest of a wave and following the recent local elections, it's back at a low ebb, suffering from fallout of participation in the current Government.

However, it is what the party does in Government that matters and not it's own political fortunes, according to Cllr McDonagh.

He said: 'What we need to be concentrating on is not the fortunes of the Labour Party but what we are going to be doing in Government for the next 18 months.

'From my point of view personally, as a local representative, I'm not subject to a whip and for me, the vote that got me elected was not just a Labour vote, it was a local vote from my area. It was a Portmarnock vote, it was a Balgriffin vote and it was a Kinsealy vote so I'm concentrating on what we can do collectively for the area for the next five years.'

The seat won by Cllr McDonagh was long associated with the famously hard-working Cllr Peter Coyle. Cllr Judy Dunne stepped into his considerable shoes when he retired from the council, and now that fate befalls Cllr McDonagh.

The Portmarnock-born councillor, said: 'Judy Dunne stepped into those shoes first and Judy did an extremely good job.

'One of the good things about taking over from Peter and working closely with Peter, is that he gives a great deal of good advice and guidance when it is needed but he also continues to get a lot of representations.

'He was a man who got things done and the good thing is that people who know him say I only need to be half the man he is to be a good councillor.

'I'm hoping to do as good a job but there's a lot of people who have a great deal of time for him and his help has been invaluable to me – the benefit of his experience is really good, particularly in planning.'

Cllr McDonagh hopes he can bring a more pragmatic approach to politics and said that he wants to see an end to some of the old political games of the past.

As an example, he used a recent Fianna Fáil campaign which he said raised fears that the Government was going to cut free travel for senior citizens, despite 'it being stated explicitly' that the Government had no intention of cutting the scheme.

He said that politicians are too ready to 'push the fear button' for political gain and raise fears where there is no danger.

The new councillor said his party had sacrificed political gain for its 'appetite for trying to solve problems' and used the party's willingness in the recent reshuffle to take on an unpopular department like the Department of Environment, as evidence for his argument.

Fingal Independent

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