Ian joins the Green wave
As part of a series of interviews with Fingal's new first-time councillors, Green Party councillor Ian Carey talks to Ken Phelan about taking his seat
Recently elected to Fingal County Council as the first Green Party councillor for the Swords ward, Ian Carey is set to bring the party's green agenda to the growing town, and if what he says is true, he has the support of the people behind him.
Surpassing even the Green Party's own expectations in the recent local elections, the triumphant Green candidate now represents Swords on the local council, and Cllr Carey intends to use his experience and position to further the party agenda.
Here, Cllr Carey speaks of his recent election win, the issues that were being raised on the doorsteps during the campaign, and some of the plans he envisions for Swords over the next five years.
He says: 'I'm thrilled, I'm really happy to represent the area, and I think that Swords needs a Green voice, especially now it's going through expansion and I'm happy to fulfil that role. I think the scale of the support was a surprise, but I would've been hopeful of getting a seat, given the positivity I was getting at the door. I think the scale of it did surprise me a bit, and I was really delighted to have our message resonate with the public.
'The first council meeting is this Friday (June 7); my understanding was that we'd be up and running for last Friday, but I haven't actually got any official notification about a swearing in or anything like that. Maybe that would become clear to me this week as I get in contact with the council a bit more and find out what the procedures are and that kind of stuff. I want to have a good audit of where the county is in relation to climate change, and then see what way I can impact that to make sure we're doing our best in relation to that, and the second part of that is to look at biodiversity and make sure that I've got a clear understanding of where the council is going in relation to those two big issues.
'Fingal has an opportunity ahead of it because of the plans to develop the area, so we have a really good opportunity to develop a really low carbon community that other places don't have, and also with the beginnings of investment in infrastructure like the Metrolink and BusConnects, it's a good time to look at how we move around the town and Fingal more broadly, and make sure we're prepared for the next one hundred years, and not just the next twenty years.'
Ian believes the success of the Green Party in the local elections was due to both extensive media coverage of environmental issues and a shift in the 'mood' of the general public. On a local level, he says, people were more willing to vote for a party which addressed green issues. The Green Party, he points out, 'stood for something very clear', which he says is why people gravitated towards voting for the party.
Secondary to this, he says, a number of local issues were being raised on the doorsteps which he hadn't campaigned on originally, such as crime and garda provision 'or lack thereof.' These were big issues in certain areas, he explains, which he then formed new policies around. This was 'a two-way process', where he would bring along his own ideas then gain insight into issues affecting people locally. He was, he says, 'doing as much listening as I was talking', gaining greater understanding of what was going on in the town.
Admitting his knowledge of crime in Swords is 'largely anecdotal', Ian says the issue was raised regularly on the doors during campaigning. This was evident, he says, from 'the first house you knock in.' Residents were relaying accounts of burglaries, car thefts and other crimes, while complaining about the response time of gardai. He says he wants to look into the problem further to determine if anything can be done to help the community tackle the problem, or if there are any initiatives that can be put in place to help gardai in their efforts. The gardai, he says, 'do a great job', but can be under resourced, impacting on their ability to police 'in the way people would expect.'
Other issues were being raised too, as he says: 'Everybody talks about transport, with transport into the city being a major thing, and a concern that Metrolink would never happen, so that's an issue that's a problem for people, and then also housing was coming up. I know these two are national level issues, but they're very meaningful for the people in Swords. I was obviously working with the Green Party and developing some of the policies in these areas as well, and things that Fingal could do better with housing and planning and things, so I suppose they would be kind of the major issues.
'There's also a growing problem of congestion in the town, so people having to leave kids to school in their cars because the way the roads are designed, and it's kind of adding to morning congestion. And some neighbourhood roads that would've been very easy to cross before, like the Rathbeale Road, are becoming so busy that getting from place to place is getting hard, or getting out of your estate in the morning is difficult. Then there's obviously chronic problems in some parts, where in Ridgewood people are spending more than twenty minutes in traffic to even get out of their own estate because.'
Ian, who lives in Coolquay, is originally from Pinegrove in Swords, where he lives with his wife and two young children. Currently working as Communications Manager with the Green Party, he has a strong environmental background, having worked with the Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau, one of the largest environmental NGOs in Europe, and the Irish Environmental Network in Dublin. Prior to these roles, he worked as a journalist with the Irish Daily Mail.
On why he became involved in politics, he says: 'Having worked as an advocate for environmental groups and campaigns, I kind of became more and more convinced that if you wanted to effect change, you needed to get into politics. I don't know how many meetings I went to where I'd be explaining issues to policy makers who really weren't fully aware of the environmental issues that might have been their brief, and I kind of realised that to make the change that I wanted to see, was to be in the position of those people, so that's why I wanted to get involved. The Green Party met exactly with my priorities of being an environmentalist - literally, there is no other party that actually has the kind of policies around environmental protection and climate change that I would genuinely support, so that was an easy decision for me really.'
Of the specific environmental issues facing Swords, he says: 'One big issue in Swords is the dumping in the valley, and that's something I'd be majorly interested in dealing with. There's kind of a chronic problem there, and I think it comes back to lack of enforcement over the years. Some parts of the valley are just being used for dumping of domestic waste, and I know the council would have come in and cleared out major areas, but I think that it's happening at such a rate that they're not being able to deal with it. So I think I'm going to be working with a few people around the town who are interested in this, like Tidy Towns and others, and anybody that has an interest to make sure that more is done to keep that area clean.
'It could be an incredible amenity for the town if it's managed correctly and invested in properly, and it is also an incredible nature hot spot that needs to be protected too. It's connected to a European site through the river, so if dumping or waste is going into that river, it would eventually go down to a European protected site in the estuary, and the council need to do a lot more to make sure that's not happening, because there are European and legal obligations there. So that would be a key concern for me.'
Of his plans for the next five years, he says: 'I think doing what I can to help develop the town to be more future proof and able to cope with climate change, and to make sure that people who are living in houses that are not suitable are getting the kind of support from the council to retrofit. Also, to develop a better transport system, and in the town, a better connection into the city, then lastly, protecting nature within the town and giving people access to nature that they should have.'