Wednesday 21 February 2018

Invest in social housing

John Manning

WHEN Balbriggan's new Sinn Féin councillor went knocking on the doors of the 'negative equity generation' asking for their votes, he could empathise with their plight having been plunged into negative equity himself just months after buying his first home.

Cllr Malachy Quinn (SF) and his wife, Aisling, moved to Balbriggan in October of 2007 at just about the worst timing possible with houses priced at the top of the market and months away from going off a cliff.

Cllr Quinn explained: 'I needed to get a house with my wife Aisling, who is from Swords and we decided to come to Balbriggan.

'We were looking for houses all around north County Dublin and we decided this is where we wanted to settle and we moved here in October of 2007.

'It was exactly the wrong time to buy a house. We bought at the very top of the market and within months, we found ourselves in negative equity.

'Three-quarters of my wages were going on the mortgage and we really struggled for five years with it and to be honest with you, I came very close to losing my house.

'But through all that time, I was always conscious that there are people a lot worse off than me and that motivated me to get involved in politics in Balbriggan.

'I found a Sinn Féin organisation here that was very small at the time but we started campaigning on various local issues and we started to grow and expand.'

That growth and expansion resulted in a staggering six seats for the party on Fingal County Council in places where Sinn Féin had no history of electoral success.

What does Cllr Quinn put that success down to? He said: 'I put down the success to working hard on the ground.

'We are an activism based party. We have always had the mentality that we go out there and knock on the doors and get organised in the local community and I think that was the difference between us and many of the larger mainstream parties.'

He added: 'When the six of us handed in our election papers at Fingal County Council, we never thought we would return with six seats - it was a great achievement but it was hard won.

'This was not a six week campaign for us, we were campaigning for two years before the election.'

Cllr Quinn believes the people of Fingal voted for change but that change has not come and he said he was disappointed to see the mainstream parties club together to elect a Fianna Fáil mayor in Fingal.

He said: 'People wanted a change in this election and I'm of a firm belief that they didn't get change here in Fingal.

'When myself and other left-leaning councillors went into the council we found it was business as usual. The same people grouped together and they have the power now, but that is how democracy works.

'To be honest, it (a left-leaning alliance) could have happened if the Labour Party joined with us.

'I genuinely thought that this time around we could have built a broad left alliance in Fingal and become an example for the rest of the country in microcosm, but unfortunately that did not come about so we are stuck with a situation in Fingal County Council now where it is the same as usual.'

It was in Kilbarrack that the 40-year-old councillor got his first taste of politics and local activism. He explained: 'I'm originally from Kilbarrack and I first got into politics and community involvement there.

'I remember as a child, my father and mother were invited to a local election campaign for an independent candidate called Paddy Healy and I remember the stickers and everything that went on in that campaign.

'I always had an interest in politics and I was always the kid in school who knew who the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were.

'As I grew older I moved to Galway for a while and when I came back to Dublin and to Kilbarrack, I got involved in some local community initiatives and I met Cllr Larry O'Toole.

'He was really the one that showed me that you could really get things done at community level. When he became a councillor, I saw that it was really possible to make a change.'

So now that he has the chance to make that change, what is he going to do with it? Cllr Quinn said: 'I've found the council experience very enriching so far, I would have to say. I've met some fantastic people and the one thing that stands out at the moment is that there is a dire need to address issues around housing.

'We have grown-up sons and daughters here living with their parents and there are cases where there are three generations living in the one house.

'This is 101 years after the Lockout and 100 years after the First World War when a lot of young men went off to fight for economic reasons but those economic reasons are still there today.

'They say we don't have tenements anymore but we are getting close to having tenements in some of our three-bedroom houses.

'The solution is more public building projects. The government hasn't drawn down funding from the European Strategic Investment Bank to do this and I don't understand why because that is what it's there for - to build society and communities within Europe.

'I don't see why the Government can't build social housing and provide homes for people and provide jobs for local people building them too.'

The councillor also wants to see the regeneration of town centres and main streets across Fingal, and in Balbriggan in particular.

He said: 'I have to say Balbriggan is a wonderful town and I chose to live here. But there are issues, like any town.

'The Main Street has fallen behind and that can be easily laid at the door of multi-national retail companies but that is just a cop-out really.

'There needs to be investment across all the Main Streets in north County Dublin by Fingal County Council to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises into the town centre.'

Like a lot of the young councillors on the new council, Cllr Quinn has seen the boom and he's seen the bust across a relatively short space of time and in many cases, it was these extremes that motivated their involvement in politics in the first place.

The Sinn Féin councillor said: 'I would have been one of the people who benefitted from the Celtic Tiger but that made the fall all the greater, without a shadow of a doubt.

'That was one of the reasons I got involved in politics and why I wanted to get out there and see if I could do anything to make things better for people who were in an even worse situation.

'I had a mission statement and that was to try to improve the daily lives and the lot of all of our constituents.

'What would represent success to me in five years time, would be enhancing the business prospects of our main streets, bringing our communities back together and to tackling the housing issue.

We will be pressing Fingal County Council and the Government to invest in social housing.'

Fingal Independent

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