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‘If I can’t get it right after 30 odd years, I shouldn’t be here’: Christy Burke says immigration has become a key issue

The 75-year-old Independent Dublin city councillor has been on the council for almost 40 years and has no intention of retiring

“When Michael D goes, the Pope goes, Donald Trump goes, then I might consider it,” says Independent Dublin city councillor Christy Burke on talk of retirement.

The 75-year-old is standing at the door of Moore Street trader Margaret Hanway (79) on Linenhall Parade in Dublin 7.

“You’re running again?” Hanway asks Burke, who has been a local councillor for close to 40 years. “Great. I’m delighted to see you, I thought you were retired because I hadn’t seen you in a long time.”

It is Thursday evening in Dublin’s north inner city and Burke, joined by nine volunteers, is canvassing ahead of the local elections next month.

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Burke, who was first elected to Dublin City Council in 1985 for Sinn Féin, says there was no doubt in his mind about running again: “I’m in good health, I don’t drink, don’t smoke. I feel I want to give back, I have a bit to give and why not?”

‘Since I was younger, I’ve always voted for Christy. He actually helped me and a number of my family members in here get our flats’

—  Constituent Kirsty Walsh (34)

Originally from the tenements on Lurgan Street, Burke served a prison sentence for IRA membership in the 1970s and was also jailed in 1986 alongside Independent TD Tony Gregory for 14 days for campaigning on behalf of Moore Street traders. He left Sinn Féin in 2009 and served as Lord Mayor of Dublin between 2014-15.

While popular with the likes of Hanway and other street traders who live in the area, Burke is also met with cheers by a group of young women as he enters St Michan’s House flat complex.

Among them is Kirsty Walsh (34), who explains: “Since I was younger, I’ve always voted for Christy. He actually helped me and a number of my family members in here get our flats.”

Housing, crime and litter are the main issues people are raising at the doors, along with migration, which Burke says has come up “more so in the last four or five weeks than it has in the last 12 months”.

“Immigration needs to be a conversation and debate has to happen… Until that happens, people are going to be insecure, uneasy about it,” he says.

“People have no information, no consultation and people are being accused of being far right if they do have a conversation.”

Five years ago, Burke came second in the seven-seater north inner city electoral ward, behind the Green Party’s Ciarán Cuffe, who instead took up his seat as an MEP for Dublin.

Burke was followed by Labour’s Joe Costello, who is not standing, Ray McAdam (FG), Nial Ring (Ind), Janice Boylan (SF) and Anthony Flynn (Ind).

Flynn, the former chief executive of Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH), died in tragic circumstances in August 2021. He had been under investigation by gardaí in relation to two alleged sexual assaults at the time of his death.

Green Party councillor Janet Horner, who was co-opted to replace Cuffe, admits it will be difficult to top the poll in the ward, which covers East Wall, North Wall, Ballybough, Sean McDermott Street, Smithfield, Stoneybatter and parts of Phibsboro.

“Five years and being in Government, we may as well be in a different decade or different dimension in terms of the lay of the land politically,” she says. “I certainly won’t be taking anything for granted.”

Sinn Féin is running three candidates in the north inner city; Boylan, Declan Hallissey and Alan Whelan.

‘We’re getting a lot on the steps of: “We’re not voting for parties, they can all eff off”... They’re [the voters] just disillusioned with the parties for the moment’

—  Independent councillor Nial RIng

Boylan says the party has to be “ambitious” in the area, adding: “We ran three [candidates] in 2014 and three in 2019, so really there is no difference.”

Meanwhile, Ring says he believes there could be a “swing” towards Independents such as himself, Burke and community activist Geraldine Molloy.

“We’re getting a lot on the steps of: ‘We’re not voting for parties, they can all eff off’... They’re [the voters] just disillusioned with the parties for the moment,” he says. “I think it will be different when it comes to forming a Government, but I believe people have a different mindset when it comes to the local elections.”

Malachy Steenson is also running as an Independent candidate in the north inner city ward, which had the second lowest voter turnout in 2019 among Dublin City Council’s 11 wards, at 35.33 per cent.

Back over at the Greek Street flats in Dublin 7, Lisa Pender is asking Burke about Dublin City Council’s commemoration committee, as her family would like a plaque erected at a local football pitch to remember her late father Danny, who was a community activist.

“You have to get in, Christy,” she adds. “There would be something wrong if you didn’t get in.”

When asked if he feels confident about the poll in just under three weeks’ time, Burke grins and says: “I keep at it. If I can’t get it right after 30 odd years, I shouldn’t be here tonight.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times