Closure of Ballymun’s Tesco dominates doorstep exchanges in SF local canvass
Campaign trail: local resident and Sinn Féin candidate Noeleen Reilly looks a shoo-in in local poll
Sinn Féin local election candidate Noeleen Reilly: “There’s been no economic regeneration of Ballymun. You can’t get rent supplement here and some of the rents are sky high.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
So, you’re a young Sinn Féin local election candidate heading out to canvass Ballymun on a miserable Thursday evening with a fine tally of nine helpers, plus Dessie Ellis.
What’s the biggest problem you are most likely to encounter?
Maybe some barracking about the party leader languishing in police custody up north?
None of the above.
The number one issue is the extinction of the local Tesco. It closed last weekend with a loss of 60 jobs, in a haze of emotion and balloons:
“They told me it was about profit . . . They weren’t making enough money,” says the candidate, Noeleen Reilly.
Among the rare voters who answer the door, it comes up repeatedly. Their concern – patently genuine, some are in tears – is for the older generations, for whom Tesco was within easy walking distance and the anchor tenant in a centre where they felt safe and the staff knew their names and even minded their bags.
“From the get go, Tesco was very low quality but had the best, most amazing customer service in Ireland,” says Cara Fennelly, who wants to enlist Noeleen’s help in aiding a woman with a range of problems to resettle in Ballymun.
It’s hard to see what Noeleen – a 32-year-old UCD commerce graduate and chartered accountant – can do about the shopping problem.
The ugly old fortress-style shopping centre was supposed to die as part of the great regeneration project and be replaced across the green by a big, glass edifice developed by Treasury Holdings. Now the site is in Nama and most of the residents use taxis or their own cars to shop in Charlestown in Finglas.
But the demise of the supermarket is part of the narrative, another “broken promise”, according to Noeleen.
A council worker sighs: “All the promises that were thrown to me – I’m still waiting for them to be fulfilled.” Noeleen nods sympathetically.
A 49-year-old lone parent complains about cuts. “Sinn Féin opposed all those cuts,” Noeleen says. The woman nods hopelessly and adds that they should have been given an ordinary shopping centre; that there was no need for all the glass.
“There’s been no economic regeneration of Ballymun,” Noeleen says. “You can’t get rent supplement here and some of the rents are sky high”.
We encounter a chatty 19- year-old Thomas Whelan in Belclare Park who wants his picture taken with Noeleen, along with his friend Shane Delaney.
“Now there’s an example of young lads where there’s nothing for them,” says a canvasser. But the lads themselves appear to have no complaints. Thomas explains that his arm is in plaster after a fall off a motorbike so he’s “on the sick”.
“I’m trying to do carpentry – I’m a good carpenter, he says cheerfully. His friend Shane (17) is doing a Fás catering course in the nearby college, which he likes a lot, but when he qualifies, he plans to go to college to become a mechanic. He sees no reason why not.
As the rain beats down, Fennelly’s team races ahead. They range in age from 16 to 61. The youngest, Thomas Ward, confidently aspires to becoming a councillor himself. The oldest, Seán Marlow, a retired DCU lecturer in a Che Guevara T-shirt, has been a Sinn Féin member since 1974. He says no one mentions the northern difficulty:
“You only have people saying ‘tear on – do what you’re doing . . . fair play to you’. Though I suppose if they had something to say about it they wouldn’t say it to us . . ,” he adds reasonably.
On that issue, Noeleen – a Cavan native – says : “As far as I’m concerned, there wouldn’t be a peace process if we hadn’t the likes of Gerry Adams. To be honest, he’s one of the reasons I got involved . . . It’s just not an issue on the doorsteps.”
She knocks on doors where televisions are flickering inside, and getting no reply, she pushes her leaflet into the postbox – even the ones with the “No Junk Mail” notices. Around half the homes have “No Junk Mail” notices this time round, she reckons.
“But I don’t regard this as junk mail,” she adds, looking slightly alarmed at the idea.
A tip for aggrieved homeowners: she makes an exception for “Posted Mail Only” signs.
At every door, she does her smiling, likeable spiel about living locally and being available to listen to any issues people might have. One man hisses, “Oh I have plenty of issues, lady . . . We’ll see”, firmly closing his door without further elaboration. But he’s a rare one.
Poppintree is her home territory; a huge banner hangs over the balcony of her apartment (bought for €200,000, now probably worth half that) in the same block as the centre supermarket. Women in particular give her a warm reception.
A main selling point is that there is no woman councillor in the area. “Hiya – Sinn Féin is it? Yeah, I’m a number one,” says a woman. She glances into her livingroom: “Actually there’s three number ones in here.”
“With Sinn Féin, they never forget the little people,” says housing activist Cara Fennelly. “Actually I’d hate to see them getting power . . . Then they might go like the rest of them,” she laughs.
Noeleen is probably a shoo-in. In the whole two hours, the party leader’s predicament is never mentioned.