‘You grow up in a flat complex in Summerhill and you think the State is out to get you’

In conversation: Grace Dyas and Gary Gannon

What is your death-row meal?

Gary: Mine is a snack box from the Savoy chipper on the North Circular Road. It has to have a breast of chicken, it has to have curry sauce, and I need a slice of bread with it.

Grace: Steak, chips and pepper sauce.

When did you last cry?

Grace: I cried literally just before I met you now. I was just writing some notes. I don’t know why!

Gary: The day before Christmas Eve – I was involved in a get-together for kids who are in Direct Provision with Ellie Kisyombe. It was in a school up in Inchicore. It was supposed to be really happy, but I came out of it not feeling great. I never cry. You just see people whose basic needs aren't being met at all. The kids looked like they were having the time of their lives. It was great, but it was also awful.

What is your favourite place to visit?

Grace: The island, Inis Oírr, where my husband is from. The back of it, not where all the touristy parts are. If you keep going off the path you get to rocks and waves and straight ahead of you is America. It's wild and amazing.

Gary: I love people-watching in Galway.

Why do you think you do what you do?

Grace: Why do you think I do what I do?

Gary: I think you do what you do because you’re really good at it. You have a passion, you have a gift for it.

Grace: I think it’s something to do with fairness for both of us.

Gary: I also like a fight.

Grace: So do I!

Gary: From playing football as a centre half from the time I was 12 until 18, I was big and burly and I liked kicking the fellas who were really good. I found my equality on the football pitch. I always like competing against people who I want to test myself against. I’m still doing that.

What is the most expensive thing you own?

Grace: Probably my wedding dress.

Gary: I bought an American fridge freezer over Christmas.

Grace: Oh my god, Gary, f*** off!

Gary: I know, what an arsehole!

Grace: Like the one out of Friends?

Gary: It’s a huge yoke, and it’s just in me kitchen. It’s freaking me out because it keeps making me think someone’s breaking into me gaff because it makes ice all on its own. I keep getting up to open the door because of the noise from the ice. I’m getting used to it. It’s a serious luxury.

Is there any artist you feel particularly connected to right now?

Grace: Beckett definitely for me . . . how that absurdist thing makes so much sense of what goes on in Ireland politically, societally. The absurd thing is the only thing that explains it.

Gary: I love Stephen James Smith, the poet. I think his poem about Dublin and Ireland represent my Dublin and my Ireland. I was down at Other Voices in Dingle and there was a girl singing a Tom Waits song, Martha, in a pub. It was absolutely gorgeous, so I started listening to Tom Waits after that.

If you could enact one Government policy tomorrow, what would it be?

Gary: Sláintecare. I think we need a single-tier universal health service.

Grace: I think everyone should have a house. It shouldn’t be that someone having a load of property means that someone else doesn’t. It makes sense for the Government to build houses. They have totally abandoned the idea of public housing.

Do you have any particular motto or mantra?

Gary: My political origins are very much in the idea of anti-establishment. My politics began on anti-drug marches and feeling like the State was out to get me, because they were – you grow up in a flat complex in Summerhill and you think the State is out to get you. One of my earliest memories is of my mam being a street trader and a policeman trying to take me off her when he caught her street trading. But somewhere along the lines I heard the phrase: 'you can't change the system with hatred alone', which for me changed my outlook on politics, and that was fortified by the marriage-equality referendum. If I want to help people and change the system, I need to engage with it.

Grace: My one would be ‘one day at a time’. You’re here, to ground yourself, to be in the present.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?

Gary: When I was leaving school, my Dad told me I’d be a great plumber.

Grace: You were a terrible plumber, which is why the Irish public are stuck with you representing them.

Gary: I did it for six months and got let go. I was awful at it.

Grace: Someone told me not to apply to the Fringe and to do a show in the International Bar instead. I think that would have been pretty bad advice had I taken it.

Who would you most like to receive a letter from?

Gary: I think Roy Keane.

Grace: Roy Keane? What’s he going to write in a letter to you? ‘Howya Gary, eh, football is great.’

Gary: My early protesting was anti-drug marches. The ones after that was outside the FAI trying to get Roy Keane back over to Saipan.

Grace: I would like to get a letter from Bernadette McAliskey. I think she’d have a lot of wisdom for me right now.

Gary Gannon is a Dublin City councillor. Grace Dyas is a theatre-maker whose new play We Don't Know What's Buried Here runs at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght, Dublin, February 15th-17th

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