Housing, bus lanes and cycleways dominate in Dublin Bay South

FG’s Geoghegan tipped by locals to take seat in byelection, Labour’s Bacik popular

Fine Gael look to hold onto their seat in the upcoming Dublin Bay South byelection where the constituents hold housing as the primary issue. Video: Enda O'Dowd

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The Dublin Bay South constituency can be walked end-to-end in a few hours. For some, it brings to mind trophy homes and posh neighbourhoods in Ranelagh and Sandymount, but there is much more to it.

A cycle journey from the Dodder in the south to Poolbeg on a summer’s day reveals the general impressions of voters about next month’s byelection interrupted while out for a walk, or going to the local shops.

Most believe Fine Gael’s James Geoghegan is the favourite. Labour’s Ivana Bacik’s name came up a lot, with some people opting for her, if not the party she represents.

Some (particularly in Rathgar and Terenure) thought Kate O’Connell would have been better than Geoghegan. A smaller number thought the same about the Greens’ choice of Claire Byrne over Hazel Chu.

Róisín Long believes the issue of traffic through Sandymount village will be key for voters in the area. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd
Róisín Long believes the issue of traffic through Sandymount village will be key for voters in the area. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

Sinn Féin is dominant in working-class areas but there is a generational divide too, with younger voters in middle-class areas having no hang-ups about its past.

The big issues are housing, but also local controversies over bus corridors, cycle lanes, and the metro plan. Is there a vaccination bounce for the Government? The jury was out on that one.

River Dodder

In verdant Dartry Park on the banks of the river Dodder, Mark McDowell is one of many walking their dogs – in his case a large shaggy bundle of energy named Wolfie.

“Where you are now is the old Dublin South East, which was really Garret FitzGerald country. Fine Gael sometimes got two seats,” he says. “It is so well-heeled there are not a lot of social issues around here.”

Katriona Lea would like to see better civic space developed in Ranelagh. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd
Katriona Lea would like to see better civic space developed in Ranelagh. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

But there are some, and they matter: homelessness, and the cost of housing for younger people born in the constituency.

Nevertheless, he goes on: “The lines are so firmly drawn. I don’t think many will change their voting, certainly in this part of the constituency. It’s all Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil except Ivana Bacik is very popular.

“I don’t think around here, many of the older people are thinking Sinn Féin. If youngsters are impressed by them, it’s housing that seems to be on their agenda.”

Terenure

Brendan and Alice Foreman run the Village Bookshop. Covid-19 forced them to close the bookshop, but a dormant website grew dramatically and helped to tide them over.

Eileen Hughes from Ringsend, whose 39-year-old son is struggling to find an affordable place to live in the area. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd
Eileen Hughes from Ringsend, whose 39-year-old son is struggling to find an affordable place to live in the area. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

It has been busy since reopening, says Brendan, thanks to local support.

The village, he says, has changed over the years, with ups and downs. “Kate O’Connell is well known here,” he says. “Some think she might have been a better candidate. I think there will be a strong interest in Labour. I would see Ivana Bacik getting a lot of support. It’s as much her personality as the party.”

The big issue in Terenure is the Bus Connects plan for a bus corridor through the village: “People think it will be horrendous. I don’t know anybody who is in support of that.”

Bobby McGuinness and Cathal O’Gara are in their 30s, from middle-class Terenure, school friends from their time in St Joseph’s. McGuinness, a father of three, came back from New Zealand last October after six years away and was not impressed with how the authorities here handled Covid. For both, the issue is undoubtedly housing.

“I’m back from New Zealand. I’m staying with my mother. For my generation we are being priced out of Dublin.

“In Terenure it’s easily half a million and you would not be looking at something too fancy for that. A forever home you are talking €800,000 without breaking a sweat.”

He says he supports Sinn Féin. “I see them as the only big party in Ireland that has not got a crack of the whip in government. I know they have a murky background and whatever. I don’t feel they can do any worse than what we have had.

“People say its left-wing policies will ruin the economy. We have had recession after recession after recession. A sign of madness is repeating the same thing and getting the same results.”

Bobby McGuinness and Cathal O’Gara in Terenure both feel housing is the key issue in the byelection. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd
Bobby McGuinness and Cathal O’Gara in Terenure both feel housing is the key issue in the byelection. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

O’Gara and his wife also have a young family. Both are working, but have health issues and have been getting support for housing. If they work extra hours they lose housing benefits.

“We are in a trap. I want to better myself and I want to get back working but we need that support for housing. There are a lot of people like us out there. And other people who don’t get help have to work themselves to the bone just to pay rent and make ends meet.

“I voted for Sinn Féin in the last general election because I wanted change. I like the cut of their jib. The violence is something that will always be brought up, but I’m looking for change, not bullshit,” he says.

Rathgar

On Terenure Road East in Rathgar, Lisa Sheahan is also out walking her dog.

“I would never vote for Sinn Féin. I have always liked Ivana Bacik and what she stands for. I would not necessarily be a Labour supporter but I like her.

For her, too, the big issue is the bus corridor. “We have all petitioned against that.” She says she is “sorry” she voted for the Greens last time because some “bike lanes have really skewered certain areas and stopped businesses from working”.

Ranelagh

Sipping coffee outside, Ronan O’Connell says: “Ranelagh is diverse. You have lots of people, students, people in their 20s renting here. In lots of ways it represents a cross-spectrum of society.”

Part of the Rethink Metro Group, he wants the metro’s route changed away from the Luas green line that involves long closures of the Luas and local roads: “It’s a big issue around here,” he says.

Bob Grey of the Red and Grey graphic design company in Portobello says high rents and housing are the big issues in the area. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd
Bob Grey of the Red and Grey graphic design company in Portobello says high rents and housing are the big issues in the area. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

On the coming general election, he says: “Leo Varadkar is trying to position it as Fine Gael versus Sinn Féin. It will be much broader than that.”

At the next outdoor table, Katriona Lea is a Green Party supporter.

“I think relatively speaking they have been in government a short amount of time . . . They bring a strong different voice.

“They have done well enough but I am more interested in what happens next,” she says.

Of the candidate, Claire Byrne, she says: “I am not overly familiar with her. I was familiar with Hazel Chu, the Lord Mayor. I admired what she seemed to be standing for.”

Portobello

In the pretty warren of redbricks near the canal, Michael and Theresa Coffey are walking home with the shopping. They have lived here since 1983. “At the Clanbrassil Street end there was an abattoir,” says Theresa. “It was very run down. There were no trees.”

“It’s very trendy now,” adds Michael.

Ivana Bacik lives up the road, and is popular locally. The fact that Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan does not live in the constituency is a “big thing for me”, says Theresa. Both think it will end as a fight between Geoghegan and Bacik.

In the midday sunshine, Bob Gray sits outside the design agency he co-partners, Red and Grey. The NCAD graduate epitomises Portobello cool. He’s also well-tuned into local politics.

“Ivana Bacik lives in this area and she is well liked. She campaigned for the school. Claire Byrne is also well known here. The younger demographic who rent here would be largely Green.”

He is in no doubt that high rents and housing are the big issues here and it impacts his agency. “We lose people all the time to London because of [Dublin affordability issues].”

Ringsend

Outside O’Rahilly House in Ringsend, slim, dark-haired Pierce Rooney gives a stark description of the neighbourhood.

“Ringsend is a working-class community that has been subject to gentrification.

“I’m 45 years of age, I’m still living at home with my mother, sleeping in the box room.”

Energetic and articulate, Rooney is a former DJ who runs an electronic music school and community music projects that divert children away from antisocial behaviour.

“Local people can’t afford rent around here, let alone a house,” he says. “Look at the Irish Glass Bottle site. It’s €600,000 for an affordable house there. Working-class people can’t afford it. Middle-class people can’t afford it.

“It is not that I’m against Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. But their politics have decimated the area.”

He adds: “Leo Varadkar and the lot of them were up in Sandymount yesterday. The only people we see here were Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and the Social Democrats.

“We are the working class of D4. There’s a notion that D4 is just a rich area. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not looking for free housing. We have to pay rent. It’s not free housing.”

A little down the road, Eileen Hughes also says property prices are too high. “I always voted for Fianna Fáil. I’m very disappointed with them. My [sons] always vote Sinn Féin. They say they are the only party which speaks its mind,” she says.

Sandymount

Sandymount is five minutes away by bike, postcard-pretty green and by the sea, but here, too, there are strong strains of unhappiness. Once again, it is about transport.

But this time, it is about closing one lane of traffic on the coast road for a bicycle lane. Residents argue that it will drive cars in huge numbers into the village itself.

“There wasn’t proper consultation,” says Róisín Long, who lives with her family on one of the affected roads, adding that it will decide votes. People will choose their representatives based on how they voted on this.”

So the journey ends with a walk to the shore, with the familiar Poolbeg stacks in the background. The tide is at midpoint. Just about where this byelection is at, too. No one is yet sure, though, if it is ebbing or flowing.