Cork’s Mick Barry completes Long March to Dáil

AAA/People Before Profit TD spent almost 25 years campaigning for Cork issues

Joe Higgins with AAA/People Before Profit TD Mick Barry. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Joe Higgins with AAA/People Before Profit TD Mick Barry. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

It may be Trotsky rather than Mao that inspires the AAA but when Cork left winger, Mick Barry takes his seat as a AAA/People Before Profit TD in Dáil Éireann today, he will have completed his own Long March that has seen him spending almost a quarter of a century campaigning on issues on Leeside.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Barry (52) returned to Ireland with his parents at the age of eight and grew up in Rathfarnham in Dublin.

He joined the Labour Party in 1980 only to be expelled from the party along with Joe Higgins and 12 other members of the Militant Tendency in 1989.

He moved to Cork in 1992 where he immediately began to make his mark in left-wing campaign groups, joining a picket outside Cork Prison where anti refuse charge protesters, Ted Tynan, Brendan O’Neill and the late Paddy Mulcahy had been jailed for refusing to pay service charges.

He himself was jailed for refusing to pay service charges in 2001 and he spent three days in Cork Prison before he was released.

“It was only a couple of days -it wasn’t like I was Nelson Mandela or anything,” he says with a smile.

“I never thought when I came to Cork in 1992 that I would one day end up representing a Cork constituency in Dáil Éireann - at that stage I had never even considered the idea standing in an election,” says Barry, who lives with his wife Patricia in Blackpool in the heart of Cork’s northside.

“It was really only after the breakthrough of Joe Higgins in the Dublin West by-election in 1996 that a debate started among what were Militant Labour activists, the forerunner of the Socialist Party at the time, about the idea of standing in election.

“We decided we needed to have a public rep in all the main cities where we had branches and after much discussion and nobody else being willing to do it, I succumbed and said ‘Yeah, I will give a go’ (he laughs), I stood in the local election of 1999 and we’ve taken it from there.”

Morphed

Militant Labour had morphed into the Socialist Party by then and Barry,who had campaigned for better pay for home helps, stood unsuccessfully for the party in the Cork North-Central Ward but five years later, he enjoyed his first electoral success winning a seat on Cork City Council.

By then he had also run in the 2002 general election, garnering just 2 per cent of the vote but over the years, he continued to campaign on various issues from local ones such as the retention of bus services on parts of Cork’ s northside to national issues such as service charges.

He retained his council seat in 2009 and again in 2011 when he brought in running mate Lil O’Donnell.

He saw Marion O’Sullivan elected for the AAA in the Cork North-West ward while he also grew his vote in the general elections of 2007 and 2011.

“I came close in 2011 but not as close as some said. Some commentaries had us beaten by a whisker but in reality we were 1,500 to 2,000 votes off where we needed to be - it was clear to us though if we put in a serious shift before the next general election, we’d have a serious chance of taking it.”

To the forefront in the campaigns against household charges, local property tax and in particular the water charges, Barry began to grow his support in the rural part of the constituency and last month he polled an impressive 8,041 or 15.71 per cent of the vote to take the second seat in Cork North Central.

“I think there is a strong message going out here - people want a real recovery for ordinary working people not this joyless recovery where people are trapped in low pay, haunted by a housing crisis, crippled by austerity charges - people want real change and they want it now.”