‘They believe the social contract has been torn up’: How one area feels after an anti-immigrant candidate was elected

Finglas community ‘has a lot of love to give and gives it out in plenty’ but feels ‘forgotten about and ignored’

West Finglas in Dublin has a male unemployment rate of up to 32 per cent, and female unemployment stands at 25 per cent. The newly elected local councillor Gavin Pepper gained many of his first-preference votes in this area. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

A week on from the election of three anti-immigrant councillors to Dublin City Council, voters in Finglas – home of one of the most outspoken, Independent Gavin Pepper – only infrequently mention immigration.

Several around the north Dublin village’s main street have never heard of the activist while several familiar with him express disappointment at his election.

Pepper, a taxi driver and father of six, has been labelled a “far-right activist” by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy in the Dáil – a label that Pepper rejects. He is known for taking a hardline stance on immigration, including in inflammatory social media posts. He was the second of five councillors elected in the Ballymun-Finglas local electoral area.

“He doesn’t do the area’s reputation any good at all,” says John Smullen, on his way into a supermarket.


“I think his vote reflects a lot of anger and fear, but it’s too easy to tap into that vein that it’s foreign people causing the issues. Under all that anger, it’s fear and that needs to be addressed, not blaming immigrants.”

Dublin City Council resultsOpens in new window ]

John Smullen. Photograph: Alan Betson

Another shopper, Joe Carroll, voted for Fine Gael.

“Crime is a big issue. I voted on local issues,” he says.

Asked if there was anger among voters, he asks: “What is there to be angry about? I am happy enough. I have four children, life is good.” On immigration, he says: “We need people coming to the country.”

Another man, in his 40s, “just wouldn’t vote for [Pepper]”.

“I wasn’t happy when I saw him get in,” he says. “The anti-immigration thing ... It just boils me”.

This, however, is east Finglas, a more affluent and busy part of the sprawling north Dublin suburb. With a population of about 30,000 – similar to that of Navan in Co Meath – Finglas is socially diverse, with pockets of affluence amid much disadvantage, particularly in west Finglas.

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Home to the now councillor Pepper, this is where he received many of the 1,126 first preferences and where, according to the independent agency Pobal’s analysis of 2022 Census data, people are “very” or “extremely disadvantaged”, with a male unemployment rate of up to 32 per cent.

In this area, female unemployment stands at 25 per cent, and just 7.3 per cent have third-level education and 41 per cent have only primary-school education.

West Finglas is a particularly disadvantaged area. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

In this area, respect – and even affection – for Pepper is evident. Immigration is raised frequently, but in the context of wider challenges.

A single mother of four says: “My first preference was for Gavin Pepper, and my second for another local lad, Stephen Redmond.”

The transfers from Redmond of the National Party were important to Pepper’s election. Safety and crime are her main concerns.

“I live up here with my four kids and I wouldn’t let my 18-year-old go into town. All them unvetted men are in tents by the canal. ‘No way,’ I told her,” she says.

“Then you go in town and it’s your own Irish homeless in the streets and the others are being put in hotels ... It makes people sound racist saying this, but it makes people angry.”

Describing the road where she lived as a “hellhole with antisocial behaviour”, she wants the “drug epidemic” addressed.

Ciara, a single mother of three, voted for Pepper, Redmond and Leon Bradley, another Independent.

Leon Bradley ran in the local elections in Finglas but did not win a seat. Photograph: Alan Betson

“Local fellas,” she says. “One of my sons is special needs and trying to get them [politicians and the HSE] to do anything is impossible. I was homeless two years and didn’t get a help off anybody. The local fellas, they will stand by their word.”

Several council houses around the green in front of the shops are boarded up. One is in serious disrepair with rotting window frames, a broken window, damp marks on the walls, and foot-high grass growing along the length of gutters. The property appears to be occupied. Rubbish, including food wrappings, clothes, drink cans and tablet blister-packs, is strewn around the overgrown green.

Pepper declined to be interviewed for this article. In a brief interview after being elected with the online news outlet Gript, he mentioned immigration a number of times but spoke more about his plans to fight for “things in my community.

“I want a boxing club – things the community has been promised for years, being ignored, people on the housing list not being housed, elderly people ... We need more community services ... the roads are in bits, there’s no summer camps any more,” he says.

He continued: “My community is in disarray ... It has good things but the Government has neglected it for years. They neglect working-class communities ... I want stuff for the kids in our area. There are nitrous oxide cans. We need to start putting motions in to make nitrous oxide illegal for up to 18-year-olds.”

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Government and “the establishment” have ignored disadvantaged communities like his, he says. “And when people like me were speaking up against it ... they call us far right, fascist, use stupid words that don’t sum up the working-class family man like me.”

He references data published by the Department of Housing on the day of the elections, showing how the number of people in emergency accommodation passed 14,000 for the first time, including more than 4,000 children. Not counted among these are rough-sleepers, including in tents pitched on scrubland, under flyovers and by the M50, just over a kilometre from west Finglas.

Homeless people have set up camp on a busy motorway interchange in North County Dublin.

The tents, accessible only by crossing a busy intersection on foot and climbing over fences, were occupied on Friday but the occupants asleep. Homelessness is “getting worse and worse and worse and the Government ignores that,” says Pepper, “and is bringing in more and more illegal immigrants”.

The truth of the latter statement is questionable, but the sentiment perhaps understandable, say people such as Cian McKenna, a youth worker in the Finglas Youth Resource Centre. Working with more than 640 young people last year, the centre sees children and teenagers whose families experience “significant levels of deprivation” and issues including domestic violence, gang violence, addiction, risk of being groomed into gangs, low educational attainment, suicide “and a general feeling of being left behind and forgotten”.

Cian McKenna, interim project leader of the Finglas Youth Resource Centre. Photograph: Alan Betson

With inadequate and ad-hoc funding the centre supports young people, often in serious crisis. Just half an hour before The Irish Times visited, a young man in his 20s, the sole carer of his primary-school age sibling, had called in. “He had no electricity on the meter or food in the presses,” says Mr McKenna. “We went through our presses, gave him cereals and were able to give some money for the meter.

Fintan O'Toole: There’s one fundamental reason why we have a housing crisisOpens in new window ]

“The sad thing is a lot of working-class communities similar to Finglas are being labelled as racist or backwards. I really think this is not the case. This community has a lot of love to give and gives it out in plenty. Yes, there has been a rise in the vote share for ‘far-right’ parties. But that doesn’t mean these communities have been radicalised and want to deport everyone. They feel forgotten about, ignored and want a voice.

“They don’t feel the social contract is working for them. In fact, they feel it has been torn up.”