Local elections will take place in Ireland later this year. Finbar Lynch spoke to People Before Profit Cllr. Hazel de Nortúin about her experience on Dublin City Council and what socialists can achieve at local council.
Finbar Lynch: What first politicised you?
Hazel De Nortúin: When Bríd (Smith, TD) was running for Europe in 2014, I was trying to get my son into the Gaelscoil in Islandbridge. They said that they very rarely took any kids from Ballyfermot because of the catchment area. I was shocked that there were no Irish language facilities covering the area anymore because I had gone to that Gaelscoil.
An awful lot of the community had. But after the gentrification of the surrounding area, a lot of people were refused places. Still, I had gone to local reps at the time who were running in the elections and asked, “What are you going to do to make these services more accessible? And Bríd was the only one that had said, “I don’t know how exactly I can help you, but I want to sit down with you just to come up with some ideas.”
She helped me get to a place where I ended up opening up our own Irish language preschool and to campaign for a Gaelscoil. And that’s been running for a few years now. So that would be the first introduction to People Before Profit. Then I end up hanging around for longer and became an organiser for the organisation and would have been introduced to the wider politics.
Finbar: Could you tell me a bit more about your experience outside of the council?
Hazel: So the main thing I would be doing outside of the council, because I’m from Cherry Orchard, is around getting supports for people in what the state would call “disadvantaged areas.” A lot of it is around getting domestic violence services, about getting full wrap around trauma-informed care services, really trying to intervene in young people’s lives working on the campaign to get our own dedicated domestic violence service in the area as well. We have a particular peak of very violent cases in the D10 area when you compare them to our surrounding communities and we have a research initiative going on at the moment.
I got some funding off Dublin City Council to do a research piece to identify why the levels of violence and the threat to life is so high in this area and why it is so difficult for anybody that’s suffering domestic violence to get back on their feet. So that would be another piece that I will be hugely passionate about and want to progress it until we do get the services that are needed.
Finbar: Why should people get behind People Before Profit?
Hazel: I think the reason that People Before Profit stands out from other on-the-ground political parties obviously is excluding Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael from our activities. There’s always an emphasis on trying to work with whatever groups we can within the community to try and build an organisation from the ground up. We’re a member-led organization that emphasises working as part of a collective. It’s also breaking through that barrier of not having any of those dynasty types passing on the seats or passing on to the family that would probably have excluded community people from getting into politics. So that whole ground up approach appealed to me.
I think taking that power back from the top down from the state and actually giving power back to communities is a hugely important point that has been instilled in me. And I think People Before Profit is the organisation most aligned with those principles. And as difficult as it may be to kind of come up against the waves, we’re not a huge organisation. We punch way above our weight, but it’s too important to communities to not have us here. To say that it’s not the issues that we have created, or that foreigners have created, or that the travelling community have created, it’s the government parties who’ve run this country for decades.
Finbar: Considering all of that, what do you think socialists can achieve at a council level?
Hazel: that’s a question you come back to all the time when you’re in there because of how bureaucratic it is and how much red tape holds up the basic decisions, particularly around housing. And I think the best way that we can operate as socialists within the council structures is obviously advocating for people through the given system, but also then having those conversations around why it’s so bad and how we can organise to fight back against that system, whether it’s a local housing campaign or a campaign to save a service.
Having that platform and establishing those relationships with working class communities gives us an opportunity to make a broader point and say well, if these are the issues that keep coming up and we’re always constantly fighting for crumbs, what exactly have we to do to be more organised and to make sure that we have more power, and more resources coming into our communities? We’re not afraid to be the uncomfortable person in the room that’s constantly saying “no, we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back for these small wins, we should be fighting for far more.”
Finbar: What issues have you found matter most of your constituents? What issues will you be campaigning on in the local election?
Hazel: Housing. Housing is a massive, massive issue and we have a huge problem with vacant social houses in my constituency, which in the middle of housing crisis is unbelievable. Like 3 beds, 4 beds, bungalows. The most sought-after type of properties has just been left boarded up. And the longer you leave a property boarded up the more money it’s going to take to turn it around. The government then are withdrawing the funding that they’re giving to the councils to turn these houses around.
So, they’re just constantly making the situation worse whilst the list is getting ever longer for people that need properties. And as well as housing, we’ll campaign for the funding of services. The government mindset is always “we build first and then come back and give you the services and resources” and it’s never happened. I think in Cherry Orchard we’re on our fourth plan now and they’ve never come back with the services. We’re left with one corner shop. So after the necessity of housing, we’ll be getting those resources and services that have been promised for decades and all of the social kind of services that we need to make a society sustainable socially, economically and environmentally.
Finbar: The Saturday before last, there was a massive national demonstration for Palestine in Dublin with 100,000 people out as reported by the IPSC. Do you think Palestine will be a factor in the local elections at all?
Hazel: I think so. It’s well known that anytime we try to do anything on the council, nationally or internationally, we’re always told it’s outside our remit by management. But I do think there are gestures that we can make. We’ve flown the flag over City Hall. We’ve called for support of the BDS movement. We’ve refused to meet the Israeli ambassador. All of these small wins will show support to not only our Palestinian community here, but internationally. To show that the good people of Ireland are in support of them fighting back for their right to a decent, safe, justified life.
Finbar: Obviously it’s been really heartening to see the level of Palestinian solidarity in
Ireland. A concerning development at the same time is the emergence of the far right in Ireland. Are you concerned about how the far right will perform in your area in the local elections?
Hazel: I am. At the same time, I think it’s up to us to get out and to talk to people, without patronising them when talking to them about housing and the far right. Obviously, the far right are exploiting communities that have been completely starved of their basic needs. And the housing crisis has been a feeding ground for the far right to fill that gap, breed fear and make scapegoats of anyone new coming into the area. We have to fight back and say that everybody’s on that list in some shape or form, whether it’s the travelling community or anyone from any background or anyone from Dublin moving down to rural communities. It’s not the answer to be turning on each other and ripping up community support.
So it’s up to us now, the standing councillors to try and build on our platforms, to try and get out and make those arguments. And I think we’re working with people through housing and building on those campaigns and showing that the left isn’t something to fearful of. The far right are trying to say that you can’t trust us because we’ll bring in these dark George Soros type of people who are going to be telling us what to do and what to say and all of these weird conspiracy theories. I don’t know what breakthrough they’re going to make. I don’t think we can be overly fearful of them. We can’t let it overwhelm us, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not going to go away either during this election or after. And it’s something that we’re going to have to try and learn to grapple with. And I think Sinn Féin doing a u-turn on it hasn’t been very helpful at all. I think them softening and using dangerous language has to be said around, you know those from Ukraine that are over here at the moment and pandering to them isn’t going to help address the situation at all.
We’re building a fight and calling people out for the Stand Together march on March 2nd, standing in solidarity with Palestine, constantly having those conversations with people, trying to get them to fight with the real cause of social issues, which is the government. Kick up and not down. All of those arguments are going to be very important. So I’m not too worried about it. I am watching it and I’m not naive to it, but I’m too focused on fighting for what’s right.
Finbar: You mentioned Sinn Féin there, obviously Sinn Féin performed quite well in the last general election, but they actually had quite poor local elections just the year before that. I think that was put down largely to poor turn out, particularly in the areas in which they would expect to do well, in the working class areas, which would obviously be your base as well. Do you expect turn out to improve this time?
Hazel: I think the turn out will actually be high this time. Everybody’s so tuned into what’s going on and what political parties are saying. And so I do think people are going to take the opportunity to get out and vote. I think that’s why we’re going to see a really polarised result. We have been trying to warn of this for a good few years now, particularly trying to push Sinn Féin to stand with us against the far right or all the scaremongering that was getting people out on the street.
Unfortunately, I think they decided to say very little because they didn’t want to get caught up in anything that might damage them in the polls for the general election. And unfortunately I think that’s a bad direction that they’ve taken and I think ultimately they will pay the price for it in the long term. I’m fearful of the hate that’s going to drip into communities, or how someone from a different background is going to be treated within communities. I think they’ve taken the cowardly route of not saying anything on some of the topics that they should have, particularly now we even see them going over to Washington to meet Joe Biden for Saint Patrick’s Day knowing that they have literally funded the massacre in Gaza. So, It’s not a good look and it’s definitely selling your morals for votes.
Finbar: Another of the major existential challenges for humanity now is the ongoing climate and bioversity crisis. How do you bring about change to environmental policy at a council level?
Hazel: We have the development plan which is to set out how the city is to be planned and it’s very broad and dynamic and covers various different topics as part of its remit. There’s an environment section, which can kind of change over year to year. It’s been moving more towards keeping green spaces, making sure the developments that come in are in line with good practice. The council are also publishing an environmental plan, the floodplains plan, all of these different plans and drafts are coming down the line because they now know that the shape of the city is going to change.
We’re going to be looking at far more flood risks that’s going to affect communities. They’re talking about from the Camac River going into through the Liffey into Dublin creating a wet plains effect so that any of the water that’s run off or any build-up of water is naturally absorbed along the banks of the Liffey or streams or rivers that are running through the city to try and mitigate any damage. And I think they’re trying to redirect the planning. You may have seen they made some statement there a while ago where they were asking people to not concrete their gardens because it was pushing all the water run-off into the drainage system or the roads if they’re getting clogged and causing localised flooding and stuff.
So they’re trying to undo some bad planning from previous years which is a bit too late. I think they’re progressive plans going forward, if they do manage to follow them through will be more beneficial for the city, for transport to be more effective, having more naturally developed environmental areas around large developments but whether it’s to come to fruition, I’m not 100% sure. The biodiversity officers and the plans are all established, but I don’t know practically if any of it is going to really make a change because of whether they see it through or not is yet to be seen.
Finbar: Thanks Hazel. Last question: why should your constituents vote for you?
Hazel: I think having somebody who understands the background of where communities are at and what will work in communities rather than just telling communities “this is what you need” rather than asking them “what do you need” is going to be a massive benefit to have for any candidate. And I think I’ve encapsulated that over the last few years very clearly. I think having somebody who’s not going to be afraid to go in and bring that fight to the officers or the managers and Dublin City Council is the only way to even get the basic necessity and needs that people should be having, whether it’s around housing or parks and green spaces and in general. But having somebody who’s going to go and take the fight to them and not be afraid to stand up. And at this point, after being in there for seven to eight years, I’m raring to go just with anger at this stage, at the lack of delivery and the lack of support and lack of humanity that’s been shown to some people who have been victims of state policy. I think that’s what I’d bring to the council this time around.