Today I spoke with Councillor Joan Collins of People Before Profit who represents the Crumlin/Kimmage ward of Dublin City Council (DCC). Councillor Collins is a well known opponent of the bin tax, high-rise apartment blocks (and abuse of rezoning schemes in DCC) and the cutbacks to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin (Crumlin Hospital). A councillor since 2004, Councillor Collins works in An Post and has been active in the trade union movement all her life.
NF: A lot of smaller leftist parties and left-leaning independents were elected in the last local elections. Do you think this is the start of a change in Irish politics, a protest vote or a combination of the two?
JC: I’d say it was a mixture of both. I think there is a change in the way people are thinking, obviously because of what has happened over the last year, the impact the cuts are having on people, how quickly they’ve come and how the government has been in the process.
Everyone knew what was happening a few years ago. Developers knew. People on the street knew what was happening because of all the apartments sitting empty. I remember people telling me “ah there’s an apartment building there; fifty apartments and not a person in one.” People knew that there was a downturn coming and the goverment tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.
We went into an official recession last November, so people would’ve seen it developing over a period of time. I think people are very very angry about the inaction of the government and the attack on ordinary peeople that was the last budget. The people that caused this are getting away with it; they’re the ones that are sitting pretty on their big pensions while we’re getting pension levies and cutbacks in our hospitals and communities.
People are seeing people like myself, activists who have been around a long time, as people who’ll kick Fianna Fáil out.
Do you predict a growth for People Before Profit in the future? Will you build on your five seats in DCC and challenge for a Dáil seat?
Yeah we got five council seats across Dublin which was a huge breakthrough as this was the first election we really campiagned as an organised force.
At People Before Profit we want to develop the movement now. I think People Before Profit is a good, catchy idea- it’s putting people before the greed, cronyism and profiteering we’ve had for years in this country.
We are in talks with the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group, who have fourteen councillors across Tipperary and fourty-three percent of the vote, and they’ve been around for a long time. They also had a Dáil seat but lost it in the last General Election, like Joe Higgins did. We’re looking at linking up with them, and we’ve also been talking to people like Declan Bree in Sligo and Catherine Connolly in Galway, who’d be ex-Labour. Chris O’Leary in Cork who left the Green Party over their policies in government would be another one we’re talking to.
We’re looking at broadening it out now, we’ll be tallking to Joe Higgins and the Socialist Party because there’s a real need now for an alternative. To me Labour and Fine Gael aren’t real opposition. You could see that in Dublin where the working class didn’t really vote for Fine Gael, they know that they’re only a mirror image of Fianna Fáil.
Labour don’t seem to really have in them to go out into communities and get people organised. They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. When they were out canvassing for the local elections they were all talking about going it on their own, now they’re going in with Fine Gael on the DCC. People voted for real change, not the same old crap they;re giving us on that council. They’ve linked up with Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein and all for chairmans seats on the Special Policy Committees.
There’s definitely a need for a group like the People Before Profit Alliance, and I think we will grow. We’re really calling on people like Joe Higgins to organise and build a new Workers’ movement, and hopefully then we can work with him.
You’re very much a campaigner on issues like the bin tax and the cutbacks to Crumlin hospital. How important is it for a successful election campaign to be centred on issues like these?
Well it’s really part of the process. Following on from what I was saying earlier about Labour talking the talk but not walking the walk; well people like myself, Brid Smith and Richard Boyd-Barrett are actually out in the communities organising people to stop bad things happening and to push good things happening. We successfully stopped the sale of ten percent of Pearse Park to a private developer and we also stopped the building of the high-rise apartments there. We stopped the rezoning of the park, and now we’re trying to work with the clubs there to have them go to the council and say “this is about what we want, not what you want.”
I remember a while ago the council commissioned an architect to draw up a plan for Crumlin Village. There was a meeting called, and a lot of people were excited as they went down to it. All it was was five-storey developments from one end of the village to the other. He was asked did he ever put his foot inside Crumlin, did he know the history of Crumlin, and he said he never had set foot in Crumlin, didn’t know a thing about it. That was DCC sending a green light out to developers, saying that this is the sort of thing they’ll accept.
We also stopped that horrible development at the Ashleaf Shopping Centre, and An Bord Pleanala went on and castigated DCC for ever allowing it. You’d nearly wonder where the permission for the developments is coming from.
From there I talked to people in the area and set up the Dublin 12 Development Action Group, which a sort of an umbrella group for community activists which educates people about development law and planning law.
Campaigning on issues is really crucial to politics. It’s crucial for people to see that you’re there and you’re not just around at election time.
I recently saw your statement where you spoke out against the agreement in DCC where Fine Gael and Labour effectively decide mayoral and committee positions amongst themselves. What alternative agreement would you prefer?
Well I would have preferred if Labour had come out with a set of principles for the council and for the community. People like ourselves would then support them, we could be like a block against Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
What has been done in other areas, such as in Tipperary, is that the positions are rotated frequently so that each group in the council has a chance to advocate their own ideas. This year Fine Gael and Labour have said to the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group that they wouldn’t be supporting the policy of rotation anymore.
Ideally we’d have a directly elected Lord Mayor, which is an idea I’d fully support. I know Gormley has said that we’d have that system in place now, but unfortunately I can’t see that happening now.
I’d say what Minister Gormley was originally thinking was that he’s get a Green Lord Mayor of Dublin, but that’s not going to happen now.
So ideally the position of mayor and the other position would be either elected or rotated, so that there’s no alliances made and that it’s independent of the City Manager.
On Monday Emer Costello effectively got in by default. Mannix Flynn had said he’d run against Kevin Humphreys for Deputy Lord Mayor. We’d been told by two independents that they’d vote for Costello because she was in their constituency, but when it came to it they voted for Kevin Humphreys for Deputy aswell. They’d obviously both made a deal beforehand that they’d both vote for Labour.
Women are drastically under-represented in Irish politics. You were the only female candidate in the Crumlin/Kimmage constituency for the local elections, and you are now the only female councillor. How can women increase their representation in Irish politics?
It is a tough question to answer because without the social backup a lot of women you can’t access politics. I work in An Post and for years I was involved in unions all my life. What I always noticed was women were involved in their union at a young age, dropped away from the union as their family responsibilities grew and the came back into it as they grew older.
Unless radical things like workplace childcare start to happen it will be difficult to change.
For working-class women it’s even tougher. Politics takes money, and a lot of women just don’t have that money. However on our Area Committee (in DCC) now, there are six women and five men. But I would question what type of women and men we have in there. Ultimately it does come down to class politics. There’s very few working-class women in politics, but I think it something that you’d have to address over a period of time. Stopping globalisation and crony capitalism with democratic socialism is a way forward.
Many women, due to family and work commitments, just don’t have the time to get involved. By the time they get home from work they’re making dinner and putting the kids to bed, they just don’t have the time.
Do you think there is a mentality of “women never get elected, so what hope do I have?” among women?
I think so, women are sort of put into boxes in that way. The good thing is that women now are much more outgoing than they ever were when I was starting out, when we were all definitely put in a box. Hopefully seeing women like myself get elected will boost womens’ confidence that they can get elected.
Many thanks to Joan Collins for her time and patience