So far, not much has changed for independent Dublin City Councillor Cieran Perry since his election as deputy lord mayor in late June.
It’s quiet in the city over the summer and the Lord Mayor’s Office tends to focus on the lord mayor, rather than the deputy.
From what he says of the role, though, it seems stage-managed.
Invitations have to be approved by the Lord Mayor’s Office. Statements in the deputy lord mayor’s name have to go through the press office. Usually, press releases aren’t released on behalf of the deputy lord mayor.
“That’ll be changing,” he says. “What I’ll do is I’ll just release it in my own name, and just say also deputy lord mayor.”
Perry – with his record of militant activism and his multiple arrests – doesn’t seem like somebody to be stage-managed.
It’s about 12.30pm on Monday and the moment he walked in the door of The Lovinspoon cafe on North Frederick Street, we leapt into a conversation about his frustration with the role of councillors. (He thinks they’re an unnecessary “interface” that wouldn’t be needed if all the offices dealt with people like they should.)
I’d already grabbed a coffee, but Perry declines anything to eat or drink. I wonder whether to press it, conscious that this spot is becoming less At Lunch With A Councillor and more A Chat With A Councillor While A Reporter Eats and Drinks. But I don’t.
We sit at a small table in the corner by the door. As usual, Perry’s hair is slicked back. He rests his phone on his lap, and glances at it every now and then.
Go far enough back, and Perry’s political origins are rooted in punk. The music politicised him, he said. At first, he was interested in “your standard lefty stuff”, which at the time, meant causes like Nicaragua.
But he and his fellow activists got to a stage where they decided to work more from the ground up, he said. They made a conscious decision to become involved in community activism.
Around that time, in the 1990s, the anti-drugs movement hit, and communities mobilised against the blight of drugs on their doorsteps. Perry became heavily involved in his neighbourhood, Cabra.
They were phenomenal times, he said. “We ran local patrols in the area for the best part of the year.” They’d walk the streets, making sure that drug dealers kept moving. They forced – he estimates – 37 drug dealers out of a relatively small area. “Unheard of,” he says.
At the time, the movement was painted as dominated by Republicans. The picture was more complicated, says Perry. “The Republicans didn’t dominate to the extent that people said they did, but it gave the state the excuse to try and police the protest unnecessarily.”
Later, Perry was involved in the anti-bin-tax campaign in the early 2000s, opposing the introduction of bin-collection charges by local authorities. “Militant stuff,” he says.
The next logical step? To run for election, if you feel nobody is doing what you’d like them to be doing. He had worked with independent Councillor Tony Gregory, who he thought was good. “But again, he didn’t appear to be leaving a legacy. So we just said we’d run for council.”
When Perry ran in 2004, he lost out by around 90 votes. In 2009, he had more success and was elected. In 2014, he won the most votes in his constituency, Cabra-Finglas.
Drug Decriminalisation and Shooting Galleries
Perry continues to have strong views on drug policy and isn’t impressed by ideas coming from Labour Minister for Drugs Aodhan O’Riordain. He’s wary about decriminalisation – it depends on what it would mean – and he’s against supervised injecting centres.
That, he says, is because of the changes he has seen in Cabra. Since the community mobilised decades back to kick out drug dealers, there hasn’t been an increase in addicts in the area, he says. You can still get drugs, but they’re not openly for sale.
This backs up his argument, he says, that if you make it more hassle for people to get drugs, many won’t bother. “The people who are addicted will travel. They’ll go to the moon to get their gear. But the people who are just interested in trying something, won’t,” he argues.
I’m sipping my coffee, which is a pleasant strength, not too mud-puddly and not too head-zinging, and I’m suddenly conscious that Perry is still drink-and-lunch-less. I ask again if he wants something. He says he’s fine.
So, we move the conversation on to decriminalisation.
What does he think of it? It depends on what you’re calling decriminalisation, he says. “The difficulty I have with it is that it begins to normalise drug use.”
If you’re talking about hash for personal use, nobody wants that person criminalised, but that doesn’t really happen here, he argues.
In any case, he’d like there to be more of a push on tackling the shortage of rehabilitation services. That, he says, is the answer. Some people will never get off drugs and they can probably be managed, but the majority at some stage want to get off it.
“And when they’ve made that really difficult decision, we need to be ready to jump, to give them what they want,” he said. At the moment, that isn’t happening. He cites the example of one guy he knows who wanted to come off his methadone but couldn’t find anywhere to help him do it.
“Methadone is there to stabilise people and then be weaned off. That hasn’t been done,” he says.
As he sees it, that’s a class thing. You just dope people up so they don’t rob and put them out of sight. That wouldn’t be acceptable in more affluent areas. Anyways, in those areas, they can afford rehab.
I ask whether the reluctance to taper people off methadone might be related to fears of relapse, and overdosing.
He seems to doubt that that would be an issue for everybody. “Quantify that,” he says. “How many of them could actually manage to get off, and how many can’t?”
It’s fine if there are people who need to be on methadone, Perry stresses. “But there’s no way that the majority of people who are on methadone need to be on methadone, at least to the degree that they are.”
Perry says he also plans to use his platform to highlight homelessness. He thought Dublin City Council might have made more headway on the issue, given how much the last lord mayor, Christy Burke, did to highlight the issue.
“But no,” he says. “Zero impact.”
Most of that isn’t city council’s fault as they don’t have a big enough budget or the power, he said. But it is a bit.
For emergency hostel accommodation alone, Dublin’s four local authorities are spending around €750,000 a month. Why isn’t money being spent on buying accommodation? Perry asks.
The speed of the council response is frustrating. “I can’t understand why, you look up the road at the Bolt Hostel, there’s ordinary activists getting in, doing it up. Why can’t the council do that? Why can’t the council move at the same speed?”
How should the council deal with the Bolt Hostel activists? I ask.
“It’s a difficult one,” he said. On the one hand, Dublin City Council wouldn’t have vacated the building unless there were issues. But what the activists are doing is excellent because they’re being proactive and highlighting the issue, he said.
He wouldn’t want to see homeless people in there forever, but this is an emergency. There are people living in cars, sleeping in shopping centres and outdoors in lane-ways. “Surely, even if it’s not the Ritz, they’d be only too happy to have a decent hostel,” he says.
Right now, Perry is gearing up for the general election. It’s not the first time he’s run to be TD. In the past, it was to increase his profile. “It’s an opportunity to engage with people,” he said.
He’s not impressed with how the Dail does businesses, but is tempted by the resources that a win would deliver: funding for research staff, printing, an office.
And this time, he thinks, the climate is even riper for an established independent. “The reason now would be, in our constituency, with the swing towards non-establishment parties, for want of a better word, there may be an opportunity to get people elected.”