At Lunch With... Councillor Ray McHugh

It’s Tuesday morning, and the sun isn’t out but it’s mild enough to sit outside Deli-licious in Crumlin Village. It is one of the few cafés in the area and is “great value” according to local Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Ray McHugh.

Though he says he shouldn’t, he orders a full Irish fry and a coffee (€7.95), which is served with generous amounts of everything. He has just spent the morning at his monthly clinic in the local council offices, and has built up a hunger.

The most frequent questions he gets, like most councillors, are regarding housing. But all he can do is write letters on behalf of his constituents, which, he says, disappear into the bureaucracy of the council’s housing department.

In previous housing crises, he says, the council was able to find money to build houses. “Even going back to the 30s and 40s, they were able to build areas like Drimnagh, Crumlin, Ballyfermot. There was no money at all in the country, but they were able to maintain all the houses,” he says.

“It’s a crazy situation,” he adds, discussing one of his constituents, who is living in the Sunnybank Hotel in Glasnevin with their children; they all have to leave each morning at 9am with their bags.

He acknowledges that the former Lord Mayor, Christy Burke, did a lot, but says that, at the end of the day, there was nothing built. “We need some action on it,” he says.

Sinn Féin is weighing whether it should support modular or prefabricated housing as an option to relieve the use of hotels as emergency accommodation. Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh has visited Edinburgh to look at how it’s done there. “They have a great model over there,” McHugh says.

Plans for housing built specifically for the elderly have gotten the go-ahead in Crumlin, and McHugh hopes that the council will give older locals the opportunity to downsize, in the hope that this will free up homes for families in the area.

McHugh campaigns for a lot of small projects, but believes they can make a big difference.

He has been pushing for a playground in Pearse Park in Crumlin, and now it is due to be in place by the end of the year. He recalls bringing his kids to a playground in the same park. “Now we’re getting it back,” he laughs and shakes his head.

The playground came through as part of the council budget, which Sinn Féin councillors voted for as part of a deal agreed with other parties.

People Before Profit didn’t support the budget and believes Sinn Féin shouldn’t have either, says McHugh, but he was happy to get funding for the playground. “These are all things that come through with the budget. I mean, we got a 15 percent cut in local property tax with the budget as well,” he says.

For this November’s budget, Sinn Féin is yet to decide whether it will continue to support the maximum 15 percent decrease in property tax.

McHugh is also campaigning for more football pitches, a hurling wall for children to learn how to play GAA and outdoor gyms in parks. He believes sports is a way of avoiding drugs and has helped organise an anti-drugs soccer tournament for the past 14 years.

He is also hoping to see a dog park created for the area on Clonmacnoise field, saying the dog-poo problem is awful. “It would be a simple enough thing . . . It wouldn’t cost that much really,” he says.

McHugh worked in Eircom for 30 years and was a delegate for the Communication Workers’ Union. He joined Sinn Féin a long time ago, because he supports the idea of a united Ireland. He has campaigned for TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh since he first became a general-election candidate.

It is unclear whether McHugh would like to run as a TD or not, but the candidates for next year’s general election have already been selected. As well as Ó Snodaigh, Máire Devine will be running for party in this area.

McHugh puts Devine being chosen as the second candidate for the area down to the gender quotas. He disagrees with these, saying that candidates should be selected based on ability, not gender.

“I mean, I wouldn’t mind 100 women in government running the show if they were the right people for the job, but just to elect a person because she’s a woman, or put them forward because she’s a woman, doesn’t seem right to me,” he says.

McHugh and other Sinn Féin councillors do a lot of work for TDs, and they have even more work ahead as they gear up for the general elections.

Councillors work very hard to earn their salaries, he says. “If you look at our salary and the hours we do – our salary is only €16,000 and we do put in more than 40 hours – it’s less than minimum wage that we’re getting,” he says.

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Louisa McGrath: Louisa McGrath is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lmcgrath@dubinq.com.

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