Photos by Stephen Bourke

I don’t know who these guys are, I’ve never seen them before.

That was what residents of the north Dublin suburb of Ashtown were saying this spring when election posters first went up, according to Sinéad Owens, secretary of the Navan Road Community Council.

Their new prospective overlords weren’t the faces they had voted for in previous years when the area was part of the Dublin Central constituency. Instead, they were candidates from Dublin West, of which the area had become a part, all eager to get the edge in what proved to be an incredibly tight race.

Not one candidate secured more than a fifth of the first-preference vote in the four-seater constituency, and incumbent Labour minister Joan Burton was chased into a fifth round of counting by Sinn Fein’s Paul Donnelly in a dogfight for the last seat.

It was a tricky election for Navan Road locals too, Owens said. “It was quite hard to make a decision for people. The prospective TDs wouldn’t have been known to us as well, in terms of their having been Fingal county councillors we didn’t know and [we] weren’t aware of their work.”

“They would not have seen this area as being important to them in terms of getting numbers. Certain politicians obviously did campaign heavily in this area. Certain other politicians realised late in the day that we might be important to their numbers – then they were on the case.”

The Navan Road Community Council wants things to go back to they way they were.

It has nailed its colours to the mast as far as the border is concerned: it wants out of Dublin West and into Dublin Central, and plans to make a submission to the Constituency Commission.

The Rathborne Community Association and the Royal Canal Park Community Association both said they had not taken a position yet.

Drawing Borders

Ashtown is almost entirely separated from the rest of Dublin West by the green belt around greater Blanchardstown. Transport links are very strong along the commuter corridor of the N3, but the physical separation delineates them as separate places.

The Irish constitution requires a TD be elected for every 20,000 to 30,000 citizens. To keep up with changes in population, Dáil constituencies are redrawn every time new census data becomes available.

It sounds simple enough, but the reality is a delicate and fickle balancing act – not made any easier by the process of cutting the number of TDs from 166 to 158. That led to major boundary changes ahead of the general election earlier this year, as the officials in charge annexed territory here and there to make up the numbers for a seat in the Dáil.

Following the 2011 census, there was a heavy lobbying campaign to unite Swords, the county seat of Fingal, under one constituency. That meant taking parts of western rural Fingal out of Dublin West to make the new five-seater Dublin Fingal constituency.

That left Dublin West stuck if it wanted to remain a four-seat constituency, and grafting on a little slice of Dublin Central as the constituency shrunk to three seats was the solution.

The problem now is that preliminary census results indicate Dublin Central has the second-highest ratio of residents to seats of any Dáil constituency in the state – and its neighbour Dublin North West is in third place.

But even though the figures say Dublin Central as a whole is underrepresented, by all accounts Ashtown is crawling with politicians.

The Navan Road residents’ group says it sees councillors from two different local authority areas coming to its meetings – the ones they vote for in the locals, and the Dublin 15 representatives laying the groundwork for a shot at the Dáil.

“[We’re] not necessarily underrepresented, no, it’s more that we’re represented by the wrong people. We’re within the city limits, yet from a general election point of view we’ve gone from being the outer edge of Dublin city to effectively the outer edge of the Fingal area even though we’re not really Fingal,” said Owens.

“At this point we have both Fingal councillors and Dublin City councillors coming to our meetings,” said Owens. “Who are you meant to be representing? Are you representing us or not? It’s just very strange really. It’s always nice to have somebody batting for you. It’s nice to have someone putting in parliamentary questions for you. It’s our hope that we’d see them not just at general election times – it would be helpful if we saw them all the time.”

Crossing Borders

Among the suitors from Fingal is the Green Party’s Roderic O’Gorman, a councillor for the Castleknock ward in Dublin 15. He crosses the border into Dublin City Council territory to do constituency work for local residents. He’s not alone.

“A lot of the meetings – maybe more so before the election – I’ve seen the Dublin 15 reps in there. I’ve seen Jack [Chambers], Paul Donnelly, myself. Dave McGuinness was there once or twice, so there’s a fair few of us coming out to the meetings,” said O’Gorman.

O’Gorman has been doing constituency work in the Navan Road area since the boundary was redrawn in 2013, and while he says he understands where the residents are coming from, he believes Ashtown is a good fit for Dublin 15.

“Dublin West and the Ashtown, Royal Canal area, they do share a lot of same services. The train line is the same, the bus routes are the same. Whatever impacts on them impacts on us out in Dublin 15 as well,” he said.

Much of the two Ashtown wards are old, settled estates with older inhabitants which would be traditionally closer to Cabra – but the newer apartment complexes north of the canal share the same issues as Dublin 15.

“I understand why they’d want to move,” said O’Gorman. “I’d be sorry because I think they share a lot with Dublin 15, particularly the new area around Rathborne, Royal Canal. Its future is going to be linked to Dublin 15 through sharing the rail lines, the need for new schools.”

For O’Gorman, adding Ashtown to Dublin West is the least worst way to keep Dublin West’s fourth seat.

“The problem is that if Navan Road is taken out of Dublin West that leaves Dublin West at a bit of a shortfall to get the number for four TDs. I’m not sure where the rest of that would be made up. It either comes from the Ashtown area, it could could come from part of Finglas but then you’re taking a chunk of Finglas out and lobbing that in with Blanch and Castleknock, or it comes from the north county around Swords, from the rural areas around the airport.”

“If they do take out the Navan Road, I’m not sure what will be put back into Dublin West to replace it for the four seats.”

And cutting Dublin West back to three seats? “Those are evil words,” he said. “The other thing is we could get even more of Cabra thrown in and we could become a five-seater. Cabra is reunited and we get a fifth seat.”

Missing Home

The boundary changes came as a shock to the area’s traditional representatives. Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan got the third and last seat in Dublin Central this spring.

“I can see where the Navan Road are coming from,” she said. “I think people did lose out. We were elected and people still think we’re representing some of those areas but we’re not.”

O’Sullivan says she still takes calls from people ruled out of her old patch by the stroke of a pen and is happy to help.

But there are so many meetings, and so little time. She said she tries to attend the Navan Road area meetings organised by the council, but with a lot on her plate, she has to prioritise.

“One time the [local area] meeting’s on the Navan Road, some of whom would be in my constituency, but when the meeting’s up in Pelletstown … if something else clashes with it I don’t go up. It was certainly a lot easier when we were all one big happy family,” she said.

“The redrawing took the TDs in the area by surprise. When it was going on originally there were various constituencies that were mentioned as being in line for redrawing, but Dublin Central wasn’t mentioned anywhere,” she said. “We were all very much taken aback the way that the constituency was redrawn.”

The slimmed-down constituency isn’t all bad news, however. “I’m transfer-friendly rather than being a person’s first choice, so it did affect me that way. In that [2016] election I took the third seat. But in a practical way, it helps – you have a smaller constituency to get around and for leafleting and that.”

Sinéad Owens says that when the final census figures come out next April, there will be another round of changes for Dublin constituencies – and that will be Ashtown’s window to get back in. “It makes more sense for us to return, and I think the census figures will probably back that up in that Fingal will have to be redrawn in some way anyway,” she said.

“We still feel like we are within the Dublin city limits – the natural boundary is the Ashtown road and the Ashtown roundabout and the Phoenix Park – that can’t change. Historically and politically and geographically it just makes sense for us to remain within Dublin Central. That’s the nub of it, at the end of the day,” said Owens.

Stephen Bourke is a freelance journalist, but more importantly, a second-generation Dub on both sides of the family. @anburcach

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