At Lunch with... Councillor Janice Boylan

Councillor Janice Boylan doesn’t usually stop for lunch. It’s not a case of adhering to the Gordon Gekko school of thought that “lunch is for wimps”, she’s just an extremely busy woman.

One thing Boylan has learned in her first year as a city councillor is that it’s “no walk in the park”.

You could be a councillor that just goes to the meetings and ticks the boxes that need to be ticked, she says. “For me, it’s more than going to the meetings; it’s about what the people on the ground are looking for. That’s where the difficulty is. That’s where the hardships lie.”

Days off are few and far between. “I could be walking down the street and someone will stop me and say, ‘Oh Janice, can I talk to you for a second?’ And the type of person I am, I can’t say no,” she says. “So, it’s very time consuming. In saying that, I love it.”

Fortunately, she’s been able to squeeze a quick lunch with Dublin Inquirer into her busy schedule. We meet in the Bagel Bar in the Ilac Shopping Center and take seats at the very back of the restaurant. Her phone flashes incessantly on the table until she puts it into her bag. “It never stops,” she says.

It’s a convenient spot for the Sinn Fein representative as she’s heading to the annual Over 55s Open Day in the Ilac’s Central Library this afternoon.

Not hungry, she orders a strawberry-blonde smoothie. Ravenous, I order a breakfast bagel.

Although originally from O’Devaney Gardens, Boylan is familiar with this area. She hails from a long line of Moore Street traders. Her mother still runs a stall there now. From the time she was old enough to walk into town on her own, she used to meet her mother and father in Moore Street after school, where she’d do her homework at the back of the stall and give a dig out when ever it was needed.

Photo by Damien Murphy

It was assumed that the path of street trader was the one she’d inevitably tread, but her experience on the street made her determined to choose another. “It wasn’t because I didn’t respect the trade; I just couldn’t put up with the cold and the rain,” she says.

Despite being a lifelong Shinner and a local community activist, a career in politics was something she never considered. Her route into the field was a circuitous one.

After secondary school, Boylan did a secretarial and business course at Crumlin College, and found work experience at the Connolly Information Centre for the unemployed. She secured a full-time position there as an information officer, advising school-leavers and young mothers on available career options.

Working her way up, she became a mediator employed by FAS. She noticed that 60 people on her 200-strong caseload were drug abusers. To do her job to the best of her ability, Boylan felt she needed training in the area of drug addiction.

At her request, she was sent on a two-year community addiction programme. The skills she learned there were invaluable, she says, and she uses them to this day.

Boylan worked in the area of drug addiction for several years, but after the birth of the eldest of her two boys, she suffered from post-natal depression. She wasn’t in a position to go back into that type of work.

Her career path took two sharp turns – into optometry and then into beauty – before politics came looking for her.

Five years ago, Smithfield Boxing Club, of which her brother George is a member, was being forced out of the hall where they trained, in St Paul’s Christian Brothers Secondary School on Brunswick Street. “The Christian Brothers wanted them out of there. It wasn’t done nice; if they’d given more time there wouldn’t have been such hard feelings,” Boylan says.

Known for her community activism, Boylan was asked to help with the protest, which she did with her usual vigour. She wrote to local TDs and councillors. The only ones who got in contact and agreed to help were Mary Lou McDonald, who’d just lost her seat as an MEP, and Sinn Fein Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan.

“They were the only ones who turned up,” Boylan says. While grateful for their support, she thought the other councillors and TDs weren’t doing enough.

“This was a local community who are struggling, who were looking for a bit of support from the people that they more than likely elected. It wasn’t good enough,” she says.

While the protest wasn’t a success – the club has since moved to Aughrim Street, where “they’re flying”– a few weeks later, Boylan was asked to come on board McDonald’s 2011 general election campaign, she says. She’s been working out of her Cabra office ever since.

Boylan admits that her first couple of months in the city council was deer-in-headlights stuff, “pretending you know what they’re talking about in meetings, nodding, hmming, then going ‘what?’” But she has her feet firmly on the ground now.

Her biggest victory to date, as she tells it, came in April of this year when she successfully campaigned against a proposal by Minister for Environment Alan Kelly to refurbish 62 flats in O’Devaney Gardens, at a cost of €4.7 million, to house homeless families.

The original plan to regenerate the area had failed and “left the community in annihilation”, says Boylan. People had been moved out with the promise that they could return when the work was complete, but this never happened.

There were 19 families still living in three of the four remaining blocks of flats, “in the worst conditions you’ve ever seen”, she says. “It’s like slums, it really is.”

Putting homeless families into this area with no services, no supports and no playground facilities was just wrong, she says. Not to mention that nothing was being done for the 19 families who were still living there or those who’d been previously moved out.

“And that was a five-year plan,” she says. “What was to happen after five years? The flats would be demolished after spending €4.7 million.”

Boylan says stopping the motion was “one of the best things that’s happened because the minister and Dublin City Council have had to step up to the mark now and start looking at real alternatives, long-term plans, not short-term solutions.”

Along with her council duties, Boylan is now gearing up with her party for the next general election, which looms on the horizon.

“I can’t wait,” she says. “Bring it on.”

At the moment, she says, Sinn Fein are happy enough to run with one candidate in Dublin Central, Mary Lou McDonald. “We’re 100 per cent behind Mary Lou.”

Does she have future Dail aspirations?

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” Boylan says, but the council is enough for her at the moment. She wants to learn her trade, to know it inside out.

She admires some of her fellow councillors who’ve been around a couple of terms, she says. She has a desire to be as well-versed and as competent on council issues as they are.

The five-year term in the council is going to get her to where she wants to be and will enable her to become the politician she wants to be, she says.

And then she’ll “look to the Dail, look to run in the general elections, and see how we go.”

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Damien Murphy: Damien Murphy is Dublin Inquirer's Northside city reporter.

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