When Críona Ní Dhálaigh was chosen Lord Mayor of Dublin at City Hall on Monday evening, it was a fine clear night outside on Dame Street. And that was a good thing, because our reporter assigned to the event was turned away at the door by a man who crossed his arms and barred her way, and so she had to cover it from the street.
Our reporter was apparently judged not to be a real journalist – although her full-time job is to cover city affairs for us – because she didn’t have a card showing she was a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). This has been an issue for us before, but our 11 June email to the Dublin Council’s Press Office, questioning why reporters have to be NUJ members in order to cover council meetings remains unanswered. [Update: the council press office says we can get in with a business card and any other ID now — 02/07/15 @ 14.26]
Perhaps it didn’t matter, though, that our reporter was barred from the proceedings inside, which mostly included councillors praising outgoing Lord Mayor Christy Burke and each other, with only a couple bitter voices of dissent occasionally daring to disrupt the genteel tone of the evening, which was more that of a mutual admiration society, than a contested election. (We watched the webcast.)
Left outside on the street with the plebs, she and another of our reporters asked passersby whether they knew who the outgoing Lord Mayor of Dublin was. Only 8.5 of the 40 people they stopped – who were rushing home from work past City Hall, or ambling along to one of the pubs on the streets and alleys nearby – knew the name of their city’s “first citizen”.
One young woman was sure it was some fellow who loved Garth Brooks, but couldn’t think of this country-music fan’s name. A man didn’t even know there was a Lord Mayor of Dublin to be named. Another young man didn’t know the grandee’s name but was unrepentant. “We don’t elect him so we don’t really care,” he said. An older lady offered, “I know it’s a gentleman.” A man said, “Christy something,” for which he was awarded half a point.
And why would Dublin residents know who the Lord Mayor is? Perhaps they’re right not to bother to educate themselves, perhaps it doesn’t matter, given the post’s limited powers, which range from chairing council meetings to representing the city at events.
In recent months, ex-Lord Mayor Christy Burke’s duties have included announcing that English author Jim Crace was the winner of the 2015 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, promoting Bike Week, and having his photo taken with kids at the Dublin Kite Festival. He’s also done a lot during his year in office to raise awareness about homelessness, but sadly hasn’t had the power to turn the tide.
The position is mainly about tradition and symbolism. And much of the dissent during the coronation – it wasn’t an election really, as the fix was in – was about the possibility that Ní Dhálaigh and her party, Sinn Fein, might misuse that symbolism in the upcoming very symbolic centenary year of 2016. (Something about a Rising, you might have heard.)
Although a deal was struck after last year’s election among a coalition involving Sinn Fein, Labour, the Greens and some independents that decided that Sinn Fein would get the mayorship in 2016, there were a few last night among the 63 councillors who refused to go along with this programme.
Fianna Fail Councillor Paul McAuliffe nominated party-mate Jim O’Callaghan for the post. And then Fine Gail Councillor Kieran Binchy nominated independent Councillor Mannix Flynn, and Jim O’Callaghan seconded that nomination when it looked like no one else was going to – a combination Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey called “bizarre”.
It was no use, though. Ní Dhálaigh won in a landslide.
There was much applause as she took Burke’s place and began to chair the meeting. “I am especially proud to be the first Sinn Fein mayor of Dublin,” she said, pointing out that although Sinn Fein Councillor Tom Kelly was elected Lord Mayor in 1920, he was imprisoned by the British and could not take office.
“I am very grateful for the support that made that possible. I know for some of you that was a leap of faith,” she said.
Ní Dhálaigh talked proudly about 1916, and protecting its physical legacy in the city. She talked about seeing the 1916 Proclamation fulfilled, by making Dublin a city of equals, and ensuring access to housing, education and healthcare. She paid tribute to those who supported this year’s successful marriage-equality campaign.
While O’Callaghan praised Ní Dhálaigh, he said he was worried about her party-mates.
“I have a concern that Sinn Fein will use the office of Lord Mayor to justify what happened in the north of Ireland for a period of thirty years,” he told her. “So I’m putting great confidence in you, Lord Mayor, that you will be able to stop that . . . I’m asking you Lord Mayor, to ensure that in this important year of commemoration, you don’t let the powers that be in Sinn Fein hijack it.”
The people who fought and died in the 1916 Rising, O’Callaghan said, “sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Irish people, they didn’t sacrifice it for a grubby sectarian campaign.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Chris Andrews was next to speak, and he glossed over O’Callaghan’s comments, spending his time praising Burke and Ní Dhálaigh. Labour Councillor Andrew Montague was after Andrews, and he argued that even if the election had been by secret ballot, with no party affiliations listed, Ní Dhálaigh would have been elected because of her warmth and decency.
It may have been about that time that our reporter, still stuck out on the street, stopped a man who proved to be a Sinn Fein supporter, and asked him who the Lord Mayor of Dublin was.
“What time is it?” the man asked. “I think Criona Ní Dhálaigh is Lord Mayor by now.”
Additional reporting by Willy Simon and Louisa McGrath