“I’m sick of politics,” says a woman the moment she sees Councillor Carly Bailey at her doorstep. Standing before her with a wad of pamphlets, Carly is not simply about to ask her for her No.1 vote on February 8. She is asking this woman to put her faith in her. In the breadth of a single conversation, Carly has moments to convince this woman that she is capable of representing her in the Dáil, and perhaps most importantly, that she cares.
“Do you know what I have a big issue with?” the woman continues, “My husband is a truck driver and you can’t have one drink… The Dáil has its own bar. That should be gotten rid of.” The idea of the political elites sculling back pints while her husband is out working hard with no chance this recreation on the road epitomises the sense of disillusionment with the ‘status quo’ that is growing in Carly’s constituency. Cllr. Carly Bailey is a candidate for the Social Democrats in South West Dublin and she assures this woman that she and her party certainly do not have the “same reputation as everyone else”.
“Classic door,” Carly later says. “They think, ‘sure, you’re all the same’.” If there’s one trend that Carly has identified over the weeks of canvassing is that her constituents are embittered with the current state of the country “They feel so hopeless because of something that is happening either to themselves or to a family member.” By going door to door, Carly is attempting to bridge this gulf between politicians and the public. Urging her constituents that her and her party can present viable solutions to the national issues that are increasingly penetrating these households. The “lack of empathy that some of the politicians have” and the “lack of awareness of what people are going through,” is something Carly is actively trying to contradict in her campaign.
We’re deep in the estates in Old Bawn, a suburban area of Tallaght in Dublin South West, when a group of young boys holler, “Vote Séan Crowe!” There are 12 candidates running for five seats, including Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, the chair of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Sinn Féin TD Séan Crowe. “Vote for Carly Bailey, yeah?”, Carly jokingly retorts. “Nah, he’s my uncle’s friend.” We move on.
This constituency is geographically diverse, straddling wealthier parts along with “utterly disadvantaged areas that are so disaffected by politics and what it can do to them,” Carly says. While this constituency has traditionally tended to lean toward left wing parties such as Labour and Sinn Féin, it has been noted for its unpredictability. In three consecutive general elections, the poll topper from the previous election lost their seat. Brian Hayes in 2002, Séan Crowe in 2007, and Conor Lenihan in 2011.
Carly is out with a team of about 12 volunteers, canvassing in the last week before the elections. Carly has campaigned for many years on the ongoing housing crisis, children’s disability services, access to education as well as issues around poverty, community building and inequality. She was elected to South Dublin County Council last year and is currently studying a Masters in Equality Studies in UCD. She was previously the Social Democrats’ national coordinator for the Repeal the Eighth campaign and served as Party Vice-Chair from 2018-2019. This is her first time running in the general election and she is fighting for change.
“Politics happened to us,” says Carly. When Carly’s family lost their home to a vulture fund in 2013 as a result of the recession, she remembers how “you blame yourselves in these situations. It was your own fault. It was your own choices.” Carly came to Trinity through the Access Programme to study Law and Political Science. “We were battling for a number of years, but it was just not being talked about in the news, it wasn’t in the media, there was nobody talking about the fact that people were losing their homes,” she recalls. Through the subjects she was studying, she began to understand that her situation was not solely due to her choices but was down to “political choices and policy”. In Trinity, she claims to have found her voice and started to use it.
To Carly’s canvassers, this general election feels different, and Carly and her team are hoping to benefit from the wave of distrust brewing toward Fianna Fáil and Fianna Gael. The volunteers note that if there is any issue that is uniting her diverse constituency, it’s housing and healthcare.
“There is an investment fund with an apartment block down in Tallaght Village for example,” says Marie Corr who is out volunteering for Carly. Marie is a previous Local Election Candidate for Tallaght South and served as Mayor of South Dublin County Council. She is speaking of the two bedroom apartment that has come on the market, selling for €1860 a month. “Coincidentally, that amount matches homeless HOP payment would be for two people,” she continues, “The market is just matching what the social welfare budget is.”
“Every system that’s there to help them is fighting them,” says another canvasser, Michael Pickering, 35, “… it’s horrible. It’s heartbreaking.” Michael works in strategy, which makes him even more frustrated when seeing “… money being wasted and thrown away and not being used efficiently.” Michael says he started canvassing for Carly because, “everything in the country was so broken.” After these weeks of canvassing, Michael claims that “you have no idea actually how bad it is and how bad individuals have it.”
“A lot of people in this constituency are going through the issues Carly has been affected by herself,” says John Kerr, 23. “Her story shines through when she’s talking, even if she’s not talking about it,” he continues, “it’s not a briefing that her PA has given to her.” John says her authenticity combined with her ability to “get her shit done,” makes her a “really appealing candidate to canvass for.”
Michael has been canvassing with Carly for the past three weeks, and believes that the Social Democrats’ vision for change is resonating with people out here. “The polls show that people don’t want Fianna Gael back,” and in relation to Fianna Fáil, Michael claims people haven’t forgotten the “horrible things” they did to cut spending. “They were taking medical cards off pensioners.”
Ruairí Power, a second year Psychology student in University College Dublin (UCD), was attracted to the Social Democrats because of their health care policy. Sláinte Care is a proposed reform of the healthcare system pioneered by the Social Democrats that got a cross-party consensus in 2017, that would offer free, universal access to health care in the country. It has yet to be implemented. Ruarí is from Clare and asserts that mental health services are “non-existent down there.” He points out how in UCD, “we’ve seen huge issues with misappropriation with funds, so the mental health services are being continuously slashed while senior executives representatives of the university are taking €90,000 for luxury flights for a single person in the last two years.” Ruairí believes the Social Democrats are strong on “accountability, proper spending of public funds and investing in the mental health service because its been really neglected for a long time.”
Carly’s team is hopeful, positive and excited. However, they note that left unity is needed to achieve the change they are striving toward. “I think we need to have a conversation, a grown up conversation,” says Carly, “we need to get our house in order because the left could really be a force to be reckoned with.”
The conversation with the woman at the door is coming to its natural close. We are talking about her sister who is going through a difficult time with her house. Carly recommends she tells her sister to go to Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, “I should have gone to them sooner,” she admits, “… they may have been able to help us out a hell of a lot more than by the time I found out about them.” She writes the name down on a pamphlet and hands it to her, saying, “I think we need more people like ourselves in there – who know what it’s like to live in the real world.”