THE night Seán Cronin decided to become a candidate in last month’s Cork City Council local elections, he was delivering food on his bicycle.
Before making the deliveries, his bike hit a pothole, causing him to fall and break his wrist.
At that moment, Seán, who takes pride in his job as a food delivery rider, became determined to try and influence change in the city and stood as an Independent.
He may haver failed to win a seat, but is determined to get on that bike again!
“I thought to myself, you know, I’d paid my taxes as a Deliveroo rider, the roads aren’t great, maybe I should try and see what is going on in the City Hall,” he recalls.
Seán, 34, has grown up in a working-class family, awed by his father’s ability in always “creating things with his hands” to make ends meet.
“My father was a mechanic, a builder, a jack of all trades,” he says.
“Watching him made me appreciate that what we have around us is built by people, and just to respect that.”
Seán, who has an uncanny ability to drum up conversations with absolute strangers, began studying Astrophysics in UCC at 19; “rushing into college”, as he describes it.
However, the inherited tendency of “creating things with the hands” won out, and he dropped out of college to enrol in a carpentry course.
The Cork man has an interesting theory about the surprisingly common theme of people following through an undesired college course for the mere sake of earning a degree, and argues that the perceived wasted time and effort breeds bitterness into a student’s personality.
“I knew so many people who resented going to college. So, I was thinking, if you have that resentment, you’re going to want to somehow compensate for it,” he reasons.
“If you feel like you’ve sacrificed a lot personally to get a degree, you probably want to grab as much as you can out of life.
I think it explains a lot of corrupt actions that some people take.”
Completely at ease with the notion of opting out of the competitive race for high-wage professions, Seán started working at a petrol station after finishing his carpentry course.
He says some of his political aspirations are rooted in observing and “dealing with people” at the service station for 13 years.
“I would meet more than 100 people like every hour, so I was getting a good gauge of the mood of the people,” he says.
When Seán launched his political campaign, he wanted not only to be a voice for the people he served at the petrol station, but to encourage others from poorer backgrounds to exercise their rights of running for office.
With no funding, no posters and little free time, Seán’s electioneering gear consisted of a tall flag emblazoned with his picture and a small number of flyers, all attached to his bicycle.
He delivered hot food and canvassed for his customers’ votes for one month — serving up food and politics simultaneously.
“I was winning every day I was canvassing because it was such a positive campaign, and I think people enjoyed it,” Seán says.
Barry Murphy, a seasoned Cork political activist, thinks ordinary people from low-income backgrounds need to have access to equal resources when running for office.
He states that independent candidates cannot compete with extravagant advertising campaigns “in print, TV, radio or online” launched by career politicians from well-established parties.
Barry believes that in such an atmosphere, underprivileged members of society are bombarded with spendthrift ads from candidates to whom they can’t relate, leading to “low turnout from working-class voters”.
Voter turnout in Cork was overall low this local election season, with each constituency recording less than 50% turn-out.
Engrossed in the food business, and its tradition of framing menus to keep them from wear and tear, Seán made up his flyers to resemble a restaurant menu.
On his political list, several novel ideas were served up. First of all, and bearing in mind the incident that drive him to seek office, he suggested the development of an app through which Cork city residents could report potholes to the council.
Seán says that food delivery riders like himself regularly sustain injuries as a result of hitting potholes.
“This point is very close to my heart. If potholes were fixed, there wouldn’t be much problem cycling around the city,” he reasons.
To alleviate the housing crisis, Seán proposed, on his flyer, a “one-stop shop planning advice centre” where local, small companies could receive a financial incentive for building new accommodations.
After a month of modest campaigning, however, he campaign ended in valiant failure.
Seán won a total of 271 votes from the electorate in the South-Central ward, and was excluded from the race during the sixth count.
“Did you know they ring you if you get eliminated? I think it’s a nice personal touch,” he says, laughing. Meanwhile, he has another pleasant diversion to take up his time. Seán has been offered a small role in the popular Cork-based television show, The Young Offenders. He also has a role in an upcoming RTÉ documentary about Michael Collins.
Like many others, he has to hold more than one job to make ends meet.
Not a bit bothered by his election loss, however, Seán is adamant that he has spurred a critical “conversation”, at least among restaurant workers about commitment to trying to inspire change in the community.
And the good news is that the campaign knock-out has not left him out for the count.
“I will definitely run again,” Seán says, smiling.