NOW FIGHTING his third election in just nine months, Labour’s John Maher has gone from rookie activist to seasoned campaigner.
His election to Cork City Council last summer was a surprise to many, given Labour’s collapse in recent elections.
It was no surprise to him, however, with his recent performances marking him as a dark horse to watch for in next month’s general election.
“If we’re talking about previous elections, in the last two elections we won a seat and came fourth in the by-election,” Mr Maher said.
“They’re the polls I’m interested in. That’s telling us that we’re giving a message, we’re in the community, and we’re working hard, and people are buying that.
“2014 and 2016, that was yesterday and people in Cork North-Central need representation now,” Mr Maher said.
“They’ve seen through the noise, the false promises, and political opportunism of some people.
“What we’re interested in is the here-and-now,” he said.
For many, Kathleen Lynch’s loss in 2016, following their wipeout in Cork City Council in 2014, was a signal that Labour’s strength on the northside had waned beyond repair.
But Mr Maher said that just because someone loses an election doesn’t mean the people of the party disappear altogether.
“I may be the only councillor representing the Labour Party, but we have an incredible team here in Cork, full of ex-councillors, ex-TDs, ex-ministers, ex-Lord Mayors, and they all support me.
“The perception might be that you’re on your own, but that’s not the case. There’s a big foundation underneath me,” Mr Maher said.
“For four years, we were working hard in the community. Labour might not have had a TD or a councillor, but we never went away from communities,” he said.
Though Labour was unceremoniously booted from government just four years ago, Mr Maher said that, on the doors, people don’t mention the austerity years.
“They don’t, and where they do, we put our hands up. We made decisions in the worst of times, but we are now in 2020. There’s a recovery and we’re told that things are going good, but the banks are still paying nothing in tax. Big corporations are paying 3%, 4%, give or take, when they should be paying 12.5%,” Mr Maher said.
“We’re talking about the here-and-now. My friends are not able to buy a house. Rents are €1,500 a month. We’re talking about affordable housing at €400,000 in Glanmire. We’re talking about a healthcare service that people don’t trust. We’re talking about crime,” he said.
Crime has emerged as one of the biggest issues of this election, especially in Mr Maher’s home area of Mayfield.
With a surge of gang violence across the country in recent weeks, Mr Maher said that the majority of people in his area are scared and feel they are being failed by the powers-that-be.
“The gardaí that we have are incredible, but there’s not enough of them.
“It’s very, very basic. When you have gangs that don’t fear the law-and-order of our community, there’s the problem. We’ve been too lenient on them. The dogs on the street know where they are,” Mr Maher said.
“99% of people are good, honest, hardworking, community people. That mustn’t be forgotten. But we need action. My phone is ringing with people who are afraid.
“We know the solution. More gardaí on the street. Drew Harris [Garda Commissioner] needs to come down to Cork. He needs to see the severity of it.
“This isn’t about electioneering. This where I live. This is where I bought my house. It’s where we live and go to school. It’s where we do those ordinary things. It needs to be taken seriously from the top level of garda management,” Mr Maher said.
With just one of the TDs elected in 2016, Mr Maher said that northsiders were failed during the last Dáil and they want change.
“The one good thing about the election is TDs have their doors open. This is the problem. Our TDs didn’t show up. They didn’t represent.
“A couple of weeks ago, I saw a political representative delighted that we got two bus shelters in Cork North-Central.
“Is that how ambitious we are? Two bus shelters? No North Ring Road?
“All we’ve had in Cork North-Central, from Dáil representation, is one TD gone to Europe, one TD double-jobbing — he was getting paid for not showing up — and the other two had to reimburse expenses for not showing up in the Dáil.
“That’s the representation we have,” Mr Maher said.
“Noise has done nothing for Cork North-Central. We haven’t had a house built, but we’ve had a load of noise.
“What we’re offering is solutions to the problems right now,” he said.
With polls suggesting a close-run election, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been courting Labour on the campaign trail, in hopes of forming a coalition.
Mr Maher said that Labour is open to entering government again, but has redlines that need to be met.
“It’s always nice when someone flirts with you, but the Labour party membership will decide if we go into government or not.
“My concern, now, is to win as many seats as we can for the Labour Party, but, I can tell you, I will not be selling my soul.
“We have set out five very clear redlines: housing, health, infrastructure, childcare, and the climate,” Mr Maher said.
“I don’t want to be in the Dáil for 30 years and head off with a pension and say, ‘I held a seat.’ We’ve had too much of that. We need action. We need to be ambitious.
“Unless we set high targets, I’m not interested. I’m not going up as a nodding dog,” Mr Maher said.
“So flirt away, but you’d want to be flirting with the 4,000 members of the Labour Party, because they’re the people that will decide it, at the end of the day.
“They’re the foot soldiers that have been out for many years and they’ll want a lot of convincing,” he said.
Mr Maher said that he won’t be convinced unless other parties sign up to some simple policy solutions.
“We know the solutions: Build more houses, more frontline staff in the HSE, open more hospital beds, more gardaí on the street. Yet, we’re all going around like we’re clueless.
“When you knock on the door, people say, ‘you’re all the same’, and I don’t blame them, because people are more interested in maintaining seats than doing what’s right,” Mr Maher said.
“I’m not going up there for a 30-year career to be a nodding yes-man. That’s not what Cork North-Central wants.”