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Saturday 10 December 2016

'One of my biggest regrets is that my dad isn't here to share this with me', reveals first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh

A busy year lies ahead for Dublin’s first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh. She reveals why she has opted to move into the Mansion House, her pride at being a female Lord Mayor and her plans for the next 12 months

Críona Ní Dhálaigh
Críona Ní Dhálaigh

THE new Lord Mayor of Dublin, Criona Ni Dhalaigh, is settling into her new office, but there have already been some adjustments.

"They had to alter the chain for me because it was too long and I was getting bashed by it on my legs," she says.

Unlike her predecessor, Ms Ni Dhalaigh, who was elected Lord Mayor last month, has decided to move into the Mansion House for her term.

Already she can see the benefits of her new abode, the first citizen's diary is not for the faint-hearted.

"They keep telling me it's quiet season and I'm panicking slightly because I haven't sat still," she says.

"Not that I'm complaining. It's an absolute honour and it's such a proud moment for me."

Ms Ni Dhalaigh is the capital's first ever Sinn Fein mayor.

"We were banned from the Mansion House not so long ago and now I'm living in it. It shows that times are changing, and change is good," she says.

Although it may have taken her party some time to see one of its members wearing that chain, Ms Ni Dhailigh's political rise has been swift.

She was co-opted to her seat for the Crumlin-Kimmage ward in 2006 and re-elected in subsequent local elections.

In only nine years the Crumlin native has earned cross- party respect on the city council, which was evidenced on the night of her election.

But she cut her political teeth long before that, canvassing at the heels of her dad, Sean, who was a prominent activist.

"I stood on the picket line outside Dunnes Stores in Henry Street on the anti-apartheid protests and I collected money for the striking miners," she recalls.

"I campaigned for Irish language rights and I attended rallies with my dad in Belfast.

"He is very much my hero. He grounded me in the idea that you always had to be on the right side, even though that's often the hard choice.

"One of my biggest regrets is that he isn't here to share this with me because he would have been so honoured."

The title of Lord Mayor has been criticised on occasion for its Anglo-Irish history, but Ms Ni Dhalaigh has taken issue with it for another reason.

"Lord Mayor is a gendered title, so I've opted for Ard Mheara as the Irish has no gender," she says.

In addition to making history for her party, Ms Ni Dhalaigh is also only the eighth female Lord Mayor of Dublin, a fact she is acutely aware of.

"It's shocking when you think about it, especially as most of the female Lord Mayors have been in the last 20 years," she says.

conscience

One of her role models in politics has been Kathleen Clarke, the first woman to hold the title in 1939.

"I'm hoping that for some of the 1916 celebrations I can wear the chain of conscience that Ms Clarke wore in protest at the Lord Mayor's chains," she says.

The subject of next year's commemorations has dominated discussions of Sinn Fein's mayoral term.

Some have expressed fears that the party will "hijack" the events - a notion the new Lord Mayor has dismissed.

"Obviously, as a republican, 1916 is hugely important, but it is equally important for every citizen of this city," Ms Ni Dhalaigh says.

"It's important that the sacrifices that the men and women made are celebrated as well as commemorated.

"We need to remember the ideals that they aspired to because we still haven't delivered on an equal society.

"It's very much a live agenda as far as I'm concerned."

For the newly-elected Ard Mheara it's not a question of party politics for 2016. Instead, she would like to see us taking a lead from the US and celebrate in style.

"Why can't we celebrate it the way the Fourth of July is celebrated in the US? Why can't we have street parties?" she says.

"Why can't we have picnics and barbecues? Community groups are writing songs and putting on plays - that's a fitting way to celebrate the leaders of the Rising.

"I particularly want to see the women celebrated because we have been airbrushed out of history."

Turning to her plans for her term in the Mansion House, Ms Ni Dhalaigh's goals for the next 12 months are ambitious.

"I want to make Dublin city a city of equality," she says determinedly.

Homelessness and housing issues top the list of problems she wants to tackle while she has the ear of officials and Government alike.

"It's not as though we didn't know this crisis was coming," she says.

"I'm sick of talking about how bad it is. I want to start talking about solutions because what we're doing is not working.

"There's still no line of cranes in the sky to tackle the supply issue. We are still calling for rent certainty. It's a living disgrace and we can't stand over it any more."

Another of Ms Ni Dhalaigh's priorities is less headline grabbing, but she believes its impact would be immeasurable.

"I want to see social clauses in all Dublin city procurement, particularly in regeneration areas," she says.

Developers would be required to take people off the Live Register or provide apprenticeships under the social clause rules.

"They have the ability to transform the quality of life in many of the areas that are marginalised in the city."

Ms Ni Dhalaigh has been a public representative for areas that have seen the promise of regeneration with few results so far.

"What these communities have going for them is the people - they never give up," she says.

On top of that, she wants to revamp the Irish language in the city.

Ms Ni Dhalaigh grew up in an Irish-speaking household in Crumlin. Now she wants to see the language restored.

"I want to make it a living language and a visible one," she says. "There's lots of work being done in this city to normalise Irish and there are thousands of speakers."

It's set to be a busy term for the new Lord Mayor, who acknowledges with a laugh that she has her work cut out for her.

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