Radio: Hitting the streets

  • 1 November 2006
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Bertie Ahern will top the poll in Dublin Central in the next election. Rachel English spent time with him for her new programme, The Constituency (Saturdays, 6.02pm, RTÉ Radio 1), and you could see why he will get more votes than anyone else. They went at breakneck speed through the constituency, starting off at the opening of the crèche in Portland Place (pictured) and went on to Tolka Valley training centre, where Bertie presented beauticians with certificates, and on and on.

Asked about campaigning, Bertie told Rachel, "I like elections. I'm very much a believer in the Sean Lemass view of life, that elections start the day after the count." He said he's "always at it", he's "been campaigning for 40 years". Will it be his last? "Depending..." he answered. Has he picked a date? "Summer 2007." A month? "Summer 2007," he repeats.

Last time out, Bertie's running mate Dermot Fitzpatrick nearly lost out to Sinn Féin. Asked if he has a preference for a running mate this time around, Bertie said he didn't, he won't have a say in it, sure that's nothing to do with him. More importantly, he'd "hate to see Dublin Central going back to the negative, lefty view that we used have here in the past..." Would he describe himself as a socialist? Of course, "a true socialist not just a pseudy-intellectual leftie".

He's proud of what he's achieved for his constituency. Dublin Central has changed – it has the best pupil-teacher ratios, there has been a lot of house-building, a university on the quays – all thanks to Bertie, according to Bertie.

Yet Independent TD Tony Gregory – the only other sure seat in this four-seat constituency – when interviewed, said the reasons he came into politics remained. Crime and drugs, unaffordable housing and the crisis in healthcare. And while there has been a huge amount of building, it is not necessarily for the good of his constituents. Development has not catered for the needs of people who live in the community. Affordable housing is not affordable and there is far too little of it. Young people in the north inner city still have the lowest access rates to third-level education in the country.

Labour's Joe Costello, interviewed during his weekly Saturday protest, highlighted the poor conditions in A&E. And for him, like Gregory, the cliché applies that "there's no such thing as a safe seat" (aside from Bertie's). Sinn Féin are making a big run for a seat there, as are the Greens. Both are putting up high-profile candidates – Mary Lou McDonald and Patricia McKenna.

According to Michael Gallagher, professor of politics at Trinity College Dublin, Fine Gael candidate Pascal Donoghue may pull off a surprise. Apart from Ahern and Gregory, there are four to five credible contenders. Sinn Féin will probably win a seat, leaving a close contest for the final seat between Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Greens and Fine Gael.

Rachel English is a skilled presenter, with a good programme, asking intelligent questions. It's not her fault if many of the responses are just glib electioneering plámás. It's good to have her back on the national airwaves.