New councillor aims to make a difference
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Jonathan O'Brien was co-opted onto Cork City Corporation two weeks ago. He has taken over the Sinn Féin seat that Don O'Leary won last summer but was forced to resign due to illness. ``It's tragic, after working so hard for the people of the Northside, over the last 20 years, that Don had to resign. It won't be easy to follow him and to bring change to this area of the city, which has been entirely neglected over the years. But that is what we are committed to doing.''
Jonathan is young and determined. ``I've lived here all my life and I've seen the neglect of this area. I don't want my two young children to grow up where there are no facilities for young people, where it's `do drugs or stay at home', where young people cannot get a house and begin a family life together.''
``We've no facilities here at all. There are only two playgrounds for thousands of children. There are no social clubs, or youth clubs, or places for young people to go. They are even talking of closing the swimming pool now. Young people are forced into substandard private rented accommodation. A two-bedroom house would cost £100,000. Who can afford that?''
``What jobs have we here? Apple Computers. Only last year they laid off 200 workers - it isn't secure work, and most of the jobs there are filled by people who don't even live in Holyhill. Young people want apprenticeships, but how can you live on £90 a week? There is just no opportunity offered to people from this part of town,'' says Jonathan.
Last week, the entire cabinet came up to Holyhill to hold a meeting. They took a bus because a fleet of some 20 Mercedes might give the wrong impression, as the cabinet with their retinue of supporters soared into one of the most disadvantaged areas in Ireland.
The cabinet was holding its second travelling roadshow meeting out of town, and Taoiseach Ahern took the opportunity to repeat announcements of giveaways for Cork City and region, such as the £27 billion earmarked in the National Plan for the Southern and Eastern Regions, and a new £10 million third-level college for Cork City's Northside.
``It's play acting, nothing else'' says Jonathan O'Brien. ``As they were bussing up the hill, Mary, a 72-year-old pensioner was on the bus down into the city to get into Roches' Stores for the warmth she couldn't afford at home. This is no way for people to live. How much of the £27 billion earmarked for the region is Knocknaheeney going to see? Will it pay to refurbish the empty houses that lie derelict in this area or to provide facilities for the young people?
``There is a housing waiting list of over 3,000 in Cork, yet there are at least 40 vacant houses, good houses, which the corporation has closed up with steel shutters and left to become derelict. No one seems to care about this area at all. All this has got to change.
``I joined Sinn Féin after the hunger strike. I was only young at the time, but the hunger strike inspired everyone, and I saw the treatment of the Catholic population in the North a bit like how the people here in Knocknaheeney have been treated. They are discriminated against. There is no equality or justice for people here, either.
I think people are beginning to make the link and to see that Sinn Féin can break up their cosy cartel in the Corporation, which has neglected us over the years. That's what people elected Don for. That's the task ahead for me and for Sinn Féin.''