Tuesday, February 23, 2016

30 Questions For The 30th Dáil

All of these smiling faces looking down on me from the poles is making me nostalgic

On the 7th May 2007, I made a spontaneous decision to run for the Dáil – the general election was 17-days away and I was like a pig.

I had just left a meeting in Limerick City Hall with the then newly appointed Director of Service for Housing, Mr. Kieran Lehane, where I had been politely informed that he was never going to sign off on plans to regenerate Weston Gardens; the 3 burnt-out houses on our street would become the responsibility of a regeneration agency that would be established in September.

These plans were the culmination of 4-years of negotiation by Weston Gardens Residents Association (WGRA) with Limerick City Council.

The WGRA had secured funding from central government for our regeneration and the plans had been advertised in February and again in March because they were never lodged the first time.

We were eventually told that the new Housing Director had reservations about the plan and had refused to sign-off on them.

It had taken me two-months to get this meeting and despite the fact that I shared Mr. Lehane’s reservations, my proposal to amend the plan accordingly during the Part 8 planning process was rejected

The offer of a grant of €800 to the WGRA to paint the 3 burnt-out houses was of little consolation, but was politely accepted all the same.

“Fuck this” I said to myself as I exited City Hall looking at the posters on the lampposts. I already had serious concerns about this so-called regeneration that proposed to demolish 3,000 homes in four areas of the city and to build twice as many within a 5-year period.

The first person to be informed of my decision to run was one of our sitting TD’s.

Tim O’Malley was responsible for getting me the meeting with Mr. Lehane and he was waiting outside to find out how I got on.

“What party?” he asked

“No party – Independent, I'm headin' in now to put my name down”, I thanked him for his efforts and I stormed off to the Courthouse just across from City Hall to register as a candidate.

I had to come back the following day with a cheque for €500 because they didn't take cash. I was a self-employed contractor at the time and I was in the middle of a job, so I wouldn't have time to be knocking on doors. Besides, I was under no illusion that I had a chance of taking a seat; I just wanted to share my concerns with the city and in particular, the residents of the regeneration areas.

After work I would work on my campaign. The first thing I did was buy a web address and start work on a website, which didn't go live until 19th May (it took nearly 2-weeks back then to set up a .ie address). I designed a poster that was half the size and twice the price of everyone else’s because I wouldn't be ordering in bulk - I got 50 of them printed at a cost of €12 each.

I was the only candidate to provide a direct phone number.

I then put together my “manifesto”, an 8-page newsletter that gave voice to my concerns and views. I delivered 6,000 of them over the 3-days that were left before the election, I covered all of the regeneration areas and wherever else I could get to before polling day.

I had considered doing one of those “Litir um Thoghchán”, you know, those envelope size cards advertising the candidate that are delivered to every household with a registered vote, but the cost was prohibitive: €2,500 for a colour one or €1,800 for black and white.

Litreacha um Thoghchán I have received to date for ge16.

I got a great reaction to my newsletter, with over 50 calls and 100+ text messages from complete strangers wishing me well.

I may have had low expectations, but elections to me are like what sports are to some people, so I was in my element in the count centre. I managed to secure 188 No. 1 votes, over 600 No.2’s and thousands of No. 3’s, I lost my €500 deposit, but I didn't care, I had received one No. 1 vote for every 31 newsletters that I delivered and I was proud of that. 

I congratulated all the winners as they were announced and asked that they would prioritise the deployment of the “minimum of 100 additional Gardaí” recommended by the Fitzgerald Report as the first thing to be done for regeneration.

I'll never forget the reply I got from Michael Noonan: “Let me be and don’t be botherin me” he said as his little goonies elbowed me out of the way. Even that bit of hostility couldn't take from my enjoyment of the event.

My campaign was paid, for the most part, out of my own pocket (my mother sponsored half of my newsletters) and the total cost came to €1,500 - candidates are allowed to spend €45,000 and most of them did from what I could see.

I managed to stay self-employed until 2010 when I had to de-register with the Tax Office and sign on, so I wasn't in a position to contest the 2011 general election and if I had €500 to spare I'd have stuck my name on the ballot paper this time round, but hey "let's keep the recovery going".

The only thing about ge07 that left a bitter taste in my mouth was my treatment by the local media. 

I couldn't get on the local radio for the life of me and the Limerick Post didn't want to know me unless I was buying an ad. However, the Limerick Leader had allotted space to every candidate to answer “30 Questions For The 30th Dáil” and they contacted me and invited me to participate.

The instructions I was given by the Limerick Leader for answering the questions were: 

"As you will see, some of the questions are very concise while others require a little more detail in the answers. Answers however, can be no more than 50 words." 

Before I answered the questions I contacted the journalist responsible and asked if they were strict on the 50-word-or-less rule (that applied unless stated otherwise), as I had noticed that some candidates had exceeded that limit on several occasions. For example, one candidate, Michael Noonan TD, took 80 words to answer the first question when it had a limit of 40.

I was told that the point of the quiz, to see if candidates were able to respond as requested, a test of their ability. With that in mind I followed the instructions to the letter. 

I also saw it as an opportunity to convey my political knowledge and other aspects of my personality to more of the 74,000 registered voters, most of whom wouldn't receive my newsletter through their letterboxes.

I was truly shocked to see how heavily edited my answers and how in comparison to the other candidate’s answers mine took up considerably less space! 

I was livid, but I resolved to rise above and I responded by buying a full page advert in the Limerick Leader, a quarter of which would be my poster and the rest of the space was to be filled by the lead article from my newsletter, “A Tale of Two Cities”. 

I don’t know if it was incompetence or deliberate, but they made shit of my ad as well. All of text was in bold and the font was Arial instead of Times-New-Roman as I had specified. this made it illegible.

I had always believed that there was a media bias against Independents in favour of the parties. However, experiencing it first-hand convinced me that there is. I was never really a contender, which makes what they did all the more petty.

I've highlighted in red the cuts that were made by the Limerick Leader to my answers.

1. Explain, in 40 words or less, why you deserve our readers' No 1 preference.
Not being in thrall to any party, I would represent their interests only. I want to stop the fracturing of families; I will work to ensure that both parents are not forced by economic necessity to work outside the home.

2. Can you identify one thing above all that you are committed to achieving if elected?
Many areas in Limerick have been badly neglected and virtually abandoned by our local authority; one would be forgiven for thinking that Limerick City Council is more concerned in promoting the interests of the business community than those of the people. Reform of local government is a big priority.

3. Describe Limerick in three words.
Home Sweet Home.

4. Now do the same for yourself.
Independent, Republican, Battler.

5. Where did you get your politics - did someone or something inspire your ideology/party affiliation?
My republicanism comes from my late grandma, Kathleen O'Brien (nee O'Rourke). She was a teenager during the War of Independence and told me stories about her time as a Cumman na mBan courier and my grandfather, an IRA volunteer. She told to me her grandmother’s stories about the Famine and the Fenian’s.

6. What seat in your constituency do you see as being under the most threat?
In 2002 Willie O’Dea and Michael Noonan were elected on the first count with a healthy surplus. Peter Power exceeded the quota on the 10th count. Tim O’Malley and Jan O’Sullivan took their seats without exceeding the quota as everyone else was eliminated. The last three seats could be anyone’s.

7. If you were not voting for yourself in your constituency, who would get your No 1?
Tim O'Malley, while I disagree with most PD policies, he strikes me as the most sincere and hardworking of the incumbents. Noreen Ryan, she would inject some much-needed republicanism into Fianna Fáil. Dennis Riordan or Connor O’Donoghue, for their integrity and idealism. I could never decide until the day.

8. Which historical figure do you most admire?
Patrick Pearse and the other signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. The best way to commemorate them is for people to reclaim the Republic by voting for those who will “pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.

9. What personal measures have you taken to become 'greener'?
I recycle, compost and use energy saving light bulbs. I live in a second hand home that I restored with my own hands. Essentially, I believe that mending is better than ending.

10. What is the biggest mistake the current Government have made since 2002?
Taking people for granted. Saying that “a rising tide raises all boats” is all well and good assuming that we all had boats to begin with. Quite a few are barely keeping their necks above water! We need an economy that works for everyone and benefits all.

11. What is the biggest mistake you have made in your political life?
Not deciding to stand for election sooner.

12. Would it bother you if there was no united Ireland in 50 years' time?
It bothers me that there isn't one now. Partition distorted the political, economic, social and cultural life of our country and fostered sectarian divisions among our people. Thankfully the Peace Process is bearing fruit; if Sinn Féin and the DUP can share power then there is hope for the future.

13. If you could reduce property prices by 10% overnight would you do it?
Yes, by capping the profit that a developer is permitted to make on a new house. People before profit and Families first, that's what I believe. The concept of a “property ladder” is bad for neighbourhoods; you can’t build a community when people move in with a view to moving out.

14. When was the last time you drank to excess?
I don't normally make toasts, if I were to drink to anything I would drink to prosperity. Joking aside, I have a low tolerance for alcohol, three pints is my limit. I was at a christening last Sunday and had four pints after the meal, I was starting to wobble!

15. What is your proudest single achievement as a political representative?
I'm not there yet! I did campaign for Kathy Sinnott during the 2004 European elections. I was proud to have helped elect a true champion of our most vulnerable: the disabled, the sick and the elderly. She has proved herself to be the most dedicated MEP we have in Munster.

16. Are local hospitals adequately resourced?
No. For example our maternity hospital has two theatres, one for emergencies and one for scheduled c-sections. A friend of mine was recently scheduled for a c-section and had to wait 24hrs and become an emergency before being operated on, because there was only enough staff for one theatre!

17. What is the biggest single issue you are finding on the doorsteps?
I haven't knocked on any doors yet and as a working father I might not have the time to call to everyone. I'll probably just leaflet and not disturb their meals. However, from people I've spoken to in casual conversation on the street, I would say crime and anti-social behaviour.

18. On a scale of 1-10, rate the cynicism of the Limerick electorate towards politicians.
10 in some places. Some of our estates have been surrendered to criminal gangs who decide who can and can't live there. People feel abandoned by the state. Garda Sub Stations should be established in the heart of such areas to house the "100 additional Gardaí" recommended by John Fitzgerald.

19. Do you have any reservations about John Fitzgerald's report on Limerick housing estates?
Some parties are calling for the regeneration boards to be established before the election, despite the fact that Mr. Fitzgerald has clearly stated that firstly "...intensive policing intervention is required in the short to medium term to allow the other interventions an opportunity to work." First things first!

20. Is the decline in farming irreversible?
We are importing poultry from SE Asia and beef from Brazil where costs are considerably lower. Direct subsidies are being phased out making the production of food here less viable. It is unlikely that we will see subsidies re-introduced and such imports prohibited. I fear for the future of farming.

21. How's your Irish? And do you think compulsory Irish in second-level education is still the best way to ensure preservation of the language?
Tá mo chuid Ghaeilge cuíosach lag, mór mo náire. It would be daft to downgrade the status of Irish in our schools when it’s just been recognised as an official language of the EU. The fact that more emphasis is being put on spoken Irish in schools today is welcome.

22. Where did you meet your partner?
I met Cindy on the social scene in Limerick through a friend who was dating her sister at the time.

23. Do you have a sporting hero?
Michelle Smith DeBruin, she won her medals fair and square. I was a competitive swimmer for years and know the sport. Hard training alone can produce dramatic results and she performed on the day. The manner in which an ignorant media pounced on accusations by a jealous competitor was disgusting.

24. What would you say to people who criticise the number of foreign nationals now living in Limerick?
Government policy on immigration is exploitative and racist, preaching tolerance while promoting resentment. Little is being done to integrate and we have enough problems with crime and anti-social behaviour without importing more. It only takes a handful of bad apples to tarnish the public perception of the hard-working majority.

25. Can you see the ratio of male and female TDs becoming more equal over the next 20 years?
I would like to see more women getting involved in politics and people electing them because of their beliefs as opposed to their gender. I don’t believe in tokenism or “positive” discrimination. Imposing a gender balance undermines the advancement of women by denying them an opportunity to compete as equals.

26. What would your luxury item be if you were stranded on a desert island?
A wind up radio, the one with the built in dynamo - no batteries required.

27. Who has been the most inspirational person in your life?
My partner, Cindy. She is an amazing mother and talented artist. We’ve been together 16 years and had our ups and downs, happy and trying times, but at the end of the day she’s always been there for me. She is my rock; I’d be lost without her.

28. Have you had a life-changing moment that stands out?
The birth of my sons, Ógie (Cathal Óg) 5yrs, and Ruairí, 3yrs. Both occasions are still with me. One of the reasons that I decided to run in this election is because I want them to be able to grow up in a safe and secure environment.

29. If you were to undergo plastic surgery, what would you have done?
I don't believe in cosmetic solutions to real problems; either personally or politically. One would be forgiven for thinking that this election is a beauty contest given all the pretty posters. What are they all smiling about anyway? This is a serious business!

30. What opposition politician do you most admire in Ireland?
Michael D. Higgins. He is one of the few idealists left in Dáil Éireann and I think the Labour Party did the country a great disservice by not allowing him to run for President. I voted for Mary McAleese, she's done a good job, but he would have been brilliant.

Animated intro that I made for the splash page of my website.

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