Author Archives: Anne Marie McNally

From top: Margaret Cash and her children (from left) Johnny, Miley, Jim, Rocky, Andy and Tommy; Anne Marie McNally

I’ve been trying to stay offline as much as possible over August. Mostly off twitter to be honest because politics is one of those jobs that it’s hard to actually take a break from.

News doesn’t stop and for those of us who generally love the cut and thrust of the job; it’s difficult to switch off entirely – it only takes one tweet or a news headline to suck you back into feeling like you ‘should’ get involved.

I was reading a piece the other day about Swedish work practises and how employers insist on you taking three consecutive weeks during the summer in order to maintain a healthy work/life balance. It makes sense.

This year more than others I’ve really tried to keep these few August weeks sacrosanct. It’s been a tough year with plenty of stress and the usual round of 10-12 hour working days being the norm and so the break is not only advised, it’s required.

However, with all the best intentions in the world, it’s been difficult for me to ignore some of the major issues arising not least the Summerhill occupation and the case of the homeless family in Tallaght Garda station.

For my mental well being I’ve tried to stay away, as much as possible, from the sick blame game that has played out across social media – and in some cases mainstream media – but it has become harder and harder to ignore. I’ve seen people I respect say silly things and make judgements that are ill-advised.

In a conversation with trusted friends the other night we spoke about the judgements that every single one of us make on a daily basis. It is normal and it is human nature.

What is dangerous however is to rush to those judgements and not question the basis or the legitimacy of those judgements.

Many online went went with the bigoted ‘ah…traveller’ narrative yet how many of you in the past have openly questioned why women allow themselves and their children to be subjected to some of the mysogonistic and abusive elements unfortunately prevalent in much of traveller culture.

Did it cross your mind that maybe this woman had made the difficult decision to escape from that?

She had been living settled in private rented accommodation prior to it being repossessed and her made homeless so clearly she was trying to live a settled life. Either way, did you question the basis of your ‘ah…traveller’ judgement?

Then came the ‘breeding responsibility’ types. To those I’d point out,he sorry state of sex education in this country.

However, even ignoring whether or not the woman wilfully chose or not to have her children, it’s worth remembering that it’ pretty much only our parents and in some cases grandparents generations who were mostly brought up in one or two bed flats of corporation houses, oftentimes in families of multiple children – up to 20 in some cases I’m personally familiar with, was it ideal? Of course not, did most of those people go onto become productive members of society? Absolutely.

I’m not naïve, nor am I a saint. I make and made judgements but I challenge myself on those judgements and I challenge others on theirs.

This woman’s unfortunate case is just the example for this piece but the concept is broader. It’s always so easy to look in at a situation from the outside and view it through the prism of your own privilege or lack thereof, but it’s always worth reminding yourself that things are never as straightforward as they seem.

And while some of the judgements we all make on a daily basis about others may be valid; are they really necessary? I think the woman at the centre of this case summed things up pretty well when she said “all these people are saying I should be ashamed of myself, but I already am ashamed.”

Who does it benefit for you to pour your scorn into a tweet or a comment section? Yourself? Really?

Does spewing hateful stuff about a stranger make you feel better? If it does you need to look long and hard at yourself.

Does it help the woman or her children? No, it further adds to an alienation from society that is already well underway.

And unless we arrest that alienation and turn judgement into positive action, those children today will be adults of the future about which another headline is almost inevitable. We cannot continue to demonise children and expect angels to emerge into adulthood.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Anne Marie on twitter: @amomcnally

Pic: Colin O’Riordan/ Inner City Helping Homeless

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris; Anne Marie McNally

The Cervical Check scandal has rumbled on for months now and at no point along that time-line has Government struck the right chord when it comes to communications on the topic.

Ministers and the Taoiseach have swung wildly like a pendulum from, on one hand appearing to offer the sun moon and stars, to on the other hand being unable to answer simple questions regarding whether or not the US labs in question still have the Cervical Check contracts.

Meanwhile what has been notably absent throughout the whole debacle is any semblance of honest emotional communication.

I don’t mean the piecemeal ‘oh we’ll make sure the women get X, Y and Z’ approach to communications (and it’s worth noting that many of those promises have either not come to fruition or have been railroaded by other interests).

I mean proper and real emotional communication which understands and empathises with the horror of the scandal, not just for the women directly impacted but for every woman out there who has been scared or confused about what this all means for them and their smear experiences.

In the initial stages of the scandal there were the attempts to calm things down by offering free additional smears to anyone who wanted one.

The problem with that is the capacity in the system to deal with such extra demand was simply not there and that is now raising its head as people either struggle to get appointments or find they are waiting an age for results – and during a delay while waiting for a medical result it is inevitable that people will become even more worried about what result they might get.

Instead, had someone in the Departments of both Health and Taoiseach convinced their politicians that the best, nay only, thing to do was to come out and say:

“Yeah, y’know what? This is scary. We’re trying our damndest to get to the bottom of it. Here’s the situation with the labs; here’s what we intend to do with the contracts and the current smears being sent for analysis.

We intend to get to the bottom of how and why this happened and ensure it won’t happen again. In the meantime the following protocols are in place and therefore we can guarantee that the screening process is as robust as is medically possible.”

‘Robust as is medically possible” is a key phrase here because it’s important to understand that despite the (understandable) outrage, the reality is that screening is just that; screening. It is not supposed to be, nor is it ever, 100% accurate.

I could point immediately to a least four close friends who’ve experienced false positives and two false negatives; myself included. These were not failings of the screening process; they are just the realities of any screening programme.

But in failing to deal with the current scandal in an honest and straight-forward way, Government has allowed misinformation and fear to permeate around this particular aspect of women’s health.

I’ve had friends contact me asking me whether they should have fresh smears done. It’s generally accompanied by some variation of ‘what’s going on in there (Leinster House) Amo?’

People are unsure what it all means for them personally. Talking in circles about audits and labs and diagnostic or non-diagnostic is all well and good when talking within the medical community but not when trying to reassure the public that the screening programme is still hugely important; has saved countless lives and will continue to do so unless it is allowed to fail because of poor handling by Government of this current situation.

What has happened, and is happening, to the women directly affected is horrendous. It is possible to acknowledge that whilst simultaneously reassuring people of the sanctity of the system.

Not in a patronising ‘ah it’ll be grand’ way but in a factual and informative way. Let people know where their smears are going. Let people know what the deal is with the US labs and whether or not they are still being used. Let people know the truth.

The Scally report which is currently underway will hopefully provide a lot of the detail but honestly, it feels like it is being used as a delaying tactic by Government when it comes to simply telling the truth.

What is to stop them telling us right now the situation with the labs?

It’s by far the most asked question. Telling us whether or not current smears are still going to the same lab is not going to somehow derail the Scally report.

That element of emotional communication is missing and it’s something that either comes naturally or it doesn’t. You either empathise and seek to tell the truth or you don’t. If everything you do is couched in trying to put a positive spin for yourself on things then you’re never going to be a successful emotional communicator.

And in failing to do so, the Government are failing the women of this country who are now struggling to keep faith in a vital screening system which should never have been undermined in the first place but whose integrity must be above reproach now more than ever.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Anne Marie on twitter: @amomcnally

Rollingnews

Anne Marie McNally (above) and her book choices, clockwise from top left: ‘Emerald Square’; ‘The Spirit Level’; ‘Snakes And Ladders’; ‘The Van’; books by John Connolly, and ‘Democratic Left; The Life And Death Of An Irish Political Party’.

What with it being traditional holiday season I’ve been mulling over the non-fiction books that have shaped my thinking over the years and which influenced both my politics and my career choices along the way!

From the outset I’m going to declare that I’m very much a fiction fan and at the moment because I spend so much time in work reading lengthy policy documents, analyses, speeches and debates (never mind the time I spend writing them!) that when I do have leisure time the odds are I’m sticking my head into a good thriller with a serial killer or two on the rampage!

But undoubtedly many books and papers over the years have helped shape my general philosophy and my political compass. Mostly those were non-fiction but it’s worth noting that some semi-fictitious works have mattered to my outlook too.

In this regard I would point to Lar Redmond’s ‘Emerald Square’ and Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Van’ (the whole Barrytown trilogy counts in this context but The Van is particularly poignant whilst still being ‘snot yourself’ hilarious!)

Both ‘Emerald Square’ and ‘The Van’ give a visceral sense of the dehumanising effect of poverty on a person and their family life. There’s a piece in The Van where the main protagonist talks about the feeling of helplessness he experiences because he’s unable to buy his granddaughter an ice-cream while out for a walk.

Anyone who has experienced poverty first hand can’t help but feel the pain of that helplessness and one of the main reasons I became engaged politically was to try and keep as many people as possible from experiencing such helplessness.

On the purely non-fictional side, but touching on the same theme, is The Spirit Level. The Spirit Level is a fantastic analysis of countries around the world and the levels of inequality in their society.

In analysing many key quality of life factors it very clearly draws a link between why in those societies which are more equal, everyone (of all socio-economic demographics) fare better across a number of key indicators including actual life-span!

For serious political theory I’d always point someone towards anything by Philip Pettit, an Irish political theorist and scholar. An easy way to dip a toe into his work is with one of his papers called ‘Towards a Social Democratic Theory of The State’… (I mean, c’mon, you have to know I was going to recommend that one didn’t you?! But honestly it’s well worth a read!)

Another great book, which really continues to be a reference point for me is Fergus Finlay’s ‘Snakes and Ladders’. I had to read this for a module on my MA in Political Communication and initially I wondered why – I mean it seemed like yet another behind the scenes political memoir. It is, but it’s so much more.

When I read it first I hadn’t worked in Leinster House and frontline politics. Once I started here I immediately found myself realising just how real the book is. It’s by far the closest you’ll get to experiencing what it is like to be a political staffer/adviser in Irish politics unless you actually do the job. (For those who prefer a bit of telly ‘The Thick Of It’ is not too far from reality either – humour and swearing included!!)

Speaking of my MA, the person who got me to read ‘Snakes and Ladders’ was [Dublin City University’s] Professor Kevin Rafter, someone I now consider a political mentor, inspiration and friend.

Any of the many political books he has written would be a fantastic way to spend a summer but my particular favourite would have to be ‘Democratic Left: The Life and Death of an Irish Political Party’.

There are copious amounts of political theory books out there or biographies of all the greats (and not so greats) and I’ve read most, but the books listed above are ones that immediately spring to mind when I think of things that have directly influenced me.

As an aside I always say that The West Wing, for all its overly sweet American stuff, is a real insight into the passion that goes into being a political staffer to a politician you genuinely believe in – when it’s way more than just a job.

And no book list of mine would be complete without mentioning my all-time favourite author (and fellow Rialto, Dublin 8-native) John Connolly. Fiction though it may be, his unique genre of thriller/horror/supernatural is indescribable and simply unputdownable!

Now…given that I’m currently on holidays, excuse me while I go in search of a good serial killer or two!!

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Wednesday.

From top: Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government, Eoghan Murphy with Minister of State at the Department of Health Catherine Byrne arriving at Richmond Barracks, St Michael’s Estate, Inchicore before Mr Murphy announced redevelopment proposals of Council lands at Emmet Road opposed by Ms Byrne, who is also a local TD; Anne Marie McNally

If you were to take a poll right now of the number one issue that, in some way or another, touches almost everyone’s lives, it would likely be housing.

Be it the young student or worker who is anxious to leave home but cant. Be it the parent of those adult children who watch helplessly as their children are denied the opportunity to fly the nest.

Be it the families trapped in unsustainable mortgages or be it the many people – singles and families who are renting at exorbitant cost and never finding themselves with the luxury of being able to save for a deposit to secure a mortgage which their rental amounts would easily cover, and then some.

When I canvass, housing is the number one issue that always rears its head. Even financially comfortable families are concerned about what percentage of their young adult children’s salaries will be spent on housing when they, or indeed if they can, leave home.

The traditional Irish attitude to housing has always dripped with the heavy narrative of ‘getting a foot onto the property ladder’. For many property boom purchasers, that tentative step onto that ladder pulled them into a vicious cycle of debt and despair that they are still reeling from.

But for many others, that bottom rung is now so far out of reach that it may as well be up there on ‘Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.

If you’re renting right now, unless you’re sharing with 15 others tenement style, or unless you were lucky enough to get a decent landlord who set a fair and stable rent recognising the value of good reliable tenants, then the odds are you’re paying a fair chunk of your income on rent – and it’s likely leaving you with very little if any scope to save for a deposit.

You’re also likely living in fear of your landlord serving notice. In short, you feel vulnerable and insecure. Not the ideal way to try and plot a life and/or family life.

Yet in other countries and cities worldwide renting is a very valid housing option for people in all types of situations from young students to settled families.

Other countries manage to deliver rental options that provide affordable rents and, crucially, security of tenure.

This allows people access to a housing option which they can afford and which they can have a certainty about how long they’ll be there for thus allowing them to plan a life. If that involves children, it’s no problem.

No fear of having to change schools because the landlord has decided s/he can get more rent from someone else or needs it for a family member. On the flip side, the landlord is professional, has a certainty or income and a fixed tenant. An ideal situation for all parties involved.

Whereas here in Ireland we tend to have a proliferation of ‘accidental landlords’ (primarily people who fell victim to putting a foot onto that aforementioned property ladder), on the continent and in many US cities, strong regulations in the private sector have ensured a professionalisation of the sector which works to the benefit of all.

Whilst there have been some moves to beef up the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board, by and large the rental sector in Ireland is largely unregulated.

In Denmark for example, where the sector works particularly well, regulations have made long-term, often indefinite leases, a financially attractive option for both tenants and landlords.

On Tuesday, at the launch of the latest (of many yet to be delivered) project for the St Michael’s Estate complex in Inchicore Dublin 8, an idealogical battle was played out between two Government ministers from the same party. Strange, but true.

When Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy launched the cost-rental model for the site – a model which is to be welcomed and hopefully replicated – his own party’s Junior Minister Catherine Byrne (who represents the Inchicore area) angrily took to the stage (uninvited) to condemn the plans and declare it an unmitigated disaster for the local area.

Her reasons?

She pointed out that renters make for a transient community that they don’t put down roots. Apparently she completely missed the hypocrisy her argument.

She, straight-faced, argued against creating a sustainable, affordable and professional rental sector which would mitigate against all the problems she pointed to within the current rental sector.

Ireland will have to come to terms with the fact that long-term renting is now the most, sometimes only, realistic housing option for an entire generation of people who will never be in a position to secure a mortgage.

Instead of decrying that fact and wringing hands whilst the situation escalates, we should look to embrace best-practice models that have proven successful in other places worldwide.

I welcome the cost-rental model announced on Tuesday and look forward to more of the same but simultaneously we also need to a conversation about regulations, professionlisation of the sector and pilot-projects of schemes that work elsewhere.

If we’re going to keep clapping ourselves on the back for being this supposedly progressive Republic then let’s get progressive with all our ideas and move away, where necessary, from the Field mentality of owning land.

Instead of pushing people off a financial cliff and hoping a foot lands on the bottom rung of a ladder that’s forever being pulled up, let’s start supporting people who may want or need to take an alternative option.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Monday.

Rollingnews

From top: Danielle Carroll, a homeless mother of two boys who died in emergency accommodation in 2017. A summer school named in her honour has been announced as an alternative to the male-dominated MacGIll Summer School organised by Joe Mulholland; Anne Marie McNally

I’ve been asked to speak at two summer schools this year. One with the Humanist and Free Thinkers Society and one with a school that sprung up as a direct result of the controversy surrounding what is arguably Ireland’s most famous summer school – the MacGill – the Danielle Carroll Summer School (so named in memory of a young mother who died in homelessness).

Where MacGill was once famous it is now infamous. You see apparently it can be quite hard to find female participants with the right ‘aptitude’ to speak on political topics, or so declared the long-time organiser of the MacGill school Joe Mulholland.

Admittedly Mr Mulhollan apologised for the aptitude comment but he then proceeded to find other excuses reasons as to why the panels would once again be overwhelmingly male, pale and stale.

I’ve been to MacGill a number of times over the years and one thing that stands out when you attend the sessions is the average age in the hall. It tends to be on the high side.

The panels, for the most part, tend to be dominated by establishment voices, predominately male. Women are there, both in the audience and on the panels but they are very much in the minority.

Yet here is a political event, set in a beautiful part of the world which should be an attractive option for the many young, energised people I meet regularly in politics – many of them female. But it’s not. Mostly they are not invited but when they are they are very much in the minority.

But while we (rightfully) spend a lot of time in this country having conversations about gender, we don’t spend enough time addressing the issue of class.

If being a woman trying to make it in Irish public life is an uphill struggle, being a working-class woman trying to make it is doubly so. I was raised in a marginalised community in Dublin’s South Inner City.

My upbringing surrounded me with some of the strongest and most resourceful women you could hope to meet; women who had faced every conceivable adversity and yet continued to fight for their families, their homes and their communities.

As a community worker I worked on the front line with these women in facing down the establishment who were used to riding roughshod over such communities.

These women are passionate, principled and empathetic but suggest to them that they would be a great public representative and most will look at you like you’ve 10 heads because it never enters their mind.

Because for them, like it was for me for so many years; politics is something for someone else. It’s for the ‘nice women’ with the fancy clothes and the posh voices and, I’m not going to lie to them; for the most part, that really has been the case.

And where there have been, and are, working class women involved sometimes it feels like they have been required to ham up their background and create almost a novelty factor.

Or deal with the patronising; ‘oh isn’t she marvellous to have pulled herself up by her bootstraps now if only the rest of them would do that…’ guff that makes so many assumptions about how you got where you are.

There are many initiatives underway now to try and get women involved in politics; lots of training sessions and seminars taking place. While I welcome the effort, I generally feel that the effort is not as comprehensive as it could be.

I’ve been invited to participate in such events; they’ve been in venues like the Mansion House, City Hall, Twitter Headquarters and the Morrison Hotel. Lovely venues without doubt but the many fine women I would point to as potential fantastic public reps from the area I grew up in would never dream of rocking up to such an event in a venue like that.

Again it compounds the sense of ‘ah that’s not for me.’ I’ve had these conversations with some women I’ve tried to encourage onto the political field. There’s an initial confidence thing that has to be surmounted and that is simply not going to happen by making these events intimidating by virtue of venue, crowd, or indeed cost.

Meet women where they’re at is what I say. Take these events into community centres and parish halls around the country – specifically focus on marginalised communities (and I include new communities in that).

Make it obvious there is a place for all voices – posh or not – on the Irish political stage, and let’s get a politics that is representative and real.

Maybe then we’ll also get summer schools with panel discussions and RTÉ panels that are more than male, pale and stale with women who’ll sound or dress slightly different than the average South Dublin stereotypical politician.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Monday.

From top: question on the Leaving certificate Politics and Society exam; Anne Marie McNally

Last Wednesday saw 900 students sit the very first Leaving Cert “Politics and Society” exam, a subject that seems like it really has the potential to have a huge impact on our country.

It’s miles away from the kind of rote learning that’s so familiar to those of us who sat the Leaving in the last generation.

These students are being asked to critically engage with big political ideas and pressing social issues. It aims to make sure that they don’t just randomly inherit opinions, but develop ‘informed’ opinions.

There are two “Phase One” (Pilot) schools in my constituency and I’ve been lucky enough to have visited three different classes and contributed to a podcast for the students. I’ve also popped in to visit them as they have taken tours of the Oireachtas under the supervision of the newly appointed Oireachtas Education Officer.

I’d have loved to have had that opportunity growing up and am delighted to contribute where I can as the subject roles out nationwide with 100 schools involved this September.

What I want to do, though, is to focus on just one question of last week’s exam. Section A, part (h) asked the students to “Name two consequences of income inequalities in Ireland on an individual’s life chances.”

It doesn’t take a Social Democrat to recognise that socio-economic deprivation leads to lower education, physical & mental health, and employment outcomes, but the irony of Politics and Society as a subject is the way in which it has been implemented. In a pattern to which we’ve become increasingly familiar in recent years, schools are being asked to do ‘more with less’.

The subject was introduced without giving additional resources – no additional timetable provisions were granted to schools from which to find the teaching hours to deliver the new subject.

That’s fine at the moment, but we all know that when the next round of cuts come, it’ll be the DEIS and public schools who will feel the pinch most. It will almost inevitably be the ‘Private’ schools, who can subsidise additional classes like these, which will end up dominating this form of ‘Citizenship’ education.

The result could well be increased political power and influence remaining within the already narrow band of schools that disproportionately dominate our current political representation. It would be a travesty if this subject pitted one school against another, and one subject against another within each school, rather than democratising our already two-tier education system.

So what’s the solution?

Anybody who has ever talked with me will know that I’ve always considered education to be the ‘silver bullet’. It was for me, and I know countless others for whom this has also been the case.

Well, why not invest properly in this new form of education in the Irish system equally across the schools and guarantee that all students have equal access to that important form of classroom engagement. I want to see it in all our schools, our Adult Education classes, our prisons, and given proper resources to do so.

Obviously, studying citizenship in school isn’t the only way to learn about politics. The recent Marriage Equality and Repeal referenda have seen people who were previously apathetic or disillusioned come to politics in droves.

I was lucky. I licked politics of the stones at home because I was both lucky enough to have parents who were aware of the importance of education; and also stubborn enough to want to know why politics didn’t represent me or my community.

But it shouldn’t come down to the social lottery of having a supportive family or a stubborn streak to be politically active. Just think of all of the political talent that has been and might be squandered that way in the future.

And, NO, I don’t just want the students to learn about Social Democracy, but about the whole political spectrum. They need to be able to engage with a wide range of traditional and controversial ideas in a constructive manner, otherwise we all languish in the dreaded echo chamber.

I was particularly struck by the statement that the ‘Pol Soc’ [Politics and Society Teachers Association of Ireland] teachers issued after the exam. They noted that while the exam was important, they know that “the real test takes place every day, for the rest of the students’ lives. That’s the real prize.”

It’s a prize worth fighting for, for all of our young people and all our citizens. Maybe then we’ll start seeing the kinds of change that the country needs.

From top: journalist Cathal MacCoille, UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha (centre) and Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, in Buswells Hotel last week at a Simon Communities event, ‘Making the Case for a Right to Housing’; Anne Marie McNally

This day last week I sat in a room in Buswells Hotel and watched one of the most impressive women I’ve come across lately give a presentation (and I come across a lot of impressive women!). That woman was UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Leilani Farha.

Her no-nonsense common-sense presentation highlighted the problems of not only Ireland but of other cities and countries that have also encountered significant difficulties with getting housing policy right.

The difference was, for most of the other cities she spoke of, she was able to give examples of how, by working with her and other agencies, those cities had been able to make progress in dealing with the housing crises they faced.

Ms Farha reminded us that Ireland has signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in doing so we have committed to ending homelessness by 2030. But what strategies are we deploying to achieve this. asked Ms Farha? Or is it yet another EU target which we sign up to but never expect to actually meet-like our climate targets?

Portugal on the other hand, have worked with Ms Farha’s team and have now implemented policies with a goal to eradicate homelessness by 2028- and they’re on track to achieve this.

Other countries and cities are also starting to get things right whereas we continue to spiral. Our homelessness figures continue to rise – despite the cynical manipulation of same by those in power. Housing continues to move further and further from the reach of many people – even those working and earning what could be considered decent wages.

Successive Government policy has tinkered around the edges, never really making the substantive changes required to shift from what has increasingly been a market-led approach to housing; an approach that is obviously failing, to a sustainable system of affordable housing that is accessible to all.

That is why the Social Democrats favour a Right to Housing. As Ms Farha pointed out; there is much confusion over what the term Right to Housing means and in her experience even Governments are confused about the concept.

Those who fear that an equal society will somehow minimise their own privilege reject the concept because ‘nobody should get a house for free’ – as Leo himself actually said in the Dáil chamber during a recent housing debate.

However if those knee-jerk reaction people took their heads from their own arses long enough they might actually see that a Right to Housing does not in fact mean that every Joe Soap can knock on Leo’s door looking for their home.

A Right to Housing enshrined either constitutionally or legislatively simple means that Government housing strategies MUST ensure that there is a wide variety of housing types that are affordable and accessible to all citizens.

In other words, Joe might want a 3 bedroom semi but he doesn’t have a right to one. What he does have a right to is a housing system where he can access the kind of unit he can afford based on his current circumstances. Basically that it is impossible for him to be completely priced out of the housing market.

In that way we move away from the spectre of homelessness hanging over people. How many people do you know who are one or two pay packets from the streets? For me it’s a lot.

And this failure of housing policy is not just costing us socially in terms of the lives we are destroying both now and into the future – over 3,000 children in emergency accommodation living in fear and uncertainty is not the recipe for a healthy next generation of society – but it is costing us economically.

The seminar Ms Farha spoke at was told that in 2017 just over €1 billion (yes, billion) was transferred to private landlords in housing supports. One third of every tenancy in the State is in receipt of a housing support payment.

It makes no sense either socially or economically and yet as a nation we continue to elect Governments that pretend the market will provide the solution to the housing emergency. It never has done in the past, it’s not doing it now and it never will do.

Housing is the number one issue of our time. Ms Farha said she would go as far as to say that it is a more pressing issue than climate because, she said, societies that cannot provide safe and secure housing options cannot be, and are not, sustainable. They will fail.

We are failing and we will continue to do so until we recognise the need to enshrine the Right to Housing either constitutionally or legislatively.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan with asylum seekers Anna (left) and Olugide with her baby Gloria at a Christmas Party last year in the Montague Direct Provision Centre for Refugees in County Laois; Anne Marie McNally

This week I watched with admiration and respect at the women who finally felt they had their voices heard and the horrors of their earlier years acknowledged. The women who arrived not just from around the country but from around the globe, returned here to put faces to the horrors, to have their personal stories heard and to see people take to the streets to cheer them.

I had a dinner party recently and of six people around the table, five of us had tales to tell of direct family connections to the laundries or a mother and baby home. This is not something that happened long ago or ‘to others’ this is something that is very recent, very real and very raw.

Those of us who tuned into PrimeTime or who lined Dawson Street to cheer the women as they entered the Mansion House did so because what those women endured deserves not only to be apologised for but to be aired and aired repeatedly because the most important element of all their bravery is that in telling their tales of horrors they can ensure that we, as a State, never make the same mistake again.

Of never outsourcing responsibility, never perpetuating a culture of false shame or degradation, and never again institutionalising innocent people under the guise of a social service

But if that lesson has indeed been learned and we feel so righteous in our ability to look back and wag a knowing finger at how horrific that system of institutionalisation was, why then do we currently ignore the fact that we are, right now in this Ireland that honoured Magdalenes, continue to warehouse men women and children in horrendous conditions and degrade those people as if they are somehow less than?

That is not hyperbolic in the slightest. At the last official count we currently had 5,096 people living in Direct Provision centres across this State and 1,420 of those were children and 104 are people older than 56 years of age.

That is 5,096 people forced to survive on an allowance of €21.60 per week. (This amount is payable to every adult and every child in Direct Provision).

Even if you ignore the economic unfairness of expecting someone to survive on the guts of twenty quid a week, the ignominy of how these people are forced to live is a stain on our collective conscience. While some centres have self-catering facilities, many don’t and residents are forced to endure canteen food handed to them thus removing any element of personal choice.

Imagine not being able to choose what you or your children eat or having zero control over the nutrition of your children; how utterly dehumanising.

And that is what Direct Provision has succeeded in doing; dehumanising people in the eyes of the rest of us.

The out of town locations, the misinformation that is spread regarding what residents get and their ‘entitlements’ and a general toxic attitude of ‘isn’t it better than what they came from’ have all conspired to dehumanise and ostracise residents of Direct Provision and has given us the balm to salve a conscience that deep down knows we should be demanding an immediate end to the barbaric system.

Direct Provision was initially supposed to be for a six month period while people’s applications for asylum were processed. The current average time spent in Direct Provision is 23 months but of that ‘average’ some were up to 5 years in the system.

A lengthy prison sentence for daring to escape whatever horrors existed in their home country and for the audacity of trying to create a safer future for themselves and their children. Imagine.

And even now with asylum seekers recently having been granted the Right to Work, the ignominy continues and possibly deepens because yet again, in an attempt to turn a blind eye, many now say: “but sure they can get a job now and support themselves.”

While it is welcome that people have been granted the right to work it is important to understand the strict restrictions that go along with that right.

If you are an asylum seeker the work permit alone will cost between €500 to €1000.

But the real stinger here is this – applicants must find a job with a starting salary of €30,000 and there are over 60 sectors that the job cannot be in including construction and hospitality.

Given that the average graduate starting salary in Ireland is around €28,000, you’d be doing pretty well as an asylum seeker to be finding a job paying a minimum of €30,000.

The perception of what asylum seekers can do for themselves is very far from the reality and they suffer abuse, vitriol, humiliation and State-sponsored institutionalisation as a result.

So yes, Dublin did indeed ‘honour Magdalenes’ and rightly so, but unless we act now, we cannot celebrate a lesson learned. Instead we should reflect on the hypocrisy of it all.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

From top: Dublin Castle on  Saturday: Anne Marie McNally

The winds of changed howled across Ireland on Saturday…or did they? People muttered that it smelled like a revolution…but is it really a revolution, silent or otherwise?

I have campaigned on this issue. I have, when possible, joined the throngs of people pounding the streets and knocking on doors during this campaign. I have written pieces, I have filmed videos, I have participated in talk shows and I have had the difficult conversations with friends and family who were uncomfortable with what a YES vote might mean.

I’m tired but I’m exuberant…I’m exuberant that once again we have proven that when people mobilise properly and collectively, change IS possible.

The Together4Yes campaign groups that organically sprung up in every constituency in the country were made up from people of all walks of life; young, old, rich, poor, male, female. They got involved because they wanted to see change just like those who mobilised three years ago for marriage equality.

In 2015 when marriage equality was delivered, far too many of those people who had mobilised left public affairs behind and went back to their normal routine and yet many of those I met on the Together4Yes campaign were the same people who had mobilised in 2015.

They got out again because they had seen what was possible and hoped to repeat that success, and thankfully did. But I hope the same scenario does not play out this time round.

Whilst the groups were made up of every demographic there is no denying that younger people once again mobilised in their droves for this referendum.

I’ve long since said that the perception of voter apathy amongst young people is misplaced…give people something that they care about; something that resonates, and they’ll get involved.

Give them a real prospect of effecting change and they’ll beat your door down. The challenge now is making those newly engaged people see that the things they care about; the change they wish to effect, is not limited to rare referendums.

It’s not good enough to spend a month or two doing everything in your power on an issue, to turn up at a ballot box on referendum day but then slink off into obscurity for the next 3 or 4 years or whenever a major social issue raises its head.

Because here’s the thing, Housing is a social issue. Health is a social issue. Education is a social issue, and on and on I could go. The only way things change permanently is through political change.

How many of us involved in the campaign looked on in disgust as large numbers of the Fianna Fáil party proudly held Vote NO press conferences and photoshoots.

Yet how many of us will mobilise in the same numbers as last Friday come General Election time to ensure that Fianna Fáil’s grip on Ireland is loosened? The things we’re fighting referenda on are the things that were the result of a political system that is controlled by an out of touch political class and the utterly conservative roots of the traditional parties.

Yes there were giants among them during this campaign including Micheál Martin and Simon Harris but a few individuals does not a party make and those who shared our view on this will always have to battle the party view or dilute their approach so as not to alienate the more conservative members.

Instead wouldn’t it make sense to try and avoid the implementation of public policy that we or those behind us will have to rail against in the future? How do you do that, you put the same effort into changing the political system from a politics that is controlled by older males and entrenched in civil war politics and you look at progressive politics. You look at who you feel is representative of you.

The Home2Vote phenomenon in both this referendum and the marriage equality one was amazing but wouldn’t it be fantastic to see that same passion emerge in a way that said ‘we want real change; sustainable change.’ The only way to get sustainable change is to change who runs the system.

Put it this way, if half of Fianna Fáil and a decent chunk of Fine Gael voted NO, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that a couple of years down the line should the wind change and the more conservative elements of either party end up in the driving seat, that you could see legislation overturned and us being dragged backwards on this issue and many others.

But apart from the fears of future direction on social issues such as abortion the most important thing to recognise is the importance of all the other challenges facing Ireland right now.

And while Leo et all were hugely important in this campaign they are still implementing a right-wing agenda that is presiding over an Ireland where almost 800,000 people live in poverty and of that a quarter of a million are children.

They are still presiding over an Ireland where hundreds of thousands languish on hospital waiting lists, and they are ever increasingly moving our housing provision into the private sector while people face exorbitant rents to try and keep a roof above their heads and those who have lost the battle sleep with their children in so-called homelessness hubs.

I quietly celebrated this one victory on Saturday but we do not yet have an Ireland to celebrate and the only way to get there is to vote for change more than once every few years.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

From top: from left: Prof William Binchy, Monica Hadarean, Cora Sherlock, at a LoveBoth conference in Buswells Hotel, Dublin last week; Anne Marie McNally

OK, look folks, it’s Referendum week and I really don’t feel like I have any option but to make one last desperate plea for a YES vote this coming Friday because, as so many commentators have said, this really is a once in a generation vote and as such its importance simply cannot be overstated.

I realise there are other significant public issues of concern right now, not least the ongoing cervical check scandal and the associated issues but here’s the thing; they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Vicky Phelan, the brave woman whose willingness to lay her tragedy bare so that this scandal would be aired, articulated that so perfectly in her tweet last week where she called for a YES vote on the basis that “we must place women at the centre of their own care and allow us to make the choice about our own care.”

Last week on here I wrote about Cervical Check. In another recent column I wrote about the National Maternity Hospital and the religious control issues at play there. I mentioned how women’s healthcare, particularly when it comes to anything below the bellybutton, has always been second rate.

By second rate I mean, there is almost some other influencing factor that is considered before the actual women (or sometimes girl) facing whatever situation confronts her.

For too many years in this country for the many young girls and women, who found themselves pregnant outside of wedlock, the primary consideration was the supposed shame that would ensue; shame on both her and her family.

A shame borne from an overbearing Church which controlled society to the point that families shunned their own children because they had brought ‘shame’ on the family. In too many of those cases those girls were sent into the care of church run Mother and Baby homes or Magdalene Laundries.

I don’t have to go into the detail of the atrocities that were perpetrated against those girls and women in those institutions but suffice to say, the health of those girls and women, both through pregnancy and after, was not considered important.

There is a list of examples of the kind of second rate healthcare for women that exists in Ireland and a short column just doesn’t allow for detail to be provided but I could mention the Hepatitis C scandal, the symphysiotomy scandal, I could even talk about how we had to fight to get access to bloody tampons for Christ’s sake and how a Bishop decried them on the basis that they might encourage sexual activity.

That’s before I’d get into talking about how we were denied contraception should any such sexual activity occur (If I could insert emoji’s here there’d be serious eye-roll emoji activity).

The list would be endless but primary among the horrors would be the continuation of a regime of forced pregnancy. Of continuing to enslave hordes of Irish women in a macabre experiment which sees women become something less than human the moment they become pregnant. They go from being a female person to an incubation machine which other people have the remote control for.

Other people are handed the power to determine how this incubation machine must operate. During the public hearings of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the 8th, veteran anti-choice lawyer William Binchy was put on the spot about whether he believed women should have an equal right to healthcare. He emphatically said yes.

When he was further asked if he believed women had an equal right to healthcare when pregnant he procrastinated. Because the fact of the matter is, no matter which way you dress it up, a NO vote quite simply ensures that a pregnant person will not have equal access to healthcare.

I absolutely respect a person’s choice to vote No. I understand people have reservations and concerns about abortion. In fact I would suggest that most people have reservations about abortion. It is never something that is taken lightly.

However while I respect people’s right to vote whichever way they choose, I do believe it’s important that the hyperbole is removed from the conversation and the basic facts of what that vote means is laid bare; a NO vote is a vote for women to continue to be treated as second-class citizens in our healthcare system and to be denied equal access to healthcare.

A YES vote is recognition that even though you, if faced with a situation, may make an entirely different choice to another woman, you would not seek to impose what’s right for you on her. A NO vote is a vote of control, a YES vote is a vote of compassion and understanding.

And lad…please get out and vote on Friday. We need you.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews