Author Archives: Anne Marie McNally


From top: Members of the Garda Riot Squad (Public Order Unit) during the National Emergency Service Parade in Dublin city last month; Anne Marie McNally

On Tuesday morning, I listened to Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan tell RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland that he was opposing Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan’s proposal to make it illegal to film Gardaí on duty.

I was pleased to hear him oppose such a regressive proposal but then he immediately followed it up by saying:

We don’t need to change how policing happens in Ireland.’

He went on to speak about how Irish people like the openness and transparency of how An Garda Siochana operate.

My initial open mouth shock at that statement was matched only by the irony that he would say it on the same day that the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was due to publish its report; a report which was commissioned precisely for the reason that policing in Ireland needs to fundamentally change!

It doesn’t just need to change because of the many high-profile scandals which revealed a serious malaise at the heart of how the Garda operate; the Maurice McCabe scandal, the McBrearty Scandal, the Corrib Gas line scandal…I could continue.

But it also needs to change because on a day to day basis there are quite simply, toxic elements to the way in which elements of An Garda Siochana conduct their duties.

I will immediately balance that statement by saying there are also, thankfully, many elements of the force, which act with complete integrity and are an example of how policing should be.

But those fantastic men and women who uphold the best parts of what An Garda Siochana should be are the ones who will most welcome a changed force which not only recognises the toxic elements of the force but takes real action to eliminate those elements.

That old cliché about the first step to addressing a problem being the acceptance of it seems appropriate here. We cannot allow our knowledge and legitimate criticisms of the toxic elements of policing in Ireland be muted for fear of being seen to denigrate the best parts of the force. It is not either or.

Many of us watched in disgust at the heavy-handed and in some cases, frankly illegal, ‘policing’ which sparked high-profile protests and demonstrations across the USA.

We then watched as the policing of those protests became aggressive and damaging – recall the images from the Berkeley Protests or the Ferguson riots where horrific images of both masked and unmasked police officers baton-charged, pepper-sprayed and tasered protestors.

Similarly on the Standing Rock protests many were horrified at the images and the subsequent revelations of undercover police operations infiltrating the movement and causing damage. We cannot look abroad without examining ourselves and the Shell to Sea protest is one that stands out in relation to abhorrent Garda actions.

Do we really want to get ourselves into situation where we allow Gardaí to determine what they deem to be legitimate civil protest or not and if they deem a protest illegitimate are we happy for them to act with impunity in relation to masking themselves and sometimes carrying out acts of aggression?

I certainly won’t accept such a situation.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) recently launched a report on human rights based approach to policing. This report is a direct response so something I’ve witnessed daily, first-hand growing up and then living and working in a disadvantaged inner-city area.

For the handful of amazing Gardaí I dealt with – those who went out of their way to engage with local youths and who worked with and for the community – they were unfortunately outnumbered by the amount of times I had to watch my peers getting ‘a few slaps’ from a Garda or being called a scumbag etc. just for the crime of maybe walking with their mates through their own neighbourhood.

The same is true of the policing of protest – and make no mistake it is a very specific and well-researched policing (& political) tactic to find ways to dehumanise and criminalise those involved in civil disobedience as a means of turning public sentiment against a protest.

We can turn our back on the reality of that or we can be mature enough to accept there are good and bad elements of our police force but calling out the bad elements should not be something we shy away from and nor should it be something we accept.

The same is true of protests and protestors. Dwight D Eisenhower once said: “May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion” and I can’t think of a more appropriate quote in the current context and it is applicable to those on both sides of the protests.

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

Anne Marie McNally

This is slightly off usual course but bear with me…or don’t, there’s a choice here!

I recently took up hill running/hiking. I’m still very much a newbie but nothing compares to the feeling of freedom and strength it gives me when I crest a summit and get back down the other side in one piece!

The thing is though, in lieu of friends willing to do it with me, it’s mostly a lonely trek; literally.

I tend to be a solo-soldier on most mountain trails I run and you’d be lucky to pass a couple of people over the course of 90 minutes or so.

When I started out I was immediately bombarded with the ‘don’t be daft, it’s not safe’ narrative. My parents were (and still are) up in arms about the idea of me running isolated mountains alone.

Male friends who care about me sought to reassure themselves that I carry some sort of weapon when I run (I don’t!), and the first question women ask me when I tell them of my hobby is ‘do you feel safe though?

Generally I do, in fact one of the benefits of the activity is that it makes me feel strong and powerful however there have been times when I’ve wavered.

Most recently the tragic case of Mollie Tibbets, a young woman abducted and murdered whilst jogging near her home in Iowa had me reading the online commentary with interest; male friends offering running company for female friends; women recounting tales of their own running experience and how they’ve had to adjust or often just give-up entirely on their activity of choice. It made for some sobering reflection.

Last week, after an absence due to illness, I took to a familiar trail and just as I was about to complete it – in view of my car and all, I let my concentration lapse and I took a nasty tumble.

As I lay there in agony and momentarily unable and afraid to move my damaged limbs, I felt immensely vulnerable.

That feeling was compounded by the subsequent chats with folks who cautioned about how ‘anything could have happened to you up there alone’.

Determined not to let my confidence be shaken any further I waited the week’s recovery out and on Monday evening I took off for the same trail.

All was going well until about 5km into my run when I rounded a bend only to see a man on his own up ahead who didn’t appear to be kitted out for what was quite a crappy weather evening up the mountains.

Something primitive kicked in – my heart rate accelerated, my eyes immediately began scouting around me to locate possible exit trails/routes if required and I flexed my still-injured leg to try and gauge whether or not my sprint reflex would fail me if called upon to make a dash for it.

This all happened in a split-second.

The feeling of power I was enjoying on the run was immediately replaced with fear and vulnerability. It strikes me that too often people dismiss the notion of ingrained rape culture as something overly-dramatic; but the way I felt in that moment was absolutely a result of an ingrained rape culture.

A lone man in an isolated spot was enough to make me terrified – not through any fault on his part at all, just an all-too normal reaction of a woman in this situation. And how would the victim-blaming narrative have played out had something happened to me? ‘Ah well how stupid was it to be up there on your own?’ etc. etc.

When I was a young child (and with a broken arm at the time) I was attacked. On a bright summers evening, less than 200 meters from my front door, a car drew up, blocked my path and a man, naked from the waist down, tried to bundle me into the car.

Luckily both my fight AND my flight instinct kicked in and I screamed for my life, kicked and ran, done a Starsky and Hutch-like roll across his car bonnet despite my plaster cast and sling, and I escaped.

He was subsequently caught and jailed and was also charged in other attacks including a rape. So for me the stranger danger of sexual predators has never just been something that happens in TV crime dramas or crime novels however, until that moment on Monday evening I’m not sure I fully appreciated how deeply ingrained that fear is in me.

Interestingly, on the drive up to the mountains on Monday evening I’d been listening to Mary Wilson on RTÉ’s Drivetime interviewing an impressive UK female Labour MP, Stella Creasy, who deftly poured scorn on the question of ‘why would a woman enter politics knowing the abuse and misogyny they’ll endure?’

Ms Creasy, without taking a breath, challenged the idea that a woman should have to adjust her actions and choices just because the current narrative dictates that such a toxic culture is ‘just the way things are’.

She questioned why we would blindly accept that abuse and misogyny should ‘come with the territory’.Post-run terror, it struck me that the same applies- why should we just accept that as a woman alone I should adjust my behaviour.

Why is it that my male friend can take to the hills without a second thought whereas I’m branded as reckless and a risk-taker for doing the same.

I’m not naïve, I understand that for now that’s how things are and I’ll have to take precautions and deal with those heart-stopping moments of fear while my male friends will probably never fully appreciate how much it affects my choices and how I have to adjust how I approach an activity that I love.

What I can do however is challenge the narrative that it’s ‘just how things are’.

I can continue to highlight the need for awareness of real fear rather than dismissing it as ‘in your head’; the need to listen to the lived realities of women who live and breathe this every day.

I can continue to highlight the need for attitude shifts so that hopefully in 10 or 15 years’ time when my own daughter is running an isolated trail and comes across a lone male her first thought won’t be of imminent danger and the reaction if something bad happens won’t be to immediately blame the woman for choosing to pursue what should be a perfectly acceptable activity for either a man or a woman.

And to the man out on his solo hike, I’m sorry!

You probably felt as uncomfortable as I did in the moment because this toxic culture does neither of us any favours and if both sexes work together to eradicate rape culture, abuse culture, general misogyny and sexism then we’ll both be better placed to pursue our passions.

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

From top: passport control at Dublin Airport arrivals; Anne Marie McNally

Over recent weeks there has been quite a bit of fanfare regarding the reversal of the brain-drain.

‘Emigrants returning home in their droves’ went the headlines and with it the underlying implication that this should underline to us that things really have turned around and Ireland Inc. is back, baby!

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe et all have, and will continue to, use this news to tell us how Fine Gael have supposedly turned things around; how they’ve got the economy back on track. Right so, Ted.

Funny then that there has not been quite as much fanfare for the other side of the story; the surveys of returning emigrants and the tales of their shock at discovering just how inhospitable Ireland Inc. has become for anyone hoping to live an average or even above average salary or two.

These stories have been covered but they didn’t attract the news heads or the ‘What it says in the papers’ slots in the same way that the good news story of the returning numbers did.

Unless you read deep into the pages of the newspapers you’d likely have missed the coverage of the results of the surveys conducted with returning emigrants or those who had considered returning.

You may not have heard how a lot of those that returned are already considering leaving again or how they have had to relocate far outside the city they intended to return to just so they can scrape together a semi-normal life.

A couple of months back Ciara Kenny in the Irish Times spoke to some returning emigrants who outlined some of the barriers to relocating here.

The fact that there is a significant waiting period to receive child benefit – 16 months in some cases; the reality that motor insurers won’t consider driving experience abroad or before you left as qualifying driving experience thus giving people exorbitant car insurance quotes; the childcare costs; the school waiting lists; the shortages of GPs; the costs of medical care and/or health insurance; but mostly they speak about housing.

They speak about the shock at finding they are expected to pay in the region of €2,000 for any kind of average one or 2 bed place in Dublin city and not much less for a similar place even with a long commute.

They make comparisons with the cities they have left and discuss how their housing costs fared relative to their take-home pay; the difference being that while abroad they were not shelling out 40-60% of their income on housing whereas that figure has become the norm here in Dublin and some other urban centres nationally.

Another piece in the Irish Times last week focused on people moving to the West of Ireland to try and arrest the current assault on their income caused by the ridiculously high cost of living in urban centres.

The feature had a mix of young professionals and older more settled families with decent incomes. They all struggled equally to manage the cost of living in Dublin and all decided – some out of total necessity rather than choice – that it was no longer sustainable.

Do we factor this into stories about the brain-drain? I suspect not.

We’ve a country that people want to live in yet increasingly many are finding that they simple can’t afford to live in it. That’s an equation that can never balance.

Dublin is now one of the 10 most expensive cities in the world to live in – mostly due to its sky-rocketing rents but many other factors are also critical components of this ranking including the cost of consumer goods.

While our inclusion on some of these ‘most expensive’ can be attributed to the strength of the Euro vis-à-vis the dollar, those of us living in Dublin know that is quite simply bloody expensive to live here.

It is imply unsustainable for a household, whatever its composition, to pay put 40-60% of its income on housing costs and then try to manage other costs such as ever-increasing utility bills, childcare costs, transport costs, etc., etc.

The cost of living in Ireland, particularly the urban centres is too high.

It’s too high for those of us who never left, it’s too high for those who are coming back and according to IBEC and the National Competitiveness Council, and it’s too high for those who want to do business here.

So Paschal et al in Fine Gael, let’s start balancing the supposed good-news fanfares with those realities eh?

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

From top: Phoenix Park Master of Ceremonies Fr Damian McNeice; traffic restrictions around Phoenix Park on Sunday; Anne Marie McNally

In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to these shores much has been made of the numbers, or lack thereof, which bothered turning up to see him.

For those of us who pointed out the vast discrepancy between the actual numbers and the widely publicised expected numbers, the counter argument has been that we are somehow gloating or belittling those who did attend.

On the contrary, I am delighted that anyone who wanted to attend had the opportunity to do so.

I am delighted that those who find comfort in their faith and who still worship the official Catholic Church got to experience what, to them, must have been a significant event.

I understand and thoroughly respect the positive influence and the personal comfort that a person’s faith can provide.

However it is, and should be, a deeply personal thing.

Yet last weekend that private choice was thrust upon the many of us who haven’t made that choice, both in terms of travel restrictions and costs.

I completely accept the fact that I live in a capital city and major events happen which require coordination and planning and oftentimes restrictions.

That’s not an issue. I also understand that the Pope is (despite my personal opinion of him!) a fairly big deal and a visit from him is likely to upend normality somewhat.

However that should not stop us asking the very legitimate and pertinent questions regarding the completely overestimated scale of the event and the corresponding overreaction regarding event management.

It is worth pointing out that this was not an official State visit but rather a private Church gig for their World Meeting of Families.

This coming Sunday is All-Ireland final day. 82,300 ticket holders will descend upon central Dublin from all across the country and indeed the world.

That figure doesn’t include the many others who will make their way to the city to soak up the atmosphere and try to get their hands on a golden ticket.

All in all, 100,000 sports fan in a fairly tight quadrant of Dublin City is extremely realistic.

There will be Garda in place to help traffic flow; there will be some access roads closed to traffic to facilitate the pedestrian surge; and there will undoubtedly be packed buses and Luas trams.

There will not however be a city lockdown for the entire day.

There will not be people who have to get pre-clearance and ID passes for personal visitors to their own home.

There will not be significant changes to the public transport system meaning people cannot get to work or about their usual daily lives.

There will not be entire dual carriage-ways closed off for 15 hours.

Yet all of the above happened on Sunday last when, according to official estimates, the crowd only just exceeded that of a good All-Ireland Final day in Croker and was perhaps even less than the crowd in the Phoenix Park for Robbie Williams or Ed Sheeran.

I respect those Ed or Robbie fan’s right to worship at their chosen musical altar as much as I respect the pilgrims on Sunday choosing their particular altar so why is one choice treated so differently and deferentially?

Quite simply it is because Official Ireland and its media has refused to hear the increasingly loud message from Irish society that such deference to religion and the Catholic Church is simply not representative of Irish society any longer.

It’s not that the message hasn’t been delivered repeatedly, loudly and clearly. When Ireland effectively rebuked a Catholic Church that had shouted at it in the foulest of ways with the gravest of threats in the months leading up to the referendum on the 8th Amendment it did so resoundingly.

When the patronage question is asked, parents respond clearly on the need for new school models without the influence of the church.

Mass attendances alone tell a story or have a look at the number of applicants for the priesthood of late.

Catholic Church dominance in Irish lives is a historical feature of times past and no amount of sensational headlines about “600,000 expected in park” can change that.

The powers that be proceeded with event management plans based on perceptions of an Ireland from a bygone era and as a result we, the citizens, ended up with a ridiculous bill and an overreaction in event planning that cost many of us our plans; many others who were forced to take the day off lost wages for the day, and many businesses lost their income for the day.

And for what? a slightly larger than normal concert attended by some die-hard fans for all intents and purposes.

A whole other column could be dedicated to the fact that such costs and plans were put in place to facilitate the head of the institution responsible for so many crimes both here in Ireland and worldwide; so much suffering; and even on the day of the visit such hurtful and damaging remarks not least the Pope’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness.

But for this column at least I think I’ll stick to making the point that if we seek to live in an actual Republic, which we supposedly do, then we simply cannot turn a blind-eye to the State expenditure and resources – both in planning and organisation – that were expended and potentially wasted on what was essentially a private gig by a celebrity for his fans.

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

From top: newspaper stand on O’Connell Street;, Dublin 1; Anne Marie McNally

I spend a lot of time researching issues of media ownership/pluralism and the effect of same on our society and democracy. It’s my academic field which luckily enough dovetails into my current career and this weekend I will address the Humanist Association’s annual summer school on the issue.

However I often find that when I raise the issue I am hit with ‘yeah but you should be focusing on the bread and butter issues like health and housing’.

Agreed – but here’s the thing- if you don’t realise or understand the perspective of where the information you are fed on a daily basis regarding these ‘bread and butter’ issues is coming from then you must accept that any discussion of such issues is flawed from the outset.

So focusing attention on who provides and/or controls the information that frames national discussions on the vital topics is not ‘ignoring the bread and butter issues’.

Rather it is seeking to ensure the debate space is available for these vital discussions without particular biases influencing the opinions of those considering the issues.

The current housing crisis and the media treatment of those who dare put their heads above the parapet bear this out.

Similarly with the health crisis; do you honestly believe that a media organisation whose largest shareholder is someone who also has significant financial interests in the private hospital sector is genuinely going to give an impartial view of a healthcare proposal that is designed to make private hospitals effectively redundant?

The facts bear this out. I know I’ve referred to it before on here, but a research project undertaken by Dr. Roddy Flynn in Dublin City University found that stories were treated differently by media organisations depending on the connection of the story to someone in a controlling position within the media outlet.

Basically Dr Flynn examined the treatment of a number of stories and concluded that INM – whose majority shareholder is Denis O’Brien – treated stories regarding Irish Water and the Moriarty Tribunal (both stories with direct impacts on Denis O’Brien) differently to those media organisations which don’t have a connection to Mr O’Brien.

I use the INM and Mr O’Brien research pieces as a good example of the point I’m making – the social narrative surrounding the bread and butter issues you wish to talk about is directly influenced by those who control our media.

Let’s face some real facts here. According to the Media Pluralism monitor Ireland is considered high risk regarding media ownership concentration at 97%.

When it comes to the political independence of our media we score as medium risk at 39% – meaning there is a medium-level problem with the amount of political pressure that is exerted on media outlets.

Compounding this problem is the obvious connections between private media owners/majority shareholders and those in political power.

Does anyone recall how easy it was for a PR executive working for INM to pick up the phone to Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and readily get access to confidential information regarding a proposed media merger which had a direct impact on the value of INM?

How many times do you think that phone call is made the other way around when a Minister wants someone in media power to know they’re not happy with coverage of some issue or other. Fairly regularly I can tell you.

Take a look at how many journalists, even in recent months, have made the switch from journalism – the profession specifically tasked with holding power to account – to working in an advisory role for that very power they set out to supposedly hold to account.

It points clearly to a relationship between politics and the media that has become far too close and far too cosy.

Even within our national broadcaster – free of issues of private ownership – the question of political pressure has always been omnipresent.

The power of the Government to control the licence fee has long been seen as an ever-present threat potentially used to leverage at least some form of control on editorial direction.

But even apart from such a controversial allegation, the fact remains that the media pluralism monitor finds that Ireland is at medium-risk regarding the social inclusivity of our media.

In other words how many working-class voices or minority voices do you find on your airwaves or daily news pages? Not many. And that in itself ensures a slanted version of the coverage of ‘bread and butter’ issues.

So should we be spending our time discussing the pressing issues such as health, housing, cost of living etc.? Of course we should, but should we do it in a bubble of covering our eyes and ignoring one of the key factors influencing the public discourse around these issues?

No, we shouldn’t and to say that we are wasting our time discussing the latter is to succumb to a flawed debating space which will ensure that the bread and butter issues are always going to pitch one socio-economic group or class against another depending on the prevailing interests of those controlling our media at a particular point in time.

Unless we open our eyes and recognise that fact we will continue to shout in an echo-chamber of us versus each other rather than us versus those who seek to control us.

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

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.