General Election 2016 · Politics

#GE2016 part four: Election Day – shaping the new Government?

Over the course of the election campaign, I’ve been watching politicians from various parties and some from no party on the media. Some of what they have to say I’ve liked, some not so much, and some made me plain angry. No surprises there really. But this time round (and I’ve voted in every election I have been eligible to vote in since I turned 18) I have struggled to decide who to vote for. I have now decided and I will be voting later on today but one thing has really struck me as I’ve deliberated over who to vote for. I will be using my vote today but I will not be playing any positive part in shaping our next Government. And that makes me wonder if our electoral system needs some tweaking.

I live and vote in the Dáil constituency of Meath West. There are 9 candidates seeking election here. Some constituencies have 20 candidates, our neighbours in Meath East have 12 to choose from. I could, if I wished, vote for all 9 in order of preference. On this occasion I choose not to do that. Of our 9 candidates 2 are from Fine Gael, the majority party in the outgoing coalition. I will not be voting for either of them, I don’t agree with them on many issues and one of them I have found to be an utterly ineffectual TD so no vote from me there. We have one candidate from Fianna Fáil and I cannot forget what that party has done in the past. Again, I also disagree with many of their policies. So no vote going there. For those of you unfamiliar with Irish politics, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are (currently) the two major parties, so you might see where I’m going. We have one candidate from Sinn Féin. I have voted Sinn Féin in the past and while I do not agree with all of their policies, there is some common ground there. Depending on how things go today (and there are MANY uncertainties in this election) Sinn Féin could well end up as the leaders of the opposition in the next Dáil. But I cannot vote for their candidate here as he and I differ on the repeal of the 8th Amendment which is a red line issue for me.

So 4 down and no vote cast yet. There’s an independent candidate who has not even produced any election literature that I can see (and I’ve looked) so that’s a no. 5 down, 4 to go. The Labour party candidate – and indeed the only woman standing here – hmm, she had a chance of a lower preference from me until I spoke to her at a hustings event and again we differ on the repeal of the 8th. Nope, move along please. 6 down, 3 to go. I’m now left with the Green Party candidate, the Direct Democracy candidate and a candidate from the Christian Jobs and Action Party. I do not believe any political party should espouse any religious belief so that’s a no. (Unsurprisingly, we differ on the 8th too) So I’m left with 2 out of 9. One of these will get my first preference, the other my second. Neither party has – in my opinion – any hope of forming part of the next government. But at least I will have voted.

So, back to my earlier point about maybe our system needing tweaking. There are some parties who DO interest me (actually the Greens come into that category too), such as the recently formed Social Democrats, the People Before Profit movement and the Anti-Austerity Alliance. None of them are contesting this constituency so I can’t vote for them, yet they are the parties with whom I would have the most common ground (in different ways). Should we have some kind of national list system alongside the constituency votes? That way more people might feel like they are actually getting a positive say in who shapes our next government? I don’t have any ideas as to what form that might take or how it might work, but this election has really gotten me thinking.

There are some independent candidates in other constituencies who I really hope get elected (and in some cases re-elected), Katherine Zappone, Carol Hunt, Averil Power, Joan Collins…. to name just a few. Let’s wait and see – I will be glued to the results for the next few days.

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A Year of Living Seasonally

A year of living seasonally

I’m not sure exactly when or why the idea of living seasonally took hold with me but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks. It occurs to me that for all that I live in a rural part of the world, and grow vegetables and fruit and mark certain calendar occasions, I am a bit distanced from actually LIVING seasonally. So what do I mean by living seasonally? If you Google the term ‘living seasonally’ a lot of sites come up, many of them to do with food – cooking seasonal produce and not using food that has been shipped halfway around the world just so we can have strawberries and asparagus all year round. Other sites focus on the natural cycles of night and day, of the moon and of the seasons and how they can impact on our health and wellbeing. I found Mountain Spring Herbals very interesting on this front. There are a number of sites which look at the idea of living seasonally from a homesteading/simpler life perspective. One I like is Little House in the Suburbs, escaping from the Rat Race has long appealed to me and its no surprise that The Good Life has long been one of my favourite TV programmes.

But back to living seasonally. How many times do you find yourself saying “I don’t know where this year has gone” or “How can it be [insert relevant month here] already?” My beloved and much-missed Granny always said that time – and by this she meant the years – passed more quickly as you got older. At 43 I now understand what she meant. I am frequently running to catch up with myself, always jumping from one project to the next, never taking time to really stop. Anyone reading this who knows me well is well aware of this! But I’m getting tired of that and I need to change things a bit. So for the next year I’m going to live seasonally as much as I can. You could call it living in the moment either I suppose. As someone who is fascinated by history, by myth and legend my head spends a fair amount of time in the past. On the other hand my involvement in my community and interest in politics keeps my head looking to the future a lot. None of which leaves a whole lot of time for the here and now.

My version of living seasonally – and this is just what suits me, its not a prescription for anyone else to follow – is to spend more time aware of the seasons, of the changes. Over the next year I will try to spend some time outside every day. I will explore ways of marking certain calendar dates and rituals that appeal to me, without strictly adhering to any one belief system. I will try and eat more seasonally (and hopefully better). Cooking is no hardship for me, I love trying out new recipes and new ingredients. I will observe the physical changes each season brings to my little piece of the planet. And I will come on here and share it all with you!

I’ve titled this post a Year of Living Seasonally which implies this will finish in a year – 365 days, 12 months, 4 seasons whatever way you like to mark the passage of time. That is my plan. I’m starting this project in 2 days time – this is just a little taster – when here in Ireland and in other countries too – it will be Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. But it is also the festival – or cross quarter day – of Samhain, which for many marks the start of the Celtic New Year. Many of the Pagan or Wiccan persuasions also mark this festival as the start of the year.

Now I could here get into a whole big long discussion about how we mark the passing of time and how dates and calendars are somewhat artificial but I won’t (I might come back to that in the future though). Suffice it to say that I like this time of year – the start of the darker half of the year, the approach of winter, the end of the harvest season and I like to mark it as the start of a new year. (I mark the more usual New Year in January too). Its a time to reflect, to rest, to ponder the quietness and the darkness that winter ushers in. That’s what I need to do right now. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it.

the wheel of the year the cycle of the year
A Celtic Calendar

food

When life gives you lemons – make lemon curd!!!

Fruit curd for Valentine's

 

Sometimes I get a little carried away in the kitchen.  Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and while I was thinking about the meal I was going to cook for my husband and I (sound like the Queen there!!) I sussed that I had a load of lemons in the kitchen and some cranberries left over from Christmas in the darkest recesses of my fridge.  So – cos I had nothing else to do! – I made cranberry curd and lemon curd.  I had made both of them before but I tried a different lemon curd recipe this time (Darina Allen’s actually and it is by far the nicest ever).  So as well as a meal of crab cakes, T-bone steak with chips, mushrooms and onions followed by lemon meringue pie, I also made these……. I don’t think they will last terribly long!!!

Actually just writing that has made me see how easily I am sucked in by descriptions on restaurant menus.  I cooked T-bone steak and chips – but I could have equally described it as “pan-seared prime Irish T-bone steak (in fact very local – raised and slaughtered less than 5 miles from my kitchen) served with handcut potato chips, sprinkled with sea salt and served with slivers of mushroom and onion sauteed in a delicate garlic butter.”  See what I mean??

Anyway, it all tasted bloody good!!!!

 

Special Needs

And so the fight continues….

Wednesday 13th July,  Oldcastle, Co. Meath.  A beautiful warm sunny morning, just as it should be for the middle of July.  July.  My daughter’s birth month and she has just turned 4.  Another milestone that a few years ago we didn’t know if we would ever see.  I load Fionnuala and her heavy special needs buggy into my little car and head for Mullingar.  Our ultimate destination is Dublin as we are taking part in a protest against the cuts in special needs education.  It might seem odd to travel from the Meath-Cavan border to Dublin via Mullingar but we’re going by train and Mullingar is our nearest station.  It takes about 40 minutes to get there.  We take the Castlepollard road out of Oldcastle, bypassing Fore and its seven wonders.  There’s nothing worth listening to on the radio so I check the CD player – first CD up is Horslips ‘Treasury’.  The first track that comes on is ‘Furniture’, I haven’t listened to this in a while and I’m humming along when they launch into the chorus from ‘Oró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile’ and I feel the spirit of Gráinne Mhaol surging through me, putting me into fighting mode.  Fionnuala is clapping her hands and singing away in her car seat, oblivious to her mother communing with long-dead Irish women.  Skip through a track or two and next up is  ‘Dearg Doom’ – this was the first Horslips song I ever heard – and now the spirit of Queen Meabh is right up there with Gráinne Mhaol.  The blood is pumping, the adrenalin is rushing, I feel like I can take on the world and win!!  And we’ve only been on the road for half an hour…

Eventually I calm down somewhat, get us to the train and safely to Dublin.  After a lovely lunch we stroll casually down to Kildare Street.  The protest  – organised by the Special Needs Parents Association amongst others – is due to start at 3pm.  I figure we’ll be there by about 2.40 so at least there will be a few people ready by 3pm.  We turn into Molesworth Street and are enjoying the (rare) sunshine when it hits me like a thunderbolt.  There are tons of people outside the Dáil.  Parents, children, teachers, SNAs, buggies and wheelchairs of all shapes and sizes.  There must be a few hundred people there already!  I am both amazed and delighted.  Many of us have been trying to encourage people who don’t have or know a child with special needs to join us for this protest.  I manage to locate some good friends and Fionnuala and I take our places just outside the gates to Leinster House.  More and more people arrive, the Gardaí close off the lower half of Molesworth Street and still the people keep coming.  We are asked to move over from Kildare Street to Molesworth Street for the rally and by now it is a pretty impressive sight.  (The press has varying numbers the next day but I believe there was approx 1000 people there).  TD’s are arriving out of Leinster House, members of the Technical Group of Independent TD’s, members of Sinn Féin, I think I see a couple of Labour TD’s.  No Fianna Fáilers or Fine Gaelers.  Or not that I could see anyway.  The vibe is good natured, people are angry at the cuts to SNA positions, but its a positive kind of anger.  Plus there are a lot of children present and we want to keep this a family-friendly protest.

The speeches begin and they are all received positively. Finian McGrath TD spoke very well saying that if people were not for children with special needs then they were against them.  The crowd are in total agreement with him.  Lorraine Dempsey from the Special Needs Parents Association speaks just prior to a meeting with Minister Cannon and other government TD’s.  Shane Ross, Mick Wallace, Catherine Murphy, other TD’s too many to list here, teachers, SNAs, a gutsy young boy with autism and his mum, loads of people speak and the crowd applaud. Its a sunny day, we’re all too hot, the children are getting bored but at least we feel like we’re getting the chance to have our say.

Clare Daly TD opens up the stage for anyone who wants to address the crowd (thinning out a little bit now, its after 5pm).  And with my ego to the fore, I decide to go up. I’ve no real idea what I’m going to say but what the hell, I’ll just keep my little daughter’s face in my mind’s eye and something will come to me.  There are two speakers before me and then its my turn.  Momentarily I panic.  I introduce myself to the crowd and then it hits me what I want to say…..

“I don’t want to be here today.”  Not the usual opening line to address a rally with I grant you but I elaborate on my theme and speak for a few minutes.  I get lots of applause and two TD’s tell me I spoke well.  I get back to my daughter and friends to lots of hugs and congratulations.  Phew, maybe I didn’t make a class eejit of myself!  My dear friend Aisling then speaks very movingly and passionately about her son Jack and their fight for Jack to have the education he is entitled to.  Eventually the rally is over and a group of us retire to Buswells to relax, cool down, collect our thoughts and celebrate.  After all, its not every day we campaign outside the Dáil and address a rally.  We are all thrilled at the turnout and we’re on a high.

After an hour or so Fionnuala and I head back to Connolly station to start our journey home.  Its been a long day and we are both tired.  We finally get back just before 9 having left home at 10 that morning.  She goes straight to sleep and I fill my husband in on the day’s events while we wait for the 9pm news.  Yay! We got some coverage and another good friend of ours is interviewed with her children.  Then we hear that the Govt motion to maintain the cuts already announced in SNA positions has been won in the Dáil by 103 votes to 47 and the high that I’ve been on all day starts to fade.  I knew there was virtually no chance of the motion by the technical group (to reverse the cuts) winning but there’s always a glimmer of hope.  I spend the next hour or so chatting with friends online talking over the day, swapping news and photos.  And so to bed.

But the next morning I feel terrible.  Awful.  Exhausted. Worn out, weary, tired tired tired of having to fight.  And sick to my stomach at the way our children are being treated. And I’m not the only one.  Facebook is full of mums and dads who feel the exact same way I do.  And that brings me back to my speech at the rally.  None of us WANTED to be there last Wednesday.  Its not easy taking a child with special needs to the Dáil, having to manoeuvre buggies or wheelchairs, cater for a child who might be peg fed or who might have a trach tube in place.  Or who has autism and doesn’t cope well with crowds.  Or who has seizures. Or who is simply unable to understand why we are there and why she has to sit in her buggy for Mum for over two long hours, pacified only with white chocolate buttons.  But we did it.  Parents and supporters from all over the country came, from Donegal, Meath, Kildare, Wexford, Wicklow, Louth, Kilkenny, Cork, Galway…. and that’s only the ones I know about. I’m sure pretty much every one of the counties in this State was represented in the crowd last Wednesday.

We did it because we have to fight for our children to receive the education that they are entitled to. We did it because we want our children to be as independent as possible and to enjoy life as much as possible.  We came in our hundreds on one of the hottest days of the year to stand outside our national parliament and say to the politicians and to the people of this country “We are here.  Our children are here.  They are citizens of this country too and they have the right to an education.  Listen to us.  Support us.  Reverse these cuts.”

But so far they haven’t.  Parents all over the country are still anxiously waiting to hear if their child will have an SNA in September.  And the new school year is only a few weeks away….  Other parents that I know have already learned that their child will have reduced SNA hours or none at all.  Yet these children’s needs have not changed. I mentioned my friend Aisling and her son Jack earlier. Jack has Down’s Syndrome and CINCA  Syndrome.  He has high care needs and is classed at severe to profound level of disability.  He has a place in a special school for September but so far his mother has been told he will only be able to attend for one hour each day because of the SNA situation.  How in the 21st century can this be considered acceptable?  Jack has as much right to an education as any other child.  I could cite numerous other cases all of which illustrate just how badly our children are being let down by the Irish State.

We all know the country is in a dire financial mess.  We are all “taking the hit” and “sharing the pain”.  But why are children with special needs being targeted?  They are part of this country’s future too.  I know I’m not going to get answers to these questions here.  I know that the Government will not give me a straight answer.  But we live – allegedly – in a democracy and so we will use all the tools available to us to have our voices, and more importantly those of our children, heard.

I didn’t want to be at the Dáil last week.  None of us did.  But we went and we’ll be there again and again and again as long as we have to.  Cuts to special needs education affect every school and potentially every child in the country.  Will you join us next time?