In part two of our interview with Independent Limerick City candidate Sarah Jane Hennelly, we talk about the political status quo in Limerick, economic policies, and new party formation in Ireland. In case you missed it, you can read part one here.
With the Limerick seats rotating constantly between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour since Dessie O Malley’s retirement, are you concerned that all three of the major parties are unbeatable in Limerick?
I wouldn’t be putting myself forward and running an election campaign if I believed the parties were unbeatable. There has always been a socialist/social democratic seat in Limerick. Looking at the performance and subsequent loss of support for Labour, there are a lot of voters looking for that ideology but one that won’t pander to the establishment or other interests and will be more courageous when it comes to dealing with the likes of Europe and other economically-driven entities.
On a personal level, I would prefer to see the loss of a FG or even a FF seat as I feel that both are a lot more responsible for the majority of ill-conceived and myopic decisions made over the last 7/8, if not more years. However, I can’t envisage this will happen as the party machine is a difficult one to dismantle in Irish politics. All of these predictions are not exactly aligned with pundit predictions but have a look a Greece, it’s almost the same timeline of events here- in Greece, the government responsible (along with many others) was annihilated by the electorate, much the same as FF here. In this same election, they voted in the opposition (FG here) based on promises of reform and tackling bank debt. They didn’t deliver, and the Greeks got more and more angry and turned up to give Syriza almost 40% of their vote. This is where we’re at now in Ireland- and why there has been such a huge increase in the amount of independents. And this example is why I believe that no one can really predict with certainty how the next election will turnout for the existing parties. The level of disappointment, distrust and anger toward the establishment is unlike we’ve ever seen before. The litany of poor and short-sighted decisions, cronyism, and refusal to listen to the electorate will be reflected in people’s votes. Although we are a conservative electorate historically speaking, I think things are changing. If the opposition keep making moves to offer credible alternatives then I believe that we will see the large-scale decline of the major political parties over the next few terms.
Can you clarify where exactly you lie on the political spectrum economically?
I am left-of-centre economically. I am a social democrat. What we need is the social reform of capitalism- which is a huge task at present unfortunately. I believe it is the role of government to ensure that every person has access to high quality education and childcare, accessible and affordable healthcare, that workers rights and collective bargaining power are in place, in the right of protection of all vulnerable citizens be it our elderly or our young. All of these values are arguably a long way off where we are but if we start to work towards a country that does this- if we create a long-term vision for the country we want to have, then we will get there. At the moment, we are living in a system dictated by economic doctrines, however this is rarely openly confessed to by our leadership and as a result the argument around it publicly is narrow. In fact, countries that espouse the values I previously mentioned- countries which value their youth and invest in education- do better economically than others, as well as having happier and healthier citizens and higher quality of life. I think simply put, we are not a balance sheet we are a society and we are communities. The social organs of our society have been decimated over the last 7/8 years and we all know it, however we then hear that unemployment is falling etc- but what is the quality of the work those people are getting? Are they getting even minimum wage? Are they even getting hours every week? It’s hard to fight a system that pushes inanimate figures on your face and expects us all to feel foolish and ungrateful. Where we spend our money reflects where our values lie as a society- if we cut funding to Rape Crisis networks and support for single parent and SNA’s, then what does that actually say about us? I don’t think the majority of people want to see the most vulnerable hit, yet public policy and leadership says otherwise. Again, the almost invisible economic doctrine of neoliberal economics scaremongers already debt-burdened and vulnerable people into stagnation.
Your platform during the local elections made reference to local plebiscites for decision making. How would this idea translate to national level?
Apart from the traditional weekly clinics held across the constituency, social media can be harnessed a lot more
effectively than it is currently by the majority of TD’s. The main issue for me here is that still a significant amount of the electorate is not online. I intend to hold monthly public meetings in different communities across the constituency and rather than just hear what others have to say, I would also bring forward various decisions or proposals I think people would like a say on. This might seem simple, but actually as an independent it is far easier for me to vote flexibly therefore allowing me to be much more responsive to the electorate. There are logistical issues when considering the volume of decisions to be made on any day within Leinster House, but again, I think social media coupled with regular door-to-door canvass, clinics and monthly public meetings should make my actions more democratic and reflective while also empowering people and getting them more involved and hopefully more trusting of the political process. I would love to open up the work of a TD and let others see how it’s done. I know I would have loved if something did that so I could get a better understanding. As well as this, if some major issue comes up for example fiascos like that of Irish Water, then I would hold a special public meeting for that. I am open to and very interested to hear any ideas people might have as to how we can strengthen the link between TDs and constituents.
Would you ever consider joining a party and – if so – which one?
I have always dreamed of seeing a new party formed in this country which actually reflects our values and not a dynastic and elite grouping of entities lacking clear and upfront ideology. I have been approached by the larger parties to join however out of principle I could not join them. Personally, it would defeat the purpose of my getting involved in politics. My purpose is not to get elected at any cost, it’s to try to change the type of politics we have already. I believe there is a far brighter future in Irish politics than what the major parties can or will offer. We are a highly educated, dynamic and creative country. We need new political movements that reflect the age we’re living in without the baggage carried by the current civil war parties. I believe that parties are crucial to effecting real structural reform and change however I don’t believe that the current major parties are able or perhaps they are unwilling to challenge these bigger issues. A new breed of party politics which is not entrenched in the establishment which looks to other countries and how they do things well is what we need. I don’t think we need more ‘anti’ parties- we all know what is wrong in the country at the moment. We need solutions and ideas, and a vision for where we want to go as a country.
Since the local elections, I have had discussions with Stephen Donnelly and Shane Ross as they both have began to try to form new national movements made up of non-party or independent representatives. I think it would be an injustice to the people I am trying to represent if I were not to work to identify a way in which I can make a bigger impact once elected. Both groupings offer interesting and new ways in which people can work together to make a much bigger difference than an individual can. Both are trying to break from the establishment and offer news things- be it ideologically or within Dail Eireann. My priority is first and foremost to find the most genuine and effective way in which we can move forward in our politics and start making the changes we urgently need in our society.
Would you care to make some predictions as to the results of the Limerick City constituency?
According to the latest constituency-level analysis, Independents and others are at 18% in Limerick City. I had always anticipated that we would run a strong enough campaign to win the last seat, and the polls are backing that up. It seems likely that Willie O’Dea and Michael Noonan will win the first two seats however I am doubtful that FG will win a second seat. People are incredibly disappointed and visceral toward them, especially in Limerick and I envisage the polls will reflect that.
For further information on Ms. Hennelly’s campaign and manifesto, visit www.sarahjanehennelly.com
Jimi is the editor-in-chief of soapbox. You can email him here.