15 March 2007 Edition
Dáil general election profile: Anna Prior, Clare
Bringing passion and youth to political fray
Clare Fianna Fáil TD and former Junior Education Minister Síle de Valera was a young woman when she first got involved in politics and has held a seat here continuously since 1987 until she retires this year. What do you think of her?
She’s liked well enough here and she’s not the worst. She did go to visit the H-Block Hunger Strikers when it was very unpopular to do so. She was a minister in the Fianna Fáil/PD Government nevertheless and had collective responsibility for the issues that are causing people pain and hardship, particularly in health and education.
Some people suggest that she’s played the green card in the past but now she’s retiring it gives people who voted for her but believe in a strong, campaigning woman with solid republican politics the chance to vote for Sinn Féin.
You grew up in England, didn’t you?
Yes, in Bedford, in the east of England, on the borders of Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, but my mum is from Ennistymon and, like so many Irish families who had to emigrate, our hearts have always been here. That’s why I was really honoured and proud to be asked to stand for my county.
My dad, Brian, is from Ballinamore, in Leitrim. One of his strongest memories is of putting up election posters for John Joe McGirl. He was only 12 or 13 then. He later moved to England where he met my mum. My dad used to play in a rock n’ roll band – the saxophone and the guitar. That was before he saw the light and got involved in the traditional Irish music scene [laughs]. He now plays the fiddle with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Clare.
He’s given many a free lesson to youngsters who might not have been able to afford to pay for tuition. That’s the socialist and the music enthusiast in him.
Music was a big part of your life, wasn’t it?
It still is. The whole cultural side was important in our identity and the richness of community life. I’m sure it’s the same for many emigrant communities, wherever they come from.
I remember ‘the hall’ with the Irish dancing, the music and whatever bit of the Irish language we could grasp over there because it wasn’t taught in the schools in England. Comhaltas was strong in England. You were proud to be Irish. Like my dad, I was good on the fiddle and I still play.
I remember ‘the hall’ with the Irish dancing, the music and whatever bit of the Irish language we could grasp over there because it wasn’t taught in the schools in England.
You joined Sinn Féin at Galway University?
It was while I was doing a BA in Sociology, Politics and Legal Science and a law degree. I love learning and I did well in school, English, Irish and history. I appreciate the importance of a good education and that’s why I want everyone to have that opportunity too.
So, tell me about the issues for the people of Clare.
Like every part of Ireland, health is a major concern here in that there are fears that Ennis Hospital will be downgraded as part of Mary Harney’s policy of privatisation. The maternity facilities have already been lost to the hospital and moved to Limerick - a good half-hour or more from Ennis and way longer if you come from the rural parts of the county. That can be fatal in the event of an emergency. The last Health Service Executive report is due for release but we think it’ll be withheld until after the election.
Then there’s two major concerns about Shannon. Not only is it being abused in terms of US troops being allowed to land there but there’s also the Open Skies Agreement, meaning that US aircraft can fly straight on to Dublin, costing the Shannon region in terms of tourism.
There’s a big issue about water here. The water in Ennis is contaminated and we have to buy bottled water. The council is doing nothing to address the problem.
Is crime an issue?
There’s a crime problem here too but our approach to that is to promote community bonding – empowering the community to deal with problems themselves and also tackling the issue through education. At last the Fianna Fáil/PD Government is doing something about putting into place the sort of restorative justice that has been so successful in nationalist areas in the Six Counties.
The flip side of young people getting into anti-social behaviour is that there’s very little for young people to do here in Ennis, and that’s a big part of the problem. Often young people want somewhere to go and something to do that interests them.
Part of our approach is to get more and more people involved in the resolution of problems, whatever they are.
You’re probably one of the youngest candidates of all the parties. At your age, shouldn’t life be more about having fun rather than immersing yourself in politics?
[Laughs] You can do both, you know!
People see me as a quiet person but I love to have the craic too and I have a rebellious spirit, which is why I see myself as more of a political activist than a politician.
I tend to stand up for what I believe in - even if it gets me into bother. I can’t just stay quiet if I think something needs to be challenged (just ask my sister Aisling and my brother John).
So is it all politics, politics, politics?
[Laughs] I still find time for other things - family and community are at the centre of my politics and there has to be a social element to life too. They go together.
I enjoy my life and I’m getting married this year to my partner, Emmanuel. I love my music and I enjoy spending time with my friends. While I enjoy a laugh and the craic, I’m deadly serious when it comes to politics. Life is good for me; I want it to be good for other people.
• Anna and her father Brian