7 September 2020 Edition
Championing the change so many people want
Leinster House spokespersons in their own words
In the weeks since the formation of the new coalition, Sinn Féin in Leinster House have focussed on issues such as housing, health, return of schools, childcare, workers’ rights, ensuring fair play from the banking and insurance sector, and the need for a just economic recovery.
The scale of the Sinn Féin opposition campaigning is a wide canvas and covers nearly every aspect of Irish society. Party president Mary Lou McDonald has promised that the party will “hold the government to account, bring forward solutions, and continue championing the change that so many people want”.
We asked some of the new Sinn Féin spokespersons about their priorities in the coming weeks and months.
Social Protection is the bedrock of any society. Its sole purpose is to support people when they need it most and everyone will need it at some stage in their lives. The attitude to those who rely on social welfare supports is something that the establishment have yet to get right. We have seen this most recently with the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the checks at airports and ports.
We have to remember that those who rely on social welfare are our carers, persons with a disability, those who are out sick from work, people who have lost their jobs, older people on a state pension. The way we treat these people is important.
The fallout from COVID-19 and the impact it has had on household income will remain a major challenge in the months ahead. We need to make sure that those who have suffered as a direct result of the pandemic are supported as they rebuild their lives and we rebuild as a society. This includes mothers whose maternity leave was robbed from them by COVID-19 and whose difficulties in returning to work have been ignored by this Government.
In my previous role as Advisor on Social Protection, I worked on a number of key areas that I hope to progress as Spokesperson. They are putting an end to 65 year olds at retirement being forced onto a jobseekers payment; reforming the child maintenance system for lone parents; removing the barriers for carers to better support them; ending the JobPath scheme which puts money in the pockets of private companies; protecting not-for-profit community based job activation schemes at a time when we will need them most; and finally, implementing the Labour Court recommendation to provide an Occupational Pension to Community Employment Supervisors and Assistant Supervisors.
On August 10th, I launched Sinn Féin’s plan ‘Protecting Ireland’s Health,’ which set out the major issues facing the acute hospital sector and measures to protect capacity in the health service.
This called for a €1.9bn package that would expand capacity to redeploy beds, guarantee safe work for healthcare, and expand the rollout of the Winter Flu vaccine to protect hospital capacity.
In the coming Dáil term, I will be prioritising measures to protect capacity, ensure safe working environments for healthcare workers, advancing capital healthcare projects across the state, working with Colm Gildernew MLA on a 32-county approach to healthcare, and guaranteeing the resumption of healthcare services.
Clearing the backlog of waiting lists, from acute care to home care, is a major concern. These are likely to rise in the months ahead if sufficient investment in the health service is not secured. I will be highlighting the decades-long underfunding of the health service and the lack of progress towards a single tier health system and how it relates to the failures in the health service today. I will also be bringing forward common sense solutions and showing that a fresh start in health is possible.
Local Government Reform
Dublin Bay North
Local Government has long been in need of real reform, making it truly democratic, representative of and responsive to communities, something that has always been advocated by Sinn Féin. I intend to take up that challenge. In the shorter term we are pressing the Coalition government to ensure that local Council services and jobs are protected during the Covid 19 crisis.
I will be working with Sinn Féin Councillors across the country. Housing must continue to be the priority for Local Government and I will be working closely with our Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin in the drive for well-planned social and affordable housing, building communities as well as homes. From my experience as first a councillor and now a TD in Dublin Bay North I know the huge human impact of the housing crisis and the solutions that can and will help to transform people’s lives.
Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire
Cork South Central
The focus of everyone involved in education needs to be delivering a safe and full return to schools. I will be keeping the pressure on the Minister for Education and working with all stakeholders to achieve that. I will continue to seek clarity for parents, students, teachers, and school staff on hygiene and safety protocols, on school transport, and to make sure there are plans in place for those who, due to medical vulnerabilities, possibly cannot return in September and will have to continue with remote learning.
I will continue to highlight the need for additional special classes and ASD units across the State, and to ensure that special education teachers aren’t being pulled from pillar to post in order to cover absences and remote learning and can instead focus on providing special education to our most vulnerable children.
The cost to parents of going back to school in September is far too great and we will be launching proposals to reduce these costs.
We also need clarity for incoming sixth years on what Leaving Certificate 2021 will look like and how these students will be supported through their final year in school.
There is no doubt that many children have lost out since school buildings closed in March; they need particular attention to help them make up lost ground. A full, safe return to school is crucially important. We are at risk of losing an entire generation from education if we don’t get this right.
Children, Disabilities, Integration and Equality
I have been a strong advocate for the childcare sector for many years and have highlighted repeatedly the inadequate financing of the childcare sector. This was brought into stark focus like never before during the public health emergency.
The systemic and chronic underfunding experienced in childcare was brought to the fore with the ill-conceived and ultimately doomed healthcare workers childcare scheme.
In July, I brought my childcare Private Member’s Bill before the Dáil. Despite the Government parties voting my motion down, I will continue during the length of this Dáil to raise the concerns of the sector. This consists of three main objectives: a fair day’s pay for a fair days’ work; lower fees for parents; and sustainable funding for providers. Government policy in the childcare sector has lacked vision and purpose for many years now. This lack of interest has meant inadequately funding providers to enable their businesses to stay open and remain viable.
This failure in funding has led to parents in Ireland being burdened with some of the highest fees in the EU. Many of the 30,000 workers in the sector do not even earn the living wage, despite being highly qualified.
Enterprise, Trade, and Employment
The Enterprise, Trade, and Employment portfolio will be at the forefront of the response to COVID-19 for workers and business. I will be focusing on the need for the Government to invest in SMEs and microbusiness to rescue jobs and protect our communities.
However, the economic recovery from COVID-19 cannot be built on the back of low pay and precarious work, through the exploitation of workers. Therefore, delivering on workers’ rights will be equally important to me.
COVID-19 has exposed the inequality and instability in our economic model for workers and businesses. SMEs, microbusinesses, and small family businesses have struggled throughout, while billion-dollar corporations saw their profits grow and grow.
The period so far has highlighted how the Government will go to European Courts to protect billion-dollar companies, while at home, it fails to meet the needs of SMEs and the self-employed.
COVID-19 has also highlighted how our economic model fails workers. The period has emphasised the importance of frontline workers, but it also highlighted how badly they are treated and how little they are paid for providing essential services.
We must build back better from the coronavirus crisis. Sinn Féin believes that the central plank of the economic recovery from the COVID crisis must be a real commitment to our microbusiness, our SME sector, and our family businesses, as well as a steadfast commitment to workers’ rights embedded in legislation and the creation of decent jobs with decent pay and conditions.
Senator Lynn Boylan
The appointment of a spokesperson on climate justice is the first time that a political party in Ireland has had such a role and it is a huge honour for me to be asked to do it.
Now more than ever, it is vital that climate action measures are viewed through a social justice lens. Climate action should improve people’s lives, not make the inequalities in our society worse.
The Programme for Government promises to bring forward a new Climate Bill within its first 100 days. This Bill will set out how the Government intends to meet its climate obligations, our role as lead opposition is to ensure that those measures are fair. I want to ensure that we have good and affordable public transport across the country; that fuel poverty will be addressed; that family farmers have their incomes supported; and that a Just Transition protects workers and their communities as they make the transition away from carbon intensive industries.
Mental health doesn’t finish at a certain time in the evening. We need to develop 24/7 crisis intervention services and rehabilitation and recovery teams in the community.
For too long, Mental Health has been the Cinderella of the health service. The lack of political will from successive Governments has seen services decimated. I attended the recent COVID Committee on mental health where Mr John Farrelly, the CEO of the Mental Health Commission, detailed how the state’s mental health services are out of date and not fit for purpose.
The COVID-19 pandemic has and will present challenges for mental health. Reports from organisations such as Samaritans, Alone, Jigsaw, and Spun-out have seen an upsurge in the amount of people looking for mental health supports.
The key issues that I will be highlighting in the coming months are:
- Waiting lists to access mental health care
- The overreliance on acute care for adults
- A no wrong door policy when it comes to dual diagnosis
- The practice of admitting children to adult psychiatric units
- Governments dependence on NGOs to provide services that the Government should be providing
- Lack of specialist mental health services
- Non regulation of mental health facilities
- Highlight the gaps for staffing on the frontline workers
- Costings of Sharing the Vision
- Putting pressure on the Government to reinstate a National Director for Mental Health
- Parity of Esteem Bill 2020 so that mental health is on an equal platform to physical health.
The Justice portfolio is wide-ranging and every aspect of it affects people in real ways.
One of our priorities is that citizens feel protected going about their lives and that the Gardaí are fully accountable, but also resourced to protect and serve people, rural and urban.
Community policing with renewed and more effective juvenile diversion programmes must be part of this. Some of our priorities are to monitor the new Stardust inquest and that this Government puts pressure on the British Government to release their files regarding the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
We also await with great interest the review of the Offences Against the State Act, which has long outlived its status as “emergency” legislation and should be repealed, while law to deal with organised crime must be enacted.
Myself and the rest of the Sinn Féin Oireachtas Justice team; Pa Daly, a newly elected TD from Kerry, and Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile are committed to being effective in holding the Government to account on all matters to do with policing, courts, prisons, crime prevention, immigration, and equality.
Equality Inclusion & Law Reform
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to raise a number of issues already in Dáil Eireann, including the plight of seasonal workers and funding for SMEs. I have also worked on issues related to family law and spent convictions. The scandalous treatment of residents in Direct Provision, including in Cahersiveen, is high on my priorities as well, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into all of these areas and more when the Dáil resumes.
My priorities in this area will be the return of the pension age to 65, the provision of housing for older people, improved conditions in nursing homes, and ensuring that social benefits, such as the old age pension and free travel, are protected and enhanced. We also need to reverse cruel austerity cuts such as the removal of the Death Grant. I will also be focusing on the delivery of a hospice service for the Laois area in conjunction with my colleague, Brian Stanley TD.
As a former shop steward, workers’ rights are a priority for me. I recently met with CE Supervisors about their 2008 Labour Court recommendation in relation to their pension rights. The recent Debenhams debacle shows we have a long way to go to ensure workers get the protection they deserve.
Mental Health is another area that is very important to me. COVID-19 has shown the importance of good mental health. There have been too many suicides and we need investment and a plan similar to the Road Safety Strategy to address the epidemic of suicide.
And finally, we also need to build public and affordable homes on public land with proper infrastructure constructed beforehand or at the same time.
Since the February election, my constituency office has processed thousands of calls and emails on COVID-19 related matters; from PUP forms to help and support for the elderly and vulnerable to people seeking clarity on the mixed messages coming from the caretaker Government.
Now that we are exiting some of the COVID-19 restrictions, I have opened my constituency office in Mulhuddart to create a full-time resource for the constituents of Dublin West.
My office in Leinster House has been equally busy. I have raised local issues in the chamber and I was delighted to be asked by Mary Lou to be spokesperson on Community Development. My office is working hard to create links with all Community Development programmes across the state to hear the issues that affect them directly.
As we move forward, I will focus on ensuring a fair deal and equal rights for all citizens, continued emphasis on the environment and the call for a border poll.
Disability and Carers
Cavan/Monaghan and North Meath
People with disabilities and carers have endured far greater hardship during the COVID-19 crisis than most in society. Day care and respite services have been closed since mid-March leading to burnout, affecting the wellbeing and mental health of both carers and people with disabilities.
My short-term priority will be pursuing the safe and timely reopening of all these services. Other issues that I intend to focus on include the ratification of the optional protocol of the UNCRPD, reform of the means test for Carers Allowance, and getting the Section 39 Organisations Bill signed in to law.
There are a lot of issue that need a focus within the constituency, one of which is the lack of social and affordable housing. People depending on Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) are acutely affected by this, as many landlords are refusing to take tenants on HAP leaving them with little to no options.
Public investment is needed in many parts of the constituency, especially in terms of roads and broadband. This is essential to better position the area to attract private investment and jobs. The north-south interconnector needs to be delivered in line with the calls from local communities for it to be undergrounded. Finally, we have a strong tourism product in the constituency that I would like to see developed further.
Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science
The short-term priority is ensuring that the return to 3rd level education in the wake of COVID-19 related closures is safe for students. There is also a need to ensure students have the necessary supports to allow them to return. Students have been particularly hard hit by the loss of part-time and seasonal employment and reduction in the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Many families who could previously afford to support or partial support students in 3rd level education are no longer able and need financial support.
Sinn Féin want an immediate reduction of €500 in the cost of 3rd level fees, which are currently the highest in the EU and moving to the complete removal of fees over 5 years. PLC and apprenticeship fees should be abolished completely. Reform is needed in the SUSI grants to make in available to more students and families. We need to expand and improve mental health services available for students, and to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships and PhD students should not be expected to work full time for less than minimum wage.
This constituency was once home to three army barracks: Custume Barracks, Sean Connolly Barracks, and Columb Barracks. The closure of army barracks and the reduction of the army presence in this constituency is continuing to have negative consequences.
My aim within this role is to work with both serving and former members and their families to highlight their issues and concerns.
My priorities and plans include:
- Health care for current & retired defence forces personnel
- Better serving conditions for defence forces personnel.
- Making connected, informed and useful representations.
- Adequate health, welfare and living conditions of serving defence force families.
I am looking forward to working with all stakeholders to make a career in the Defence Forces a viable option.
Addiction Recovery and Well Being
Cork North Central
I am determined to be a strong republican voice for people who are so often not heard. In terms of developing my own portfolio, I will be engaging with community groups to try to reduce the harm of drug and alcohol addictions and make our communities safer.
I have also been appointed as a member of the Housing Committee. This is so important as the current housing crisis is destroying people’s lives and I will be putting pressure on the Government to build mixed tenure houses and give families and ordinary people homes.
Coming from the north side of Cork city, I am determined to end the neglect of this area. We need the infrastructure, services, and supports that have long since been promised, but never delivered. I will be pushing the Government to commit to building the Northern Ring Road and putting a hospital on Cork’s north side.
I will also be pushing for road safety measures to ensure that children can play safely in their own neighbourhoods and people can cycle or walk to work if they want.