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30 November 2023 Edition

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Kathleen Funchion TD and Jemma Dolan MLA tell us of the challenges of being elected representatives in their areas. Kathleen Funchion singles out the issue of domestic violence and the challenges of tackling this when resources to help victims are thin on the ground. Jemma Dolan writes of more than 40 years of a Fermanagh constituency office and the challenges of poverty, housing, and healthcare on the ground in a rural area.

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The battle against poverty 

Jemma Dolan

By Jemma Dolan

Since the historic Bobby Sands Westminster election victory of 1981, the Sinn Féin office in Enniskillen has been the base for the prominent political activism in the area. Our constituency service actively addresses a wide range of issues, reflecting our commitment to serving all members of our community and advocating for their needs. 

While our area’s natural charm is undeniable, it conceals a harsh reality that many of our residents face on a daily basis. The struggle for affordable housing and the battle against poverty in Fermanagh demand urgent attention and comprehensive solutions. 

One of the most pressing issues, which might not be associated with a rural constituency, is the shortage of affordable housing. Everyone is entitled to homes that are good quality, safe, secure, comfortable, and affordable. Yet skyrocketing property prices and rent are making it increasingly difficult for families and individuals to secure a safe and stable place to live. 

Our rurality also exacerbates the financial pressures felt by many due to the requirement to have access to a car and the challenges faced by those who require childcare. Pensioners in Fermanagh are also nearly twice as likely to experience relative or absolute poverty as their urban counterparts.

As beautiful and all as Fermanagh is, one persistent issue that has long plagued this region is the lack of adequate infrastructure. This deficiency has had a significant impact on our daily lives and is possibly one of the contributing factors to the ‘brain drain’. 

In an increasingly digital world, access to highspeed broadband is vital. However, many parts of Fermanagh still suffer from inadequate internet connectivity. The lack of major motorways or one single dual carriageway in the county makes it challenging to attract not only business investments, but healthcare professionals such as GPs. 

Our office even has to advocate on behalf of some Fermanagh residents to get running water and upgrade their sewer systems. The lack of an Infrastructure Minister makes this lobbying challenging, but we won’t be silenced. 

Like all constituencies, healthcare also remains a critical issue. With long waiting times for medical appointments and insufficient access to not only specialized healthcare, but the basic GP services. We assist constituents in navigating the complex healthcare system and advocating for appointments on their behalf. Although it won’t solve our problems overnight, the need for a return to stable and inclusive governance in the form of an Executive is paramount for addressing these pressing issues and allowing our record of delivering a top-class constituency service to continue. 

Jemma Dolan is one of Sinn Féin’s MLA for Fermanagh South Tyrone

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Groundhog Day, not just a 90’s movie 

Kathaleen Funchion

By Kathleen Funchion

Some, depending on your age, will remember the above movie from the 1990’s. Groundhog Day by definition is stated as a series of unwelcome events consistently reoccurring.

When it comes to domestic violence in Ireland, it is definitely a case of Groundhog Day. We all look suitably shocked and shake our heads while wringing our hands when yet another horrific death of a woman from a current or ex-partner is announced on the news. Yet very little has changed for those experiencing domestic violence.

I think it is often underestimated how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship, how low a person’s confidence is from being in this situation. The services such as our women’s refuges do incredible work. In fact, they often go above and beyond, but they, along with the women and children of this state, have been consistently failed by the state. The practical assistance given to someone leaving an abusive situation needs to be made far easier.

I deal with this topic quite a lot in my work. I think of the woman who we had to send housing forms for on several occasions when they were trying to access help for a rental property (HAP) to leave her abusive home. The rules often do not initially apply common sense, even if it eventually prevails.

I think of the woman in her late 60s who finally got the courage to leave, only to doubt herself every day as she looked at the four walls of a hotel room for almost a year.

I think of the woman whose made her statement to the Gardaí 18 months ago but there is still no word back from the DPP. She wonders was it worth the hassle and, if she is being honest with herself, would she have bothered if she knew it would be this dragged out?

A new single domestic violence agency that will provide a better, streamlined, and more efficient service has been spoken about since January 2022. It’s nearly 2 years later and 17 women up until the end of June of 2023 have been killed since then.

We really need to see this agency up and running and more importantly adequately resourced so that when women leave abusive relationships, often with children in tow, the services that currently exist have the resources they need to support and assist. This includes the roll out of more protective service units in the Gardaí.

My experience of our local refuge and our local protective service unit in the Gardaí is incredibly positive. This shows where there is joined up thinking, it actually works. However, both need far more resources. 

Kathleen Funchion is the Sinn Féin TD for Carlow Kilkenny and Dáil spokesperson on Children, Equality and Disability.


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