Friday 23 June 2017

Monday Interview: 'One day we may need gender quotas to protect men in politics'

The Greens' Catherine Martin says the party has learned its lesson after electoral wipeout, writes Niall O'Connor

Green Party TD Catherine Martin at Ballaly Luas station in Dundrum. Photo: Tony Gavin
Green Party TD Catherine Martin at Ballaly Luas station in Dundrum. Photo: Tony Gavin
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

On the morning after Donald Trump's extraordinary victory in the US presidential election, Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin was in the kitchen of her Dublin home, preparing breakfast for her three children.

Two of her sons, aged eight and nine, had in recent days been asking about Mr Trump's controversial plan to build a wall with Mexico.

"It reached the playgrounds," Ms Martin says.

"The next day they came down the stairs and asked who won. When I said 'Trump', one of my sons turned to me and asked 'why?'

"I didn't have the answers."

Ms Martin arrived back home from Dáil Éireann that night in time to give her children a goodnight kiss. It's a practice she's not willing to forfeit, even when there is a late-night sitting.

Mr Trump's victory and the political divisiveness that followed, Ms Martin says, emphasise the importance of family, unity and respect.

It emphasises the need for people to work together.

These sort of themes provided the influences for Ms Martin's impassioned maiden Dáil speech, delivered on the 47th day of the political impasse that followed the General Election.

Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan and Micheál Martin were present as the new TD for Dublin-Rathdown called on the two main parties to end what she described as a "political charade".

"No one party won the General Election. But it seems the people have lost. Enough is enough," she said.

The issue of mental health is one that prompts Ms Martin to pause, clearly emotional."Our most vulnerable citizens aren't getting the resources," she says.

"They need a sustained sense of hope. This Government has given them hopelessness, which is disgraceful."

But surely she and her party leader Eamon Ryan are as much responsible as any deputy for the length of time it took for a new government to be formed so that issues such as mental health funding could be addressed?

Ms Martin staunchly defends the decision by the Green Party to pull out of government-formation talks, saying both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lacked vision in many key areas.

"The Green message, too often, it's put into a certain little box and it is taken out when it suits you," Ms Martin says.

"I didn't see a vision in relation to mental health, education, in equality. That vision and ambition was missing - from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael."

Ms Martin's success in February of last year was arguably one of the greatest surprises of the General Election.

She admits that as soon as she was elected, she cried, because her parents - a nurse and painting contractor - weren't around to share in her success.

"I know they'd be proud of me. They were such a unit together, it was 50-50 in that relationship," she says.

"I miss them. I'm so sad they weren't there. It was such a huge thing especially as I didn't come from a political family."

Part of Ms Martin's role is to rebuild the Green Party, which was obliterated in the 2007 General Election for its role in the economic crisis.

She says the Greens have learned "lessons" following their stint with Fianna Fáil but insists she never believed the party was dead.

"We had a parliament without green representation. It's extraordinary. It's one of the reasons why I stood in Dublin-Rathdown."

Ms Martin says her party is already showing influence, having introduced a series of bills on issues ranging from plasic microbeads to plans for a directly elected lord mayor of Dublin.

But what about some of her Dáil colleagues, such as Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae, who have been labelled 'climate-change deniers'.

Ms Martin takes a different view. "At least Danny Healy-Rae was honest with what he felt. I'd be worried if people pretended they believed in it (climate change) but actually don't."

This week will mark the first meeting of a new women's caucus, set up by Ms Martin and others to strengthen the issue of women's rights.

She jokes that some day, ideally, gender quotas will be needed to protect men, not women.

"Why can't the best person for the job be a woman?" she asks.

"I'd love to envisage the day the gender quotas are protecting the men. Who knows, in 10 years' time, 15 years' time, men might be grateful they are there."

One thing that is clear in relation to Ms Martin and her election to the Dáil is that there was no secret strategy.

"I walk the constituency," she says. "I have been turning up at homes whose residents tell me I've called there five times and express surprise that I am back. I say, that was my promise. And I intend to keep it."

Irish Independent

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