Monday 24 October 2016

Sometimes you've got to feel the fear and do it anyway

'Sunday Independent's' Carol Hunt explains why she's biting the bullet and putting her name forward for election

Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30

WAKING UP IN A COLD SWEAT: Carol Hunt has decided to run as an Independent in the next general election
WAKING UP IN A COLD SWEAT: Carol Hunt has decided to run as an Independent in the next general election

In a week when I finally swallowed any sense of sensibility - or pride - and threw my name into the ring for the next general election, my eye caught a witty newspaper piece. Edwin McGreal, of The Mayo News wrote about last Monday's meeting of Mayo County Council and the election of the new Cathaoirleach and Leas Cathaoirleach.

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McGreal noted various comments about "beautiful looking women", "good-looking women", finding a "good woman" and the fact that the wife of the incoming Cathaoirleach would be having "the shirts ready" for her important husband. Yes, its hilarious stuff. Problem is, the piece wasn't a political satire - a Father Ted style sketch. It's real. It happened. In 2015. In a county near you.

As McGreal noted at the end of his piece: "Mayo County Council has 30 members. Currently, 25 of them are men and five are women. In light of yesterday's meeting, perhaps it's not too difficult to see why."

How deranged or delusional must an Irish woman, with no family political background, need to be to volunteer herself for political office? I'm waking up in a cold sweat most nights asking myself that exact question.

I've written before about all the obstacles facing women in politics (I'm not talking about women from traditional parties who "inherit" seats from fathers or brothers, but those who enter solely off their own bat): the five 'C's: Childcare; Confidence, Culture, Cash and Candidate Selection (All but the last apply to me).

Last week my colleague, Sinead Ryan, wrote a kind piece congratulating me on my "bravery", but sensibly setting down all the reasons why she didn't chose the same course herself. She has a point. Since I first began to think about running for political office, I assumed that I would quickly escape from that particular delusion, wake up, as it were, and say: "Bloody hell, what was I thinking?" But a series of events has driven me over the edge as I realise that continually whinging "someone should do something" isn't going to get anything done at all.

The first was the dramatic exit of Averil Power from the Fianna Fail party, accusing them of being an "old boys' club" who just weren't interested in running female candidates. Other female politicians of her calibre have also jumped ship from their prospective parties in recent years (Lucinda Creighton from FG and Roisin Shortall of Labour).

Then there was the closure of Clerys, the obscene manner in which the workers were treated and the Government paying lip service to the utter immorality of companies being legally allowed to behave like that.

Last week we heard our Dear Leader lecturing the Greeks about how he did "not increase income tax, did not increase VAT, did not increase PRSI" and how much austerity has worked for Ireland. It's worked so well that we've "only" had about 45 different tax increases in recent years.

The satirical blog Waterford Whispers put the notion of everything being hunky dory here in context with a piece called: "Nation with 220,000 children living in poverty tells Greece austerity works".

Then we hear that the male suicide rate is up by 57pc and 1,000 children in Dublin are currently homeless. But the straw that broke the proverbial . . . was the Government going ahead with the change to lone parents' social welfare entitlements.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of mothers working, studying, reaching their potential, but as that well-worn Simpsons quote goes: "Won't somebody think of the children?" When these changes were first mooted Joan Burton insisted that they would not go through until "a Scandinavian model of childcare" was in place, presumably because it's still illegal in Ireland to leave young children to fend for themselves.

Last week, she admitted that, even though up to 10,000 people (mainly women) would be pushed further into poverty - and despite the fact that our childcare costs top the OECD - the cuts are going ahead. Lone parents aready have a poverty rate that is 230pc higher than that in the general population.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Hayley Kearns, a 25-year old mother of five-year-old Paul. She works part-time - she is allowed earn €90 without her support payments being affected and after that 40pc of what she earns is deducted from her social welfare. In November, when Paul turns seven, instead of €90 it will be €60 and 50pc of what she earns will be cut. Between social welfare and an approximately 20-hour working week Hayley earns about €300. She says: "Once this comes in I will have to quit my job. I could never afford childcare." And so we condemn Hayley and thousands of others to poverty and despair. Why?

Time and time again I see politicians I know to be good and decent people, support unjust legislation that is against their basic morals. They do so for the good of 'The Party'. This is why, despite other advances, I've decided to run as an Independent, not because I'm "out for myself" but because I believe that a collaboration of independently minded politicians, working together for the good of their communities and for a fairer society, is the way forward.

This has not been done before. I may be new to politics (surely that's an asset?) and I'll surely be crucified by the more experienced party politicians, but no-one achieves anything unless they put their head above the parapet and f**k the begrudgers. Oh. I'm not allowed say that anymore, am I? Damn . . .


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