Katherine Zappone: Why Independents could make a difference in next Dáil
Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30
Over the years, I have travelled down many paths. I have been an educator, a grassroots community activist, a human rights commissioner, a CEO with the National Women's Council, and a change leader. Today, I am an Independent candidate running for election in the Dublin South West constituency, which takes in the suburbs of Tallaght, Templeogue, Citywest and Rathfarnham.
It has been half a century since a non-party candidate was returned to Leinster House from this constituency, and it has seen only one female TD since the 1940s.
I first knew that I was going to run in 2013, mid-way through my term as an Independent senator. We started An Cosán, our community education organisation, in Tallaght in the bleak 1980s. The recent austerity policies have brought us backward to those devastating times and I decided I couldn't stand by to witness all that we had built up being torn asunder. Maybe my voice in the Dáil could change things.
For months on the doorsteps of Dublin South West, it has been clear to me that this election represents a watershed moment with voters ready to show that the mass mobilisation of the marriage equality referendum was not just a blip on the political radar.
People are ready to shake off the grip of party politics and golden circles and to build a new political system which is solely focused on meeting the needs of the communities it is supposed to represent.
It became clear to me as I led the YesEquality team in Dublin South West that a monumental shift was afoot and that there is a new, more politically engaged mood in communities that have been ravaged by years of cutbacks and austerity.
As we walked together during the first Tallaght water protest, I witnessed that the botched introduction of Irish Water was just the tipping point for people already frustrated by the lack of affordable and high-quality childcare. It was a slap in the face to those who are unable to get a job that pays a decent wage.
Lone-parent families, already targeted by ruthless cuts, demonstrated a righteous anger as their children walked by their side.
For the communities in Dublin South West, who have been at the frontline of cuts, the parade of ministers currently on the airwaves offering belated solidarity about the economic recovery not being shared equally rings hollow. It offers little solace. There is nothing for the woman I met who can't afford to upgrade her qualifications in childcare so that she has a well-paid job in the future. Older people on public pensions are disgusted that it will take three years for their cuts to be restored. Last night, a woman stood in the snow and rain to tell me about the devastating impact of nine months of homelessness on her children.
Enough is enough.
As an Independent candidate, I am putting before voters the opportunity to have their concerns and issues brought on to the floor of the national parliament without the restraints of party politics.
My only agenda is to act for and on behalf of my constituents. Many feel they no longer have a voice in Dáil Éireann.
At the moment, you'll hear the big parties fight over airtime on TV and radio and fall back to the tired old clichés, and a few new ones, such as 'Fiscal Space'. My goal as an Independent candidate is to put forward policies based on equality, fairness and opportunity containing new ideas that reflect what I've witnessed as a community activist over the last 30 years. If I had to say what is the greatest skill that I'll bring into the Dáil from my past five years as an Independent senator, I'd say it's my ability to take what I hear from the people and to turn it into law that reflects their voices.
Like every constituency in the country, Dublin South West faces significant challenges. Some affect the entire community, while some reflect the day-to-day struggles that a handful of families go through just to secure basic rights for their children.
A significant number of families in the constituency have been fighting for years to have their children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders assessed. Schools such as Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna in Knocklyon have been teaching their children in temporary portacabins for 20 years while St Thomas's Junior National School has been on the waiting list for an extension since 2005.
Teachers are tired of broken promises. As an educator, I commit to achieving concrete change in the standard of education in Dublin South West.
As an Independent, a question I am frequently asked by the media is which party will I support in government? It is a question that misses the point of electing a strong independent voice such as mine to the Dáil.
Parties who firmly commit to my policy goals would enjoy my support but it is important to note that it is those commitments and not misguided party loyalty that would determine how I vote in the chamber.
The hunger for change in Ireland at this time is great. I can't wait to see where it takes us.
Senator Katherine Zappone is running as an Independent candidate for the Dáil in Dublin South West