Fingal Independent

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A Skerries Seanad bid


Professor Anthony Staines

Professor Anthony Staines

Professor Anthony Staines


One hundred years ago, the grandfather of Professor Anthony Staines was in the GPO doing his bit to found a new republic and a century later his grandson wants to make his own contribution to the State by running for election to the upper house of that republic's parliament.

Professor Staines lectures in the School of Nursing in DCU and has lived in Skerries since 1998. He holds two PhDs and has worked as a doctor specialising first in children's medicine and then in public health and he is standing for election to the Seanad on the university panel as a graduate of Trinity College.

He recently worked with an organisation drawn from all corners of civic society called 'Claiming Our Future' that presented a 'Proclamation for a New Ireland' to President Michael D Higgins. The group is planning a public reading of that document at the GPO, mirroring the events of one hundred years ago as the original 1916 Proclamation was read on the steps of that landmark building on Dublin's O'Connell Street.

Inside the GPO in that revolutionary Easter Week was Anthony's grandfather, Michael Staines. The Seanad candidate explained: 'He (Michael) was in the IRB as a quartermaster, so he was responsible for bringing in the guns on the day.

'Fortunately he wasn't executed after the Rising otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation, but he was sent to Frongoch and served as quartermaster there. His day job was running a hardware wholesalers so he was good at stock and stock management. 'He was a quartermaster in the War of Independence too and gathered a lot of the munitions along with others.'

The professor comes from a political family and is a member of Fine Gael but is running for the Seanad as an independent and says he will not take the party whip, if elected.

His political training began at an early age. The Skerries man told the Fingal Independent: 'The first political thing I remember being involved in was in 1966. I was putting leaflets in envelopes for Tom Higgins and I was six.

'I didn't know what a president was or what an election was, I just knew I had to put these leaflets in the envelopes and I knew that Mr DeValera was a 'bad man' which perhaps was not a very considered judgement of his political career but I was only six.

'We are a Fine Gael family and we are an activist family. My mother was one of the people who set up the community council in Blanchardstown and she was involved in that for most of my childhood and adolescence.

'In my first jobs I was an active union member and when I went to college I got very involved in the Students' Union. When I got out I got involved in the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and later in the British Medical Association (BMA).'

Public health is the area where Professor Staines has concentrated for the last twenty-five years and he hopes he can bring all of that knowledge and experience to bear on the issue in the Seanad.

He explained: 'My specialty is public health and fundamentally, that is a political speciality. It is about how we design our lives and how we influence people to live their lives in different ways and what are the consequences of that.

'Most of my work is about sustaining healthy lives rather than studying disease and I've worked consistently at that for the last 25 years.'

In that time, the professor has done a lot of work on public health issues around mental health, children's health and health issues affecting members of the travelling community and people with autism.

So why has he taken the decision to run for election to the upper house? Professor Staines said: 'I'm running because I think I have something to offer to the work of the Seanad.'

And chief among the benefits the Skerries man believes he can bring to the Seanad is his perspective on our healthcare system. He said: 'We have a health system that is very expensive but it's not great and it's not great despite the great efforts of a lot of people in it.'

He added: 'We should have one of the best health systems in Europe for the money that is spent on it but right now, we don't.

'It is badly structured as a service and the way we pay for it puts in a lot of 'perverse incentives' where you give money to people to do things you don't want them to do and we have a lot of that kind of thing in the system. We incentivise people to go to outpatient services in hospital but we don't put the resources into General Practice.

'If you look at the number of staff in General Practice in Ireland, it is not very high. Our area has some of the oldest practicing GPs, on average, in the country so we are perhaps suffering more than in other places from GPs who just retire and it becomes very hard to replace them.

'The model of payment to our GPs is not very attractive for them to set up in business and we need to have a serious conversation about all of this and what we want our health service to look like and come to an agreement on that and I would like to be part of that conversation.'

Professor Staines is particularly concerned about health issues affecting the very old and the very young. For the elderly, he believes there is a lack of options for how our citizens live out their later years and says they often find themselves stuck in 'nursing homes built in the middle of nowhere'.

But it is in childhood and adolescent health care where Professor Staines has had a lot of experience and there he believes he can make a difference, working in Oireachtas committees and framing legislation and policy to tackle some of the health issues facing our youth.

The Skerries man said: 'There is a lot we can do to improve the quality of life of children and young adults in Ireland and some of it is fairly achievable and wouldn't cost very much so we should be doing it.'

In the teenage populations, the professor wants to tackle alcohol abuse and mental health issues. He said: 'We have a big problem with alcohol use in teenagers although it is actually improving. The alcohol intake of teenagers is actually falling which is great and very positive but it is still pretty high.

'It is both a cause of poor mental health and a consequence of poor mental health because if you are not feeling great then you often self-medicate with alcohol which of course, is counter-productive. I think we need to be much more overt in talking about mental health to kids from a much earlier age and that is achievable and it is not very expensive to do.'

Childhood obesity is also something of grave concern to the Skerries doctor, who said: 'Physical exercise in schools is a shambles. We know there are rising levels of obesity and you see diabetes in teenagers now and when I was in training, you never saw type two diabetes in anyone under 25. But now, one of my colleagues runs a clinic with type two diabetes, so that is a huge shift.'

The Skerries candidate for the Seanad has a difficult task ahead to get elected. There are 16 candidates in the field and three seats available on his panel with three sitting Senators seeking re-election. But the Skerries man remains hopeful about his chances and says he hopes he gets 'a serious vote because I am a serious candidate'. He added: 'I am doing this because I want to be a senator, not just because I want to draw attention to an issue but because I think there is a job of work to be done as a senator.'