Tuesday 26 March 2019

Balbriggan bid for Áras

Kevin Sharkey talks to John Manning about his bid to become the next President of Ireland and talks about the controversial platform of his campaign

Kevin Sharkey
Kevin Sharkey

Artist and former television presenter, Kevin Sharkey who has made his home in Balbriggan in recent years is launching a bid to become the next President of Ireland and said he wants to become a 'Citizen President'.

Two years ago, Kevin talked tot he Fingal Independent about his political ambitions and favoured a run in the General Election or at local elections at that time but now his thoughts are turning to the Phoenix Park.

Explaining the switch in his political focus, he told the Fingal Independent: 'I've been giving politics serious consideration for years and I looked really long and hard into the effectiveness of politicians in Ireland -- the way the party system almost suffers individual idealism.

'I concluded that the presidency of Ireland struck me as a much better platform for giving something back in relation to my own personal experiences, and my own personal relationship with Ireland. '

Defining that relationship, he said: 'You have to remember that I was born in 1961 in Dublin. 'My mother was Irish and I was brought up in Killybegs.

'In Killybegs in 1961, I was the only black kid there but what I found as a child, growing up in Killybegs and in rural Ireland, was that instead of being held apart, instead of being ridiculed, instead of being made to feel unwelcome, the community really, really embraced me.

'They accepted me and in many ways, they almost made me feel very welcome and very happy to be with people that had something in their soul and in their core which was kindness and generosity and acceptance.'

He said his upbringing gave him a 'real sense of gratitude' to the country and said his run for the presidency was about 'giving back'.

Given all of that background, it has surprised many that one of the main platforms of Kevin's politics these days is his call for greater control over immigration in Ireland.

Explaining his views on the controversial issue, he said: 'I've gone through places like the UK and I've seem multiculturalism and all kinds of diversity -- all wonderful ideas and in many ways, when they work it is a beautiful thing to witness but when they don't it's scary what happens because you end up with ghettos.'

He added that 'the big question is how do you want Ireland to be in 100 years?'

Kevin asked: 'Do you want it to still be Ireland or what? When you ask people that question, sometimes they haven't thought about it and I think now is the time to start thinking about that.'

The presidential hopeful said: 'When you as an individual, as an Irish citizen, bring up the subject, for example, of immigration, just to bring it up you have people jumping on you and say: 'Oh, you're against immigration.' But nothing could be further from the truth, my father was an immigrant. We need immigration -- it's very important for our hospital, for our workers and all of that but I do think that if we are not mindful of the long-term effects of mass immigration, it could be a problem for us in the future.'

Kevin favours the Australian points system and said that system welcome immigrants but says that 'we need them to be in tandem with what's important for our values'.

The Balbriggan-based artist said: 'In terms of the presidency, I am very aware that the President has limited powers but however, what he does have a lot of power to do is to open up discussions and debates on topics which people have a lot of difficulty defining.

'So for me, immigration is a very important thing for any country but to manage it well is something that will benefit everybody in the long run -- not just the people who are Irish and who are here, but the people who come.

'I would love people to have the same experience I had growing up in Ireland - it was truly remarkable and yet I know, that as a black man in Ireland, if they don't get this right, it falls on me. It falls on the black people and foreign people who have come here.

'If it becomes a problem, them I and them are seen as part of the problem and I don't what that to happen.'

Kevin knows that statements like that one leave him open to charges of racism and it's a charge he rejects completely although he says he recognises the danger of people with racist intent attaching themselves to his campaign.

He explained: 'The minute they raise their head, I know who they are because I've spent a lifetime dealing with racism.

'When I talk about racism, I'm talking from 57 years of learning what it is, where it comes from and who engages it.'

Kevin added: 'I have had to say to a couple of people, hold on, this is not about hate, this is not about exclusion. It's about acceptance and understanding. As you say, I became aware very early on that there are people out there who want to tie their boat to my mast.

'Out and out racists are abhorrent. They make me sick because what they really do is hate - there's no other word for it.'

Asked if his position on immigration denies the kind of warmth and welcome he described having in his childhood in Killybegs, Kevin said: 'The reason I'm speaking out is because I want people who come here from other countries to experience Ireland the way I did.

'But I've seen what happens when the numbers are wrong and they don't have that welcome and they don't have that experience. There are people here who have come from other parts of the world that are more than welcome here.

'We have here in Balbriggan, for example, lots of people from other cultures and they come and they contribute, they educate their children and their children are well behaved.

'That is the way I think it should be and that comes from the gratitude I was talking about but it's not always that way. There are other poor countries that see Ireland as a destination for income and I cannot blame them.

'I might feel the same way if I was coming from a place where there wasn't anything for me. It is far from denying anybody the welcome and experience I had, it's actually to ensure that they get just that.'

Kevin said he wants Ireland to stand on its own two feet and set it's own course and favours the country leaving what he called the 'experiment' that is Europe.

He said: 'I think we have lost confidence in ourselves. I think we have lost confidence in our ability to lead and make decisions for ourselves.'

The aspiring President said to those who doubt Ireland could prosper outside the EU: '

Why not? Where has this low self-esteem come from? I don't think we would suffer, I actually think we would thrive.'

Presidential races are notoriously brutal and every skeleton in every candidate's closet can expect an airing but Kevin believed he has an advantage in that regard, in that he has aired most of his in public already.

He said: 'If being honest with you and honest with the Irish people costs me this job then so be it.

'20 years ago when I was stuck in a foreign country, I had no money and I had no way back. I didn't know what I was going to do and I went to work for an escort agency and in that agency, I was offered money for sex and I accepted it and it was a very, very dark period in my life. But it was one which I felt the need to talk about, to bring forth and to be honest about.

'The reason I mentioned that is because when you are asking people to trust you with one of the most important jobs in the country, it's really important to be open and honest. I think the fact that we all grew up in a culture that was sometimes very secretive and very far from open and honest, I think that's where the maturity I was talking about comes from. You have to own your mistakes. If you learn from them, they are not such bad mistakes. What we forget sometimes is that nobody's perfect but I do think that Irish people have at their core, an understanding that life is not perfect and people are not perfect.'

Kevin believes he stands out from other candidates because he is not 'an elite' and not 'connected' and he wants to become a 'Citizen President'.

Fingal Independent