Eight gay men and one lesbian, some of whom you know already, some of whom you don’t, are canvassing to become elected to the 25th Seanad Eireann. We thought we’d give them a chance to set out their stalls.
Labour Panel, Fine Gael
“We still have work to do to ensure that the LGBT community receives full equality and respect. We must continue to work to remove an undercurrent of bias and hostility towards LGBT people where it exists. I am committed to making schools more supportive places for young LGBT people. I will continue to support employment equality so that religious ethos is not used as a ground for discrimination, and to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or family status.
I agree with those calling for Government to develop a ‘Roadmap to LGBT Equality’. This must be resourced and implemented across all Government departments, LGBT organisations and other sectors of Irish society, including business and professional bodies, trade unions and civil society organisations.
Unemployment and access to a job remains the most pressing social issue. When a person can’t get a job it affects all other aspects of their life. Getting a job, taking part in society on an equal basis, reaffirms a person’s innate dignity. Having an income empowers them to overcome other inequalities and it gives them a voice.”
NUI Panel, Independent
“My mum asked me about a year ago why I was running for election to the Seanad, and I said: ‘The honest answer is that I want to help make Ireland a more compassionate country to live in.’
I have worked all my life to try and make Ireland a better place by driving improvements to help create a more compassionate society. I have worked for many years on improving care for members of the LGBTI community affected by cancer, and for those in palliative care situations. I also played a very public role as a marriage equality champion as president of the Psychological Society of Ireland during the Marriage Equality referendum last year. Supporting a Yes position in the referendum and advocating for a Yes vote was an honour and a privilege, and the success of the referendum was the highlight of my term as president and a hugely joyful moment in my life as a gay Irish man. I know how to work hard and I know how to get things done.
I was born and reared in Rialto, in Dublin’s south inner city. School was very difficult for me because of my undiagnosed dyslexia, and growing up gay in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s was not easy. I was the first person in my extended family to go to university.
Without a second chance education initiative, my path would have been very different. After graduation, I worked in education with early school leavers and then with drug users in rehabilitation, where I saw the effects of generational cycles of poverty and lack of opportunity. I had the opportunity to work with people in circumstances where positive, progressive policies would have made all the difference to their lives and those of their families. These real-life experiences make me want to influence policy and make a concrete contribution to compassionate policy-making, to improve the lives of many.
I have been at the frontline of health and education for 20 years as a psychologist, an educator and an equality campaigner. Every day, I see the effects of bad policy at first hand. I see the callousness in a system that ignores the most vulnerable, that blames the poor for their poverty and blames the sick for not getting better.
Being elected to the Seanad will allow me to shape policies that directly impact on the live of the citizens of this country. I will have a chance to further influence realistic compassionate policies at national level. I want to drive progress towards better care services and fair educational opportunities throughout Ireland.
As a Senator I will fight for a kinder, more compassionate, more equal society, where the voices of people affected by policies are heard.”
TCD Panel, Independent
“I left Ireland over four years ago, after just finishing a Masters in European politics, and so some time working in Brussels seemed like a natural next step. Saying goodbye to my friends, family and housemates was difficult, but the change was also exciting and challenging, and I looked forward to getting some work experience abroad before returning home.
Four years later, and despite a fulfilling and busy life in Brussels, I still dream of home. I returned to help out with the Marriage Equality referendum campaign last year, and again for the recent General Election campaign for Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. The recent election result has left me both slightly dismayed (Fianna Fáil back again, the anti-everything brigade on the rise) and pleasantly surprised (the return of the Greens, and the chance of an effective parliament), and the campaign itself reminded me of how much I love and miss Dublin, and my friends there.
But then there are the challenges to moving home. In Brussels we can afford a comfortable apartment with good legal protections, for a fraction of the price we would pay back home. While the election campaign rotated around tax cuts for high earners, I looked on at spiralling rental costs and a homelessness crisis with dread – how could I ever afford to return home? How can my friends and family possibly afford these prices, or hope to own their own homes under these circumstances?
These issues facing returnees, and all Irish citizens, are why I am campaigning for a seat on the Trinity panel for Seanad Eireann. I want to see an Ireland that finally ‘cherishes all the children of the nation equally’ and creates the republic proclaimed 100 years ago, a republic where a right to housing trumps the interests of those who approach it as an investment, where LGBT children and adults can feel safe and welcome in their schools and society, where women can have full control over their own bodies, and where we look to a greener future of possibility, instead of focusing on the things that divide us.
This is part of the reason I’m running with Barry Johnston on the NUI panel on the Emigrant Manifesto, and I hope we can rely on your No. 1 vote in the coming month.”
NUI Panel, Independent
“New voices can bring about real change, no matter how few. I have always believed this. From when I first came out in 1984 and volunteered for Cairde, the HIV/Aids support group, to campaigning for an Equal Age of Consent in the House of Commons in the UK, and then on my return to Ireland working as a volunteer fundraiser and board member for The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and One Family, my voice, joined with others, helped change policy and challenge stigma.
Ten years ago, as a board member of Marriage Equality, I campaigned for equal marriage rights, but many dismissed us as dreamers. Today marriage equality is a reality. To achieve real change we still need to dream, but we need to ask some uncomfortable questions too.
Why do so many children still go to school in fear? It’s time to stamp out homophobic bullying and our hidden homophobic culture. Time to secure access to education for those of all faiths and none.
Where is the public debate on long-term energy and food security? How will we afford the billion-dollar lawsuits the TTIP investor courts will bring, making it easier for the likes of Japanese Tobacco International to sue us over our health legislation?
For the first time in human history pathogens are no longer our biggest killers: poor diet is now the key driver of ill health and it’s driving our health service to the brink of collapse. If we don’t spend on the plate we spend at the doctor, and that’s as true for a nation as the individual. We need to remodel our food supply to ensure longer, healthier lives, and reduce the burden on the health service by looking up-stream to the causes.
Why do we sideline and denigrate the best of us? Young people exclude themselves from the register, while many women still earn less than men for the same work. It’s time to rebalance the status of Irish women through repealing the Eighth Amendment and securing greater influence at board level and in government.
As an independent Senator I will challenge the dominant view of how we manage our economy, our food supply and our health service. Sustainability and social justice should not be a democratic afterthought but part of its very machinery.”
Seanad NUI Panel Candidate
I’m running for the Seanad to be a new voice and a fresh perspective. I want to represent the views of modern Ireland if elected.
Every citizen should have a vote in the Seanad elections and there is no constitutional impediment to ensuring this becomes a reality. I will also be an advocate for voting rights for citizens abroad for General Elections.
During my time as president of USI, we registered tens of thousands of new voters ahead of the marriage equality referendum. Our voter registration system is in urgent need of reform and if elected I will be a proponent of an online option for voter registration and a move to a rolling register similar to that of the UK.
The Seanad NUI panel has never had an openly gay Senator. If elected, I will be a voice for our LGBT citizens at home and abroad. At home, I will lobby for the provisions of the Gender Recognition Bill to be extended to trans* teens and non-binary individuals, and for the expansion of trans health services. I will campaign for a comprehensive review of the MSM blood ban. I will support the work of LGBT organisations to ensure we eliminate LGBT bullying in our schools and workplaces.
LGBT people around the world are looking to our marriage equality success and hoping to follow our lead. I will be an advocate for marriage equality internationally. I will also work with Irish Aid, to ensure that our nine key development partner countries, such as Uganda, guarantee protections to their LGBT citizens.
I am in favour of increased public funding for education in Ireland from primary all the way up to fourth level. I am also in favour of removing religious discrimination in our school admission polices and diversifying school patronage.
I believe that the time for talking when it comes to Seanad reform is over and, if elected, I will work towards a reformed Upper House.
No woman has been elected to the Seanad NUI panel in my lifetime. If elected I want to be a strong voice on gender equality and I will campaign every step of the way with civil society for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
NUI Panel, Independent
“On March 14, a few days before the rest of the world’s Irish, I marked St Patrick’s Day with nearly 100,000 others in the bright early spring sunshine in central London. I marched, tricolour in one hand, rainbow flag in the other, with the London Irish LGBT group, who were taking part in the parade for the first time. I marched alongside people who had left a very different Ireland from the one they were now celebrating – people who had been told, implicitly or explicitly, that their sexuality or gender identity did not fit with who ‘we are’.
Now, invited onto the platform in Trafalgar Square at the end of the procession, we weren’t just included, we were central to this great celebration of Irish identity. Many of those present in the crowds had tweeted support, harassed their mothers or grannies, or booked plane and ferry tickets to return #hometovote last May. They were welcomed home and celebrated then, but they were ignored just a few months later in the General Election.
Today one in six Irish-born people live abroad. Yet Ireland, unlike over 120 other countries, does not allow its overseas citizens to vote. As a result the causes and consequences of repeated cycles of mass emigration have not been adequately addressed by successive cohorts of politicians. As the first overseas candidate for the NUI panel, based in London, I’m running to represent all those who have at one time or another, been told that they have no place in Irish society.
Ireland’s LGBT community won a historic victory last May. We kicked the door open in a society that had for too long been closed off for so many, a nation run by insiders with decisions made by a few, in the interests of a few, time and again. But that door is in danger of slamming closed once more, leaving too many others still on the outside.
Working for organisations like Amnesty International and ActionAid, I’ve campaigned alongside activists and communities in Ireland and around the world, promoting action on LGBT and women’s rights, mental health, climate change and fair taxes.
Any of the candidates alongside me would make fine public representatives and wonderful ambassadors for the LGBT community, but I’d ask those of you with a vote in the NUI elections to give me your No’1 preference, and to make history with your vote once again by electing one of the first overseas candidates, and an experienced campaigner for human rights.
Those of you with a vote on the Trinity Panel, please vote No’1 for my Emigrant Manifesto running mate Ed Davitt.”
TCD Panel, Independent
Seanad Eireann was initiated by Arthur Griffith at the suggestion of Trinity Provost Dr Bernard to provide for an independent voice in Irish politics. The college and its graduates have therefore a particular interest in the fate of this institution. In the past the university seats have come under fire, but since its election the very existence of the Senate itself has been in the balance.
Enda Kenny’s populist and ill thought out proposal to abolish rather than reform the Senate was put to a referendum of the people in 2013. With a couple of weeks to go we were losing in the polls. I discharged myself from hospital, took a leading role with Senator John Crown and Sean Barrett in the campaign to save it. Crucially I used my Twitter account and appearances on local radio stations all over the country to persuade many voters to rethink their position.
In the fight to save the Senate we won the battle, but the war goes on. Despite Government promises there has been no sign of real reform in the direction of democratising the Senate. The recent bi-election in which a young woman was elected to our national parliament in a contest with an electorate of a mere 200 overwhelmingly political directed voters highlights the existence of rotten boroughs within the Oireachtas. The university seats with a combined electorate of just under 200,000 remain the only fully democratic constituency in Seanad Eireann.
I believe that we should reform the other nominating panels to reflect the wishes and voting rights of all citizens. Nominating bodies are organisations that are connected to a particular vocation, for example the Irish Congress of Trade Unions can nominate in the Labour panel, and the Royal Irish Academy can nominate in the Cultural and Education panel. However because the electorate is restricted to Councillors, TDs and Senators, the political parties have a lock on the electoral process. This control has to be reformed. The University Seats represent the only outlet for the election of independent voices in the Seanad. If re-elected I will use my position as Father of the House to press for further substantial reforms.”
NUI Panel, Independent
“We’re in a politically uncertain time, as yet unclear what the next government will be and what priority will be put on the urgent issues that face all of us – from translating the extraordinary wins last year of the referendum and the gender recognition legislation into real equality in our lived experience across the diversity within LGBTI communities, to the urgent mental health, health and housing challenges that face Ireland, including LGBTI people.
I believe it is essential to have powerful voices and advocates in the Seanad to ensure that these issues are central to the next Government’s work. I have the experience and track record more than 30 years of delivering transformative change for LGBTI people, and believe that I would be that strong voice in the Seanad.
I have been centrally involved in all the main legal achievements, including decriminalisation in 1993, equality legislation in 1990s, Civil Partnership in 2010, and in the wonderful success of the marriage equality referendum.
I have also been an effective campaigner in areas such improving apartment housing quality standards and in areas such as tackling the hoarding of development land in our towns and cities, and achieving success against the dogged opposition of powerful vested interests.
As a trade union activist I was responsible for getting the strong support of trade unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions who published their policy ‘Lesbian and Gay Rights in the Workplace’ in 1988 – the first support we got from a national organisation.
I co-founded GLEN in 1988 and have been co-chair since. Along with other groups, we managed to achieve significant gay law reform based on equality. At the launch of GLEN I said that ‘as a minority we had to build a majority and so what we had to do was consolidate our supporters, win over the doubtful, pacify the opposed, and isolate the irreconcilables’. GLEN has been described as ‘one of the most effective lobby groups in Irish history’.
These decades of expertise in successful campaigning on issues found fruition in Yes Equality where I was a member of the executive committee and the strategic advisory group.
One of my other critical campaign priorities is repeal the Eighth Amendment. My first major campaign as a member of the Cork Gay Collective was setting up the local Anti-Amendment campaign in the early 1980s.
As a Senator I could use all this expertise, experience and commitment to advance further equality and human rights for LGBT people and to campaign for progress in areas such as increasing the supply of affordable and quality housing and tackling vested interests.
For those of you who are NUI graduates, I ask you to vote No’1 for Kieran Rose.”
Official Website (kieranrose.ie)
Labour Panel, Sinn Féin
“During my term as Mayor of South Dublin, I was proud to prioritise LGBT rights, homelessness and young people. My work alongside relevant NGOs and their successful record in working with previous Senators instilled in me a belief that although Seanad Eireann demands radical reform, it has been an effective political space for a number of progressive Senators.
I believe in using every available forum to make social and political change for those whose interests continue to be under-represented. It is not lost on me that I argued for Seanad abolition just three years ago. Citizens however, voted for a radically reformed Seanad. Standing by and allowing the continued under-representation of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised is not an option for Sinn Féin. Nor is it an option for young people, the LGBT community, or the arts.
I want to be a campaigning Senator, using my activism to progress inclusion and equality. LGBT rights in Ireland are entering a new phase. Our struggle post-referendum demands the prioritisation of healthcare, tackling homophobia, the blood ban, rural isolation and domestic violence.
I was politicised by a demand for LGBT rights but quickly recognised that only with Irish unity could we ever foster the amazing diversity on this island. The passing of island wide civil marriage equality remains a challenge. The disparity in legislative equality on this island is a real consequence of partition. Following a succession of victories at local government and at Stormont, December’s court ruling allowing a judicial review to challenge the ban on equal marriage in the north is a step forward in the campaign for equality.
If elected to Seanad Eireann, I will immediately move to prioritise trans young people. The lack of State recognition of our young people is a major contributing factor to marginalisation, and it is an urgent health and human rights issue.
Despite the incredible progress of the Gender Recognition Bill, young people are being left behind and their rights are not enshrined in this legislation. Trans people aged 16 and 17 may apply for legal recognition, but the process is onerous. There is also no process for legal recognition of young people under the age of 16, meaning that this state does not recognise the existence of trans children. The LGBT community will not stand for stigmatisation and marginalisation of young people within our community, and we will campaign for the removal of minimum age criteria.”
This article originally appeared in issue 316 of GCN.
© 2016 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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