The Meath West branch of the Social Democrats held an informative seminar on the 28th of April with two guest speakers: UCD’s Equality Studies Professor, Kathleen Lynch and UCC’s Dr Aodh Quinlivan who lectures in the Department of Government.
Quinlivan described himself as a “localist” and said the community should have a say. He reiterated the point that the “people need to be put first”. Quinlivan also gave an account of three students he taught who went on to be elected at Cork City Council, but they only served one term because it was hard to balance the work load with day-to-day life, councillors are expected to work full time but are not given a full-time salary and one of his students who also worked in another job was told that being a councillor was “not a good look”.
Quinlivan explained that there is a lack of belief for local government and a lack of respect for it too. “There are only 31 local authorities for a population of 5 million people” and “the main problem with local government in Ireland, is that it is not local” he claimed.
Quinlivan said the solution to making local government relevant is to start with “education”. He said that there needs to be a programme about local government and that can start at primary school education.
Statistics were also quoted in his speech, only 24% of people trust politicians but 58% of people trust the local person in the street, hence why local government is important. He also critiqued politicians for not doing enough to explain what local government is about in order to encourage people to run in elections.
Quinlivan finished his speech with a quote from Socrates, “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new!”
Dr Kathleen Lynch, who is also a Trade Unionists with SIPTU, warned of the rise of the far right globally and in Ireland. She said that “Ireland is asleep” and that “neo-liberalism capitalism is the religion of our time” and that we have to “stop pretending that it does not exist” because it does. She gave examples of young people not being able to afford houses, the lack of transport in rural areas and that 15.7% of adult’s lives are at risk of enforced poverty.
Lynch condemned the “Ireland is just fine” message promoted by the media, as Ireland has loads of problems.
On the subject of neo-liberalism, she stated that people buy their way into power for example by lobbying. This does not give the ordinary person much of a chance, but she gave an example of a person she helped get elected as a councillor who was from a working-class background, but she feared that she might not run again because of the difficulties that Quinlivan pointed out: the difficulties with balancing a council job with family life and the poor pay.
She also stated that more and more people feel that they are not represented by politics and that politics is for “people who have the time”. However, she praised Zoom and said it is a “positive development” as you can attend many meetings. She also stated that ‘party politics’ is now becoming more about the party than about the politics!
Trim Social Democrats Councillor, Ronan Moore, mentioned that he brought forward a motion proposing that council meetings should be live streamed so that constituents can watch them and start to get interested in politics. However, he said he faced opposition from other
politicians. Lynch stated that public meetings should be made public and if you get a banner that says “everyone is free to attend this meeting”, that it would “certainly make people wake up”.
Social Democrats Meath West Chair, Moira Leydon, finished the seminar on the subject of the far right, stating that there is “a tsunami of anger and there is the fear that the right will pick it up and not the left”.