There’s something about Mairia but what about democracy in the Seanad?

By Kerry Monaghan

TODAY will sound the signal of political prowess or independent staying power with the by-election results of the Seanad.

Ireland Today has talked to sources within the Oireachtas, outside party politics, who feel the whole event is already tied up – but only the countdown to the results later today, will reveal if this train of thought is accurate.

One of the most interesting candidates of this race to the top has undoubtedly been Mairia Cahill, the Labour Party candidate, who has refrained from talking to the media about her candidacy and alleged past links to the Republican Network for Unity (RNU).

Reportedly Mairia had been national secretary of the group which opposed the PSNI.

But the Labour candidate has come out and said she was only in this position for a few months while she said she is against violence and did not oppose the police in Northern Ireland.

Whatever the effect of Mairia’s candidacy, it appears the lady has certainly put the cat among the pigeons.

“Everyone has thoughts but many are too afraid to say them,” said one source within the Oireachtas.

“We all feel there are many questions to be answered and answers have not been given.”

For some reason, this year, more than ever, it seems that the Seanad by-election has become somewhat of a cloak and daggers affair.

And this is quite unusual, given the fact that the Seanad is not thought to be quite the political lion’s den that the Dail is.

Emails have been flying round, insinuating matters without proper proof, against a certain candidate, have been made, and “knives have been out,” in an attempt to silence certain parties, according to a source.

“There is a great deal of displeasure about the way the process has been carried out and it feel like certain candidates are a certainty, while others are not.

“If you have the backing of the Government, then you are more or less guaranteed a place in the Seanad,” said the source.

“While the independents are in a much more precarious place.”

The Seanad by-election will be revealed later today
The Seanad by-election results will be revealed later today

In October Enda Kenny said that plans to expand the voting rights to all third-level graduates in Ireland would not be introduced before the next election.

This statement came two years after the Government first proposed to increase the electorate for six of the 60 seats from 151,000 to as many as 800,000, following the failure to abolish the house in the 2013 referendum.

“To those who say the Seanad isn’t an important part of our political system, I would have to say, how much work was done in the house, for the Marriage Equality Bill?

“How much was done for gender recognition.  The house plays a very important part in democracy, and the independents have a very strong voice away from party politics,” the source said.

Ireland Today has interviewed Dr Tom Clonan, an independent, speaking up for equality for the disabled, in recent days.

Tom, a former whistleblower in the Irish Army, who held a torch up to bullying and sexism in the forces, has become a voice for many carers across the country, who feel unable to speak out.

Tom told Ireland Today how he was running a campaign to get to the Seanad at the next General Election for the sake of his son, Eoghan, who is 13-years-old and has PMD – Pelizaeus Merzbacher Disease – a muscular disorder affecting the nervous system.

Eoghan is clinically blind, in a wheelchair and he needs physio every day, provided at 6am by his father.

The one thing that seems to be true, is that such an honest and human campaign, could not perhaps be fought in the top echelons of power, in the Dail.

Tom told Ireland Today that being a father to a disabled child, had driven him forward to fight for his son and for all those suffering disability inequality across the state.

Dr Tom Clonan, his son, Eoghan
Fight for equality for the disabled: Dr Tom Clonan, his son, Eoghan, 13, and Duke the labrador.

Perhaps to hear Enda Kenny or any of his opponents make such a personal appeal, would be unlikely.

Therefore the debate that the Seanad is not something to sit up and take notice of, should be mulled over by those suffering a malaise about the politic of the day.

“We need to say yes to equality for people who are different, for those with special needs and disabilities, to allow them to realise their full potential,” said Tom.

“Being disabled in Ireland is pretty f***ing grim.  It’s not a country to be disabled, to be sick, homeless, or to be a single parent in,” he added.

To hear such words in the Dail would perhaps astound most members of the Irish public.

So, when the debate reignites that there may not be a place for a Seanad in Irish politics anymore, one might have to ask would such issues even be raised.

Tom Clonan would seem to epitomise the very notion of democracy and civil rights in Ireland.  He talks of “society,” rather than “economy,” and accountability, rather than attributing blame.

While another independent interviewed by Ireland Today ahead of the by-election, Gerard Craughwell, talks of making a journey from being “conservative,” to understanding and welcoming gay and same-sex marriage.

But on the other hand, Gerard struggles to comprehend an island that supports repealing the eighth amendment of the Constitution to decriminalise abortion.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell backed gay and trans-sexual rights but can't support pro-choice
Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell supported gay and trans-sexual rights but can’t back repealing the 8th

“The debate seems to have turned in to the Mairia show, when there is so much more to talk about,” said the source.

“We are all curious about Mairia but everyone has perspectives and views they wish to put across.

“But one thing is for sure, the political parties are still far too powerful in the shaping of the Seanad and we need more independents in the house,” a source said.

It seems that one of the most important duties, that is perhaps being forsaken, as the media hype builds around Mairia Cahill’s past, is the need for democratic campaign.

Gay rights were embraced by the Seanad and as the law for gay marriage was introduced in the house, devotees could claim legitimacy.

But for many Irish women, forced to still travel abroad to have abortions with crisis pregnancies, the house has yet to listen to their plea.

“Women matter, their bodies matter. Women are still not equal to men in this state and that is one thing the house has to help campaign for,” said another source.

Only time will tell, if these are the voices that will reign triumphant by the end of today.

Young women feel gagged as they campaign for pro-choice
Young women feel gagged as they campaign for pro-choice

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