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Saturday 3 December 2016

Sinead Ryan: Why I turned down Shane Ross and decided not to run as an election candidate

Sinead Ryan
Sinead Ryan

Congratulations to my colleague Carol Hunt for being brave enough to stand for election, aligning herself with Shane Ross's Independent Alliance. I wasn't.

Like Carol (and, I suspect, other articulate, informed and - crucially - female commentators and journalists), I too was approached by the good Mr Ross some months back, who felt his party/not-really-a-party could be enhanced by having people like us on board.

Although politics that close to the wire had never really been my ambition, I like and respect Shane enough to have met with him and let him try and convince me to come on board.

He didn't, but that is no failure of his. I also contacted a number of well-informed political correspondents whom I could trust to get their advice. My reasons for declining actually had very little to do with politics.

families

The truth is more prosaic, and somewhat hypocritical, so I haven't expressed it until now, despite being contacted by some media outlets to confirm or deny the approach to me.

Politics needs change desperately. It needs more women, for one. With an appallingly low 15pc of Dail members of the female variety, representing 51pc of the population, I have been vocal about the need to raise the stakes.

Excellent politicians such as Ivana Bacik, Regina Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald show how it can be done. They all have families to raise too, proving that children should be no impediment; except they so often are.

My own pair are there or thereabouts grown up, so that's no excuse really. But the late hours and 24/7 nature of the job is so family-unfriendly that even the most committed activists would baulk, unless it could be mandatory to have a wife at home!

Politics needs people who don't come from political dynasties -such as the three women I mentioned earlier. Many who go into politics have taken a leap in the dark (and in some cases a pay cut) in the interests of public service: Stephen Donnelly and Mary Mitchell O'Connor come to mind.

My wider family also hasn't the slightest involvement in politics or parties, although we would be politicized, which is a different thing. The salary for being a TD would, for me, be a huge pay rise, so should immediately attract if that was my ambition.

However, money, for my sins, isn't my driver. Politics needs people who aren't on a power trip. I've covered, professionally, lots of election counts. I've seen the fellas raised shoulder high by campaigners and supporters when they get over the line.

The notion of strutting around my town waiting to be saluted and having people to do things like my planning and events and speeches is horrifying and I wouldn't feel a bit powerful.

I think though, some part of any successful TD must need that feeling to be effective and keep them going.

Politics needs people genuinely compelled to change things. I really, really want things to be different also. From our ineffective committee system, our rewarding long service over merit, the old-boys' network, and the impotence of back-benchers who are often little more than highly-paid local councillors and of course, the parish pump politics still so very prevalent.

In truth, I don't care about the pot-holes. I used this very expression when ruling myself out to Shane.

"I'll be driven nuts by people knocking on my door looking for things to be fixed," I said. He laughed and said he was too, a bit.

strategy

I recall former justice minister Nora Owen telling me about a constituent who called her on Christmas Day as she was preparing family lunch, about a broken pipe on his street. She remained calm and pleasant, downed carving knife and rang someone in the council. I would have told him to sod off until January. This is not a vote-getting strategy.

And here's another thing: to run for election requires money. Tons of it. Posters, transport, media and all the other things costs around €20,000 per candidate.

For an Independent without central party support, double it. Needless to say, that's a big ask.

So. I remain a hurler on the ditch. I love politics and will follow the General Election with eagerness. I will write about it, watch the campaign and, of course, vote with intent.

That'll have to do.

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