What I Stand For: Sinn Féin And Election 2016 Candidate Kathryn Reilly 6 years ago

What I Stand For: Sinn Féin And Election 2016 Candidate Kathryn Reilly

For the 2016 General Election, we believe every voter should have as much information at their disposal as possible. For this reason, we’ve decided to profile female candidates from across the country. Not just because they are women, but because each participant has a story to tell in her own right.

Kathryn Reilly is a Sinn Féin party member, who is currently running in the Cavan/ Monaghan district.

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In April 2011, Kathryn became the youngest ever elected Senator. Before that, she missed out on a seat in the Cavan/Monaghan constituency in the general election having secured 6,539 first preference votes in her first electoral outing.

Here, Kathryn gives us her insight into running for election, her political motivations, and why a gender quota can’t be viewed as a one-size-fits-all approach to the equal representation of the sexes in Irish government.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself…

Would you believe, I once (jokingly) wrote a bio about myself in the style of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air for the craic (I have decided to include it for the laugh to take some of the seriousness out of the election). *

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But, being serious, I’m 27 and grew up in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan. I went to Crosskeys NS, Virginia College then DCU and UCD. I'm a perpetual student and have a degree and two masters - even when I say I'll not go back, I always seem to start looking up courses.

I live in Cavan town with my boyfriend, Damien - who will be happy when this election is over so I can get back to pulling my weight with household chores. I love dogs and have two at my parent’s house, although none at my own... yet.

How did you first get involved in politics?

My father has always been involved in Sinn Féin as an activist, so I have always been politically aware and conscious. In saying that though I was never politically ambitious and was not involved in student politics. I did study politics in college and after finishing my masters, I got a job in Sinn Féin as a political advisor. This was really the big eye-opener for me and, as the economic downturn really gripped Ireland, I was part of some really important meetings and briefings that led me to think that I was well able for political life.

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What role have you played in Irish politics to date?

As I said, I was a PA from June 2009 until the dissolution of that Dail in 2011 with Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan who was the party spokesperson on finance, enterprise and jobs at the time. It was in that time, I had meetings with the Department of Finance and EU Commissioners, which had a big impact on me.

I then ran for the general election in Cavan/Monaghan in 2011, securing 6,539 1st preference votes, but missing out on the last seat narrowly. After that then I ran for the Seanad election and got elected in April 2011.

What’s your opinion on introducing a gender quota? Do you think it has the potential to create a more balanced government?

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I agree with gender quotas but I do think that there are other issues that need to be addressed that would not only ensure more balanced representation but would also ensure greater retention of female representatives. Yes, we now have quotas and that will see more women on ballot papers lest political parties lose some of their funding. But that doesn’t deal with the underlying reasons for women’s under-representation in Irish politics, which have been identified as the ‘5 Cs’ by numerous groups. Quotas don’t change the Culture; they do not address Confidence; they don’t deal with the issue of Childcare or easier access to Cash. We are dealing head on with the Candidate selection process, but the other Cs that inhibiting women’s entry are simply not addressed.

I do believe that the time for quotas is now. We have scratched our heads for too long, written enough articles and been to enough conferences to know there is a problem. This has forced political parties to look internally and I hope that it will embed new practices and processes that will ensure greater avenues for female representatives to come through.

How do you think women are perceived in Irish politics?

Well, put it like this, when a female TD or Senator is on the TV, there is a good chance that many twitter and social media comments will concentrate on how she looks, what she is wearing etc. A man can wear the same suit for a week and no eyelid is batted; a woman wears the same dress twice in a month and there are many derogatory remarks made.

Now saying that I know from my own experiences that the general public on the doors are very warm and receptive. In fact, people want to see more women in politics, in Leinster House, making decisions and indeed as a young woman, people are actively telling me that that is what Irish politics needs!

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You were the youngest member ever elected to the Seanad– has your opinion on Irish politics changed much following your first term as a Senator?

Politics is definitely an eye opening experience. It is interesting to see the dynamics of political life outside of what you see on the TV screens. You can switch on TV and see people heckling and hurling abuse at each other across the chamber in a Punch and Judy-style show, only then to see some of the same characters coming out of the chamber together talking and chatting jovially. Sometimes, much of the theatrics is for show.

I do believe that since 2009 politics has changed but I think that is moreso because there is greater public awareness and scrutiny. After the economic crisis, people are more conscious of the ramifications of political decisions and as such there are more people watching news, political discussions and keeping an eye on politics through social media.

What has been your biggest motivation while working in office from 2011 to now?

The biggest motivation has been the fact that at 22 so many people put their trust in me to represent them- whether that was those who voted for me in the general election of 2011, my party who put me forward for both the Dail and Seanad elections, or those of my peer group who very often do not have a voice. It is a large responsibility - to make sure that you fulfil those expectations and do your best for those people. A friend of mine always told me, 'remember who you are and what you represent at all times' and that has definitely been one of my greatest motivations.

Do you think your age stands against you in any aspect of your work?

I don’t think so at all. People in 2011 and now have always acknowledged my age as an asset. I am young, but I am fortunate that I was well educated and had the opportunities to go to college. So while I may be young, I have qualifications and experience in Leinster House. Some people unwittingly when canvassing may refer to me as a young girl or a wee girl, but I don’t think they mean that in a derogatory way at all.

You’re a Sinn Féin party member – a party which is seeing a huge growth in popularity in recent years. Why have you aligned yourself to that party?

As I said my father was always heavily involved in Sinn Féin as an activist and because of that, I was always politically aware. In saying that, though, I didn’t just join Sinn Féin as a default position. I studied politics, I read a lot, I was always aware of what was going on in the world. Joining Sinn Féin was just a natural move for me in terms of the things that I believe in and what the party represented and stood for.

What are the biggest barriers that stand in the way of a re-election for you in your constituency?

The loss of a seat in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency, as well as the loss of some of West Cavan, is a huge barrier. Now looking at a higher quota and more electoral competition will mean that it will be a lot harder this time - particularly for my party where we hope to take two of the four seats. But, with the growth in the party, a strong local organisation and the recognition locally of the work of Sinn Féin, I believe it’s a challenge I can overcome.

How do you plan to stand out from the other candidates in your area in a bid to gain a first preference vote?

By being honest: first and foremost, I don’t believe that what Pat Rabbitte said about making promises at election time, only to renege on them, is acceptable. If I can help someone I will; if I can’t, I tell them; but either way, I work my ass off for them. People don’t want election promises, they want honesty.

I also intend to actually actively engage with young voters and those who may not yet be eligible to vote. I don’t want to speak at young people, or use social media as a platform to just throw information at them. I’m using Snapchat at the minute so people can see what I’m doing - both politically and personally, so they can have a real snapshot into my life and know what a politician does.

What in your opinion is the biggest issue facing Irish voters in the 2016 General Election?

Housing. Without a shadow of a doubt. We face social housing shortages; a crisis of homelessness; rising private property prices; increasing rents; shortages in emergency and specialty accommodation; burdensome mortgages; and a legacy of poor build quality and unsustainable planning. 1-in-every-3 doors I knock on raise a housing related issue - it is not an issue specific to one demographic, region- it affects everyone.

If you had one piece of advice for voters, what would it be?

Do your research and use your vote.

Read up on candidates and their policies; see what they and their parties stand for and what they have/haven’t done in the past. Good old Johnny down the road might be sound, but he might be completely at odds with what you want to see for the country.

* Yes, of course, we have a copy of Kathryn's rap:

My Fresh Prince Rap

Now this is the story all about how

My life got flipped, turned upside down

And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there

I'll tell you how I became a Sinn Fein senator

 

In west Ballyjamesduff  born and raised

On the farmyard where I spent most of my days

Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool

And all moving the cattle all around the fields

 

When a couple of guys, they were trying to be good

Organising functions  in my neighbourhood

I got in one little chat and yer man went weird

And said "You're running for election with yer man with the beard"

 

I whistled for the vote and when it came near the

Ballot paper said 'Reilly' and had my pic in the rear

If anything, I could say that the election was close

But I thought its ok that Caoimhghin's a dose!

 

I pulled up to the house about April or may

And I yelled to the Dail "Yo, homies smell you later!"

Looked at my kingdom, I was finally there

To sit on my throne as a SF senator.