Tuesday, 21 January 2020
Business of Seanad: Motion
I echo everything that every Member said regarding the staff - our colleagues here in the House. I have learned a huge amount from every person. Regardless of whether I agreed with them, I have taken something from every single conversation, communication, relationship and friendship I have built in this House.
I thank Seb in my office. He is the perfect balance to my madness. I am sure that if he had not worked so hard to keep a tight rein on me over the past few years, there would have been many more scandals out there as a result of me not being able to shut up when I should have done so. He has been brilliant in pushing and building my work. I am only as successful as I am because he was behind me and supporting me for the past number of years.
I would like to acknowledge my role in Trinity College. It was an unusual path for someone like me to take on my journey into politics, a journey I thought I would never take. I have been marching outside Leinster House since the age of 17 and I never saw myself being on the other side of those gates. That is not necessarily because I do not believe people like me should be on the other side of the gates. It is that it does not even cross one's mind that that is where one could and should be and therefore it does not even become a thought. Regardless of the barriers preventing one getting in here, it does not even become a thought. It is the same with Trinity College. We do not really believe that someone with low levels of educational attainment and the passing background I had would make it through Trinity in the way that I have done. I have been supported by the Trinity electorate, its staff and graduates and my two colleagues on the Trinity panel who trail-blazed on the issue of social justice long before I came on the scene. They carved out a path for Trinity Senators to be justice warriors in one way or another in this Chamber. Whether it was Senator Norris on LGBT issues or Senator Bacik on the eighth amendment and other issues of gender, they have provided a space for someone like me to come here and raise the issues I care about. These include human rights for people with an addiction, people living in poverty, inequality, lack of educational attainment, ex-prisoners and people who are currently in the prison system. All the legislation I have brought forward to date has been reflective of my lived experience and the realities of lives like mine in my community.
I remember being petrified on the first day I came in here to speak. I was chosen to raise a Commencement matter with the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, related to drugs that were to be included in the Misuse of Drugs Act. I had a recurring dream for several nights beforehand in which I was walking up Grafton Street and saw someone in a Tommy Hilfiger navy blue skirt suit. It almost looked Fianna Fáil-ish. I know Senator Wilson would like to claim me as some sort of conservative liberal but the suit looked conservative and was definitely not something I would ever wear. In my dream, I put the suit on to go into the Chamber to speak but it turned into fleece Mickey Mouse pyjamas every time I sat down. I had that dream for about two or three nights. I kept trying to put on the suit. I had to sit with that and think about it, but I decided that I needed to be me. I have my accent and style, my culture and working class-ness, whatever that is, and it is definitely not a navy skirt suit. I just had to embrace who I was and politics - the Seanad and everyone here - also embraced that and all the work I have done with civil society over the years.
As a community worker, my aim has been to take the Seanad and Trinity College into the hearts of communities. I have tried to use those community development principles not only to work on legislation but also to build initiatives with the cultural and social capital that being a Trinity graduate and a Senator allowed me to have in my three and a half years here.If I am not re-elected, I can look to the likes of Project SUMS, which sees over 150 students a week getting free mathematics grinds, all developed with UCD graduates and retired lecturers through my role here, and to my philosophy in the community module in Dolphin House, which allows residents, community workers and youth workers to look at the philosophical questions and big questions in life that they encounter every day in their communities without realising it.
I am working extremely hard to have the Homeless World Cup held in Ireland. Our bid has been short-listed. I will continue to support Irish Homeless Street Leagues in trying to host the massive event in Ireland. I have tried to marry everything I am as a working-class community development worker with who I can be and am as a politician in order to legislate here while also bringing the work of the Seanad and my work out into the communities that need resources and services the most. My Dad would have been proud and my Mam is proud. They would probably be most proud of the fact that I have managed to be in here for three and a half years and not say the "F" word once.