Reflections on a political 2015 — preparing to serve

In my launch speech back in June, I said that building a new political movement had to be about three things — 1) community organising 2) campaigning on important issues and 3) getting good people elected to office.

During 2015, I’ve had the most incredible year trying to live up to this:

1) Community organising

  • Student Housing Campaign — Galway’s faces a huge housing shortage. When the students came back for the new year, it was particularly bad. Instead of “calling on the government to act”, we acted. We knocked on the doors of families living near the colleges and asked them if wanted to rent rooms to students, and helped them to do it. And they did! It was a win-win for everyone, where students got accommodation, families got extra income and other people looking for accommodation had less people to compete with
  • Syrian refugee donations — There are thousands of refugees from Syria and other crisis-hit countries stuck in squalid make-shift camps. We opened our office to collect vital goods for the refugee camps and the response was incredible with our office soon shoulder high full of donated goods!
  • Flood Volunteering — Galway has seen some of the worst flooding in living memory over the last few weeks. We put out a call for volunteers and had a great response. We were able to pitch into the effort, helping to fill sandbags in Claregalway.

2) Campaigning on important issues

  • Yes Equality — I was honoured to be part of managing the Yes Equality campaign in Galway this year as we won an incredible victory for equal rights. It was so important to make sure we did everything to win a strong yes vote and Galway did it’s part, recruiting 200+ volunteers, knocking on 45,000 doors and walking enough miles to get to China!
  • Aran Islands services — The basic services to the Aran Islands have been under huge threat recently, first with the air service and now with the ferry service. I believe that we need to support the islanders to build a thriving community and economy on the islands, but they can’t do that unless there are supports for basic services including transport. I’ve been at the working meetings and in the media proposing practical, sustainable solutions to sort out these issues once and for all, and I’ll continue to support the islanders
  • Local authority funding to Galway groups — Galway City Council were threatening to withdraw promised funding from AMACH!, an LGBT resource centre. This would have put the incredible volunteers of the centre on the hook financially for €25,000. Following a people-powered campaign, the council decided to maintain the funding commitment. There was also good news for MADRA who provide an incredible service rehousing stray dogs and preventing them from being put to sleep (Galway has a shocking record here). Because MADRA is run by volunteers, they can rehouse dogs much more cheaply and it made a lot of sense to fund them. While we campaigned publicly for these change, I have to credit some great councillors, particularly FG councillor Pearse Flannery, for getting these issues over the line in the Council.

3) Getting good people elected to office

  • Setting up the Social Democrats — I believe that Ireland should move towards a more Nordic model of society (rather than the more US model being pursued by Fine Gael), and change the way we do politics to encourage much better people to join politics and run government in a much more open, transparent way. From kicking off the first discussions this time last year, to launching the party in July to being officially announced as a candidate in September, I am so proud to have been a catalyst for starting the Social Democrats. I believe this is the best vehicle through which to get great people elected to the Dáil, Seanad, Local Authorities and European Parliament. We have launched very close to an election, and have little funding, so this one will be an uphill struggle but I believe that this party will be a big force for change in Irish politics in the near future.
  • Getting ready to win in Galway — I have been so honoured to have so many people join our campaign in Galway and help to spread the word. We have already knocked on 8,000 doors and are hoping to knock on 25,000 doors before the end of the campaign. If we can do this, and the party does well nationally it’s very likely that I’ll win a seat and have the honour to serve Galway-West/South-Mayo and Ireland in the Dáil.
  • My hopes for the future — Moving Ireland towards a Nordic model, and bringing in real political reform (like the anti-corruption agency we proposed recently, or loosening the whip system) can only happen if we can break the Fine Gael / Fianna Fáil stranglehold on who leads a government. I want the Social Democrats to grow big enough to challenge them and lead a government. This means we have a lot of work to do nationwide to win Dáil and Local Authority elections. As someone with a track record to getting campaigns up and running — Stephen Donnelly, David Hall, Yes Equality and now the Galway campaign — I would love the opportunity to build up the party grassroots around the country and start getting some of the best people in Ireland elected to public office!

Well, that’s been my political 2015! It’s been an incredible year, and now we face into the next two months of hard campaigning for the election. I would be honoured to have your support for this election, and hope to continue this work on community, campaigning and politics to make Ireland a better place.

Le meas,
Niall