In the first of three pieces by the Cork South West TDs on their year since the 2020 general election, Holly Cairns of the Social Democrats reflects on her time so far in Dáil Eireann
IT is hard to believe it has been a year since the election. It is an incredible honour to go into the Dáil every week representing the people of Cork South West.
It has been such a difficult year for everyone. Life has been turned upside-down, so many families have suffered devastating losses and local business and communities have faced incredible challenges.
My priority is to stand up for people, especially those who are disadvantaged, in an honest and transparent way. I know from all the messages and calls I get that people feel very frustrated at a government that simply does not listen.
This failure to listen has an impact all across the constituency from residents in Belgooly and Shannonvale struggling to get Irish Water carry out vital works, to children having to travel over two hours from Beara and the Mizen to access medical services, to inshore fishermen and women feeling ignored by the Department of Agriculture and the Marine. In each of these cases, the communities impacted have practical solutions, but the government is unwilling to listen to them. I do everything I can to work with them, to amplify their voices, and hold Ministers to account.
I have also prioritised being honest and transparent. I share regular detailed updates on social media on what I’ve been working on and why. The frustration people feel with the government makes them feel more disconnected from the political process.
The most frustrating and disappointing part of being a TD is having to deal with a government that is unwilling to engage. The opposition have put forward practical motions to help ordinary people, such as properly resourcing disabilities services, extending maternity leave, or paying student nurses, but the government refuses to support us. I often speak in the Dáil and contact Ministers highlighting the needs of sick children, businesses on the verge of closing, and areas continually flooding, and in most cases I just get a standard response written by a civil servant. There are a small number of good Ministers who will get back to you, but on the whole it is very frustrating.
The pandemic has changed the way society and the economy operates and it is no different for TDs. The greatest challenge is the limitations on what can be done for people. There is so much uncertainty and all we can do is follow the expert advice.
It is disappointing I do not get to meet more people in farmers’ markets, at festivals, or in my Skibbereen and Bandon offices; however, you can always ring or message my office and we’ll help in any way we can.
Zero Covid strategy
My main focus for the coming year is to ensure that a Zero Covid strategy is pursued and an equitable recovery happens. At the moment, the government seems set on a policy of rolling lockdowns rather than an elimination strategy which has been successful in countries such as New Zealand. The co-leader of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall has been one of the strongest voices seeking better contact tracing systems and stricter international restrictions, and I am working with her to help achieve this.
We also need to look beyond the pandemic. The recovery is an opportunity to ensure more balanced regional development with investment in rural areas. The government needs to fund critical infrastructure such as broadband, local healthcare services and public transport.
They also need to drastically increase the Towns and Villages Schemes and Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure to help revive our communities and support the decimated hospitality and tourism sectors. We also need movement on social issues such as justice for the survivors of institutional abuse, an end to direct provision and just climate action.
My biggest concern is that we won’t see an equitable recovery. This government, like the previous one, seems more interested in supporting the big players. The beef barons, the international corporations, and the developers get whatever they want, while the calls for fair treatment from farmers, fishermen and women, family businesses and people with disabilities never seem to be heard.
I will continue to amplify these voices and fight for the people of Cork South West.