From today’s Galway Advertiser:
Have you ever thought about getting involved in politics? This Saturday Aug 26 at 2pm at the PorterShed off Eyre Square, the Galway West Branch of the Social Democrats are holding a event called “Is Politics for you?”.
The session will be mostly focused on the practicalities of what it is actually like to get involved in politics as an elected rep, candidate, campaign manager or party staff member. Organisers promise they will not be preaching about policy and instead will be focusing entirely on helping people to decide if getting more involved is for them.
Speaking before being available for Q&A will be Cllr. Dermot Looney – Councillor for South County Dublin on what it’s like being an elected representative; Susan McGrady – Local Area Rep for Oranmore-Athenry on becoming a candidate/party representative; Anne Marie-McNally – Candidate Dublin Mid-West and Leinster House party staff member who will talk on working in politics and balancing politics and family life; and Sharon Nolan – National Executive – on the process for being selected as a Local Area Representative
Niall Ó Tuathail, Social Democrats Candidate for Galway will also be there to discuss local election plans for Galway and Sarah Jane Hennelly (Party Chairperson) will be there to answer any questions about the party nationally. If you have ever considered getting involved in politics, this event is for you!
“‘We are already building and growing a grassroots movement based on that support base and are hoping to have a newly elected Social Democrat TD after the next General Election. If you would like to get involved in the campaign please email [email protected],” he said.
Is Labour’s difficulty the Soc Dem’s opportunity?
Niall Ó Tuathail’s official announcement as the Social Democrats’ Galway West candidate at the next General Election is simply confirmation of what many political watchers had long expected.
Mr Ó Tuathail ran in the 2016 election, gaining 5.38 per cent of first preferences and a total vote of 5,278 which saw him last to the 11th of that election’s 14 counts. While he had hoped to challenge more substantially for a seat, and began the campaign with high hopes and confidence, his overall performance was, and was viewed by many, as quite respectable and a promising base from which to build on for the future.
Furthermore, a notable feature of his vote was that it overwhelmingly came from disillusioned former Labour voters, as well as from those for whom Sinn Féin is still somewhat problematic, and Solidarity and People Before Profit are too hard-Left – all indications that Labour’s decline could be the Soc Dem’s opportunity.
However following the election, Mr Ó Tuathail appeared to go to ground, while across the State, the Soc Dems seemed to become a moribund force, their momentum stalled. Establishing a new party is always difficult (just ask Lucinda Creighton ), but it began to look as though the party would never be any more than its founders and sitting TDs Catherine Murphy and Roisin Shorthall.
While the Soc Dems still have much to do to fully establish themselves and to capitalise on the now floating soft-Left/Liberal vote, an upswing in party activity in Galway has been noticeable in recent times, with Mr Ó Tuathail’s re-emergence engaging in issues as diverse as the Connemara ambulances and the proposed renovations of Blackrock. The party has also been canvassing and in June appointed local area representatives for the Galway East region, with Rob Partridge representing the Loughrea electoral ward, and Susan McGrady for Oranmore/Athenry.
The challenge now is for the party in Galway to build on the potential that exists and turn it into momentum. Labour is down (very down ) right now, but will not always be so and in reality, both parties are competing for exactly the same vote.
Galway West’s sitting TDs are Seán Kyne and Hildegarde Naughton (FG ), Éamon Ó Cuív (FF ), and Catherine Connolly and Noel Grealish (Ind ). Ó Cuív and Kyne are safe, meaning the battle is really for three seats. There has long been one Left seat in the constituency – a principle Michael D Higgins established in 1987 – and despite wishful thinking from some quarters, Dep Connolly remains the dominant Left presence in Galway West, with little to indicate this will change at the next election.
The question is, do two Left seats exist in Galway West? In 2016, the combined Left vote was 30.98 per cent – just under two quotas. Add in Independent councillor Mike Cubbard who draws some Left support and that becomes 34.28 – just over two quotas. So theoretically, the answer is yes. The eternal problem for the Left is that is extremely divided.
The Soc Dem’s route (and Labour’s ) to the Dáil is to try to take out FG’s Dep Naughton, and position themselves as the ‘only voice for the city’ in the Dáil – an approach Dep Naughton worked quite effectively in 2016. In Mr Ó Tuathail, and in Labour’s Cllr Niall McNelis, both parties have imaginative and energetic campaigners, but with recent polls showing the Soc Dems on two per cent and Labour at seven, neither is close to the 16.67 per cent quota needed in a five seater.
Yes, Hildegarde Naughton and Catherine Connolly’s first preference votes were only 7.11 and 7.59 in 2016, but Dep Naughton had John O’Mahony’s transfers to see her home while Dep Connolly can pull in huge transfers from the other Left candidates that Labour simply will not.
The spectre of Sinn Féin also looms large. As the third largest party in the State, a Galway West seat is surely a matter of when, not if, especially if SF ever decide to run a joint ticket of Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Cllr Mairead Farrell.
The Soc Dems’ best hope in Galway remains taking over from Labour while that party is in the doldrums. Mr Ó Tuathail pointed out recently, “We were about 1,500 votes short at the last election and another 20 dedicated volunteers would have been the difference in winning”. The Soc Dems have some highly capable and excellent people in their ranks in Galway – there is potential and commitment there which would be remiss of them to allow go to waste.
The battle within the Galway Left and for the (theoretically potential ) two Left seats in the constituency will be fascinating next time out. The potential is there, but the the question, as ever, for the Soc Dems is, is the party in a position to capitalise on it?
“I am proud to have the unanimous support of the incredible and growing team of volunteers in the Social Democrats Galway branch, as well as Róisín Shortall TD and Catherine Murphy TD.”
“At the next election, I want to lead Galway into a conversation about the future – particularly the future of our healthcare system, the future of our city as we grow from being a large town to a small city, and the future of our politics where I believe we need a big new party that can lead government and implement ambitious ideas. I’m looking forward to having that conversation with people at the doorsteps, at public meetings, on social media and over the radio waves.”
“We are delighted to have Niall as our candidate for Galway West for the next general election. He is a dedicated and tireless activist who offers a strong voice and vision for change in the community.“Niall and his team bring real enthusiasm and ambition to our movement to build a social democratic republic based on the values of fairness, equality, growth and sustainability.“I know Niall to be a person with great energy and integrity – in particular his deep knowledge and experience in the area of healthcare makes him a powerful advocate for reforms to build a fair and efficient health system of which we can be proud.”
“We’re delighted to have Niall Ó Tuathail stand again in Galway West, he has the drive to fight inequality and extensive experience in healthcare reform, we need more candidates of his calibre to truly represent the people of the West. Niall has inspired a diverse, proactive group of volunteers to join the team and our performance in the last General Election showed that there is a huge appetite for change amongst voters. We are already building and growing a grassroots movement based on that support base and are hoping to have a newly elected Social Democrat TD after the next General Election. If you would like to get involved in the campaign please email [email protected]“
Galway’s public health services are on the medical equivalent of a life support machine. The A&E department of University Hospital Galway is so over-run that it is asking people not to come this week. People are tragically ending up in the Corrib due to lack of access to mental health services. Those with dementia are picking up infectious diseases while stuck in hospital beds that cost the HSE over 10,000 euro per month, preventable with a modest investment in their homes and home care packages. On a daily basis, patients and their families travel from all over the West of Ireland to an overloaded Galway hospital to receive basic healthcare that doesn’t need to be administered in a hospital environment. To add insult to injury, up-front charges for GPs and A&E, as well as the cost of health insurance are spiraling upwards, adding to already strained family budgets.
Unfortunately, this outcome was predictable from the early 1950s when Ireland took a different path to a post-war Britain that launched the National Health Service (NHS). While the modern NHS has its problems, it is still an excellent publicly-run health system that is financed by income taxes rather than charging people for care when they need it. It is a little known fact that the Irish government of the day almost took the same approach, but it was fought by the Department of Finance who said we couldn’t afford it, and by the Church which feared losing control of the hospitals. It turns out that we couldn’t afford not to build an Irish NHS we are now paying the cost of that decision with an expensive and unfair health service that has cost taxpayers unnecessary billions and, more importantly, unnecessarily cost our people healthy years on this earth with their loved ones.
A Chinese proverb goes that that the best time to plant a tree was decades ago and the second best time is today.
This week, the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, chaired by my Social Democrats colleague Róisín Shortall TD, published Sláintecare – the first coherent, long term plan in the history of the state that has cross-political support. The ambitious ten-year plan would see us get the majority of our healthcare (such as diabetes, COPD, dialysis appointments as well as minor injuries, blood tests and scans) from our GPs, small community clinics and primary care centres. All evidence shows that this will improve people’s health and will be more convenient, as services will be delivered to all closer to home. The plan would also ensure that at least 10% of Ireland’s healthcare budget will be invested in mental health, an area with huge need for expanded services.
What could this mean in practice for people in Galway? It won’t solve our issues overnight, but as the proposed upfront investment hits the ground, waiting lists would begin getting shorter. New GP clinics and primary care centres with a broad range of services would be set up all over the county. Your local health centre would see increases in staffing levels and opening hours. Primary and community care teams would be strengthened – that would improve your access to public health nurses, counselors, eye doctors, speech and language therapists, dentists and home care assistants. In the NHS, where I work on health reform, we are even safely providing minor surgery and chemotherapy in the community.
Galway hospital would get much needed investment and refurbishment, and this plan could end the debate on Merlin Park. The question isn’t whether a brand new hospital, if fully staffed, would benefit Galway. The answer to that is obviously yes. The real question is what is the best way to spend limited money to improve the health of Galwegians, and the direction from Sláintecare – and also the direction we are taking in the NHS – would suggest that strengthening primary care is the best thing to do for people’s health and the best way to take pressure off hospitals.
Speaking of money, how would this impact your pocket? There is no question that we need to make an upfront investment to make this work, and the next few budgets would need to prioritise healthcare over tax cuts, something politicians will have to discuss honestly with the electorate. The direct costs of health – admission charges, GP charges, prescription charges – would go down, and many families should feel comfortable giving up their health insurance as services improve.
The measures outlined in the report will eventually save money. For every euro we invest in primary care, we save multiples of that due to avoided hospital admissions and the fact that the same treatment is being given by less expensive staff in less expensive buildings. If we don’t make this investment and continue with an expensive hospital based system, costs will balloon out of control, people will die unnecessarily, and the differences between care provided to rich and poor will increase.
A report by itself changes nothing and the focus must move quickly to implementation. The committee see an implementation office being set up to make the plan a reality. I’ve been involved in similar implementation offices in the NHS and they do work very well if they are well-led, ruthless about priorities and make decisions based on evidence and data. This is a once in a generation opportunity to correct the mistake that was made in the 50s not to build a great public health service in Ireland. Let’s move forward and make it happen!
Niall Ó Tuathail was a recent general election candidate for the Social Democrats. He works with the English NHS on health reform.
First published in the Galway Advertiser
On Friday 22nd January, we launched our very first policy manifesto. It’s called Building a Better Future, 2016-2026. The manifesto sets out our position and approach to a wide variety of topics, under three core pillars:
Building an Irish National Health Service
Demanding Responsible Economics
The manifesto is a ‘working document’ that we will update as we continue to work with people from across society on issues affecting them daily.
You can download the manifesto now (click here) and read it for yourself.
We chose the iconic location on O’Connell Street for our launch today because the GPO represents the promise of a Republic which was never delivered on and which we should once again strive for. On the other side of the road we have Clerys Department store representing the realities of current policies and the very human cost of those failures.
We believe there is now a new option to build a better future for all.
The entire focus of our framework of policies is to reduce the cost of living for everyone by investing in key public services. Our health policy, for example will be to build an Irish National Health Service. In doing so you reduce healthcare costs whilst providing a quality healthcare system that people can rely on.
Political manifestos are generally huge bland documents that are read by few. We have created a set of practical policies that are accessible and brief yet their implementation would ensure a fairer society for us all.
If you like what you read, and want to help us make this document a reality, why not Get Involved?
(photo courtesy of Broadsheet.ie)