Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Words on Wednesday...with Joan Burton

Welcome to the return of the Words on Wednesday feature here on United Irelander, a concept unique to the Irish blogosphere, which sees me interview various figures from all walks of political life.

Taking my questions this week is Labour TD for Dublin West Joan Burton.

I'd like to thank Ms Burton for kindly agreeing to be interviewed. With that being said, let's begin:

What initially attracted you to political life?

I was actively involved in politics for a long time before I became a TD. I’ve always felt drawn to making a difference through political action. Politics for me is definitely about giving something back and about tackling inequalities, whether reducing poverty at home and in the wider world when I lived for 2 years in Africa, or tackling structural inequities such as unnecessary tax break’s that favour the wealthy.

You are a Labour TD for Dublin West. Talk us through a typical day in your life.

There really is no such thing as a typical day for me. As a politician, every day brings the unexpected. When the Dail is sitting I spend Monday, Friday and Saturday morning in the constituency and base myself in Leinster House Tuesday through Thursday, however meetings and emerging issues often require me to dash from constituency to the Dail and vice versa. A typical day in the Dail will involve a committee meeting (I sit on the Finance Committee and the Public Accounts Committee) which can often run to 3 and 4 hours, internal labour party meetings, meetings with lobby groups, attending Leaders Questions and possibly a Dail session of Finance Questions with the Minister for Finance. It’s impossible to describe a typical day in the constituency as the issues are constantly changing, but I try to meet as many people as possible while addressing issues with the Council and local groups.

With a General Election looming here in the Republic, are you confident your party will end up in Government?

I’m hopeful and working with confidence towards the election but it’s presumptive to say I’m confident we’ll end up in Government as it’s up to the voter to decide.

If you could change three things about Irish society, what would you change and why?

I don’t think we give the environment enough priority, it’s such a huge issue but it’s so terribly easy to ignore. A great change to see in Irish society would be a focus and awareness of the need to look after our environment and to plant more trees! I would also like to see a change in the balance between rich and poor in Irish society, I worry that we’re moving in the wrong direction, with an increasing wealth gap and that is something I’ve been trying to address with my campaign for fairer taxation, and the elimination of tax breaks that serve only to make the rich richer.

You are the Labour party's Finance Spokesperson. What do you make of this Government's record in relation to Finance?

The economy is in great shape, there’s no arguing with that. I do think it’s a great pity that the abundant wealth that the boom has created has not been effectively used to develop our infrastructure – they’ve really made a bags of the infrastructure.

What are your thoughts on the role of women in Irish politics?

I think it can be more difficult for women to succeed in politics than men and there is no doubt that the cliché of the "boys club" in politics has some truth to it. There’s so many reasons why there are less women involved in politics than men, the demanding lifestyle, family constraints etc but I would love to see more and more women getting involved at a constituency level, at County Council level and ultimately running for the Dail.

What should be done to improve the situation in Northern Ireland?

Two things:

1. The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The hope and optimism of Good Friday 1998 has sadly dissipated over the last decade, to the extent that few people expect progress by November. However, the Agreement remains the best way for the North’s politicians to work together for the benefit of all.

In the short term, I believe that the DUP must show willingness to share power with the SDLP and Sinn Fein. They co-operate with them on councils and other local authorities across the North, so their insistence on not entering the Executive is hypocritical.

Also Sinn Fein must express their support for the PSNI and take their place on the Policing Board. In doing so it will be the clearest signal that criminality is at an end and that there is support for the rule of law among their community.

2. A co-ordinated, committed plan to address sectarianism. In my view sectarianism is the root cause of all the problems in the North. A situation has developed in the North whereby in an already bitterly divided society the two communities are moving ever further apart. This is being borne out in population shifts and the development of more and more marked territories, exclusive to only one side.

All parties and civic leaders must commit themselves to addressing sectarianism. The blueprint is there in the ‘Shared Future’ initiative. I just hope that people get a chance to implement it.

What are your thoughts on a United Ireland?

I support the concept of a united Ireland, and I think the social, economic, and political interests of all the people who live on this island would be best served in a unified state.

However I do not believe in coercion, and if a united Ireland is to come about it should only be through agreement. That is why the short term goal should remain the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and that all our efforts should be concentrated on that.

What did you make of this year's military parade which marked the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising?

I thought the parade and subsequent commemorations reasserted the primacy of the Irish Army as the one true Oglaigh na hEireann. In the context of the ongoing existence of the IRA I think it is important to do so.

I thought the manner in which Fianna Fail used the occasion for partisan political gain a little opportunistic.

With regards to your own Dublin West constituency, things were pretty tight in the last General Election where you narrowly pipped Fine Gael's Sheila Terry to a Dáil seat. Are you expecting another tough battle in that constituency at the next General Election?

Yes, it’s a 3 seater and very tight, but I’m working hard.

What are your thoughts on the current conflict in Iraq and Ireland's position?

The war is wrong – the greatest mistake of US foreign policy. The whole situation is such a terrible tragedy, and so many lives have been wrecked by this war. I feel strongly that the government took the wrong position, they have been weak on this issue by refusing to take a stand on Shannon Airport when they should have stood up for human rights.

One of the issues you have taken an active interest in is in relation to crime. What needs to be done to tackle crime more effectively in this country?

Community Policing is definitely the key. Our citizens don’t feel safe and detection rates are falling. Eighty-five per cent of burglaries, 65 per cent of thefts and 62 per cent of robberies, go undetected. And of the 75 killings where guns are used, between 1998 and 2004, only 12 convictions have been registered. We need a dedicated core of Community Gardai, that are based in the Community and know residents on a first name basis to address the spiralling crime rates that are blighting many communities in Ireland.

Where should Ireland be twenty years from now?

Modern, Prosperous, Humane, Generous, Cultured.

I've been reading your website and unlike lots of other Irish politicians, you take it seriously and update it regularly. Do you think websites and blogs can come to play an important role in politics here, as has happened in the US?

Yes, but as you know keeping it up to date is hard work, but people in Dublin West seem to like the fast contact it gives them. A lot of the traditional queries now come to me by email as opposed to clinics. I try to read everything within 24 hours. During the coming Dail session I am adding a Leinster House blog to my website with reports on the debates and tensions as the Election gets closer.

What would you say to anyone reading now who isn't sure who to vote for in the next General Election?

If you vote Labour and we are in government we will make a difference. If you want to step on a metro within your lifetime, vote Labour.

Finally, I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following names:

Bertie Ahern - Corrie - He’s a political soap!
Enda Kenny - Pleasant
George W. Bush - Texas Rangers
Gerry Adams - Uncle Andy
Ian Paisley - Bluster
Mary McAleese - Star of the County Down
Pat Rabbitte - Leaders Questions
Brian Cowen - Bull
James Connolly - Labour
Joan Burton - Tough

Information on future interviews will be posted at a later date. Be sure to keep clicking in to United Irelander for a firsthand look at Irish political life.

Previous interviews can be read here.


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