Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Words on Wednesday...with Tommy Broughan TD

Tommy Broughan TDWelcome to this week's 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.

With the Republic's General Election but a few months away, taking my questions this week is Labour TD for Dublin North East Tommy Broughan.

My thanks to Mr Broughan for kindly agreeing to be interviewed. With that being said, let's begin:

What initially attracted you to political life?

Growing up in a working class/farm worker family I saw at first hand the struggle that families such as my own had to endure due to low incomes, poor housing and health facilities and few educational opportunities. The tide of local emigration to the UK and further afield also made me politically aware and determined to get involved and help to change and improve Irish society.

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

Monday, March the 5th, I began the day by listening to Morning Ireland and Newstalk, although I often also tune in to the BBC. At 9am I was in Coolock for a local walkabout. At 11am I held my weekly information clinic in the Darndale Belcamp Village Centre before heading in to a government briefing session on the new Energy White Paper at the Royal Hibernian Academy at 12.15. After that I read the new Energy White Paper and drafted a response to it on behalf of the Labour Party. In the afternoon I also filmed a piece for RTE's 6 o'clock news on the new Energy document. I was in my Dail office until around 7.30pm dealing with any constituents' calls or local issues, finalising my new leaflet and preparing amendments for the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Bill which is passing through the Dail this week. At 8pm I attended a meeting at Greendale Community School Kilbarrack and after 9pm I went to St. Paul's School Ayrfield for another meeting with the Ard Na Greine Residents Association. I returned to Howth at about 11pm that evening.

This summer there will be a General Election here in the Republic. How confident are you that Labour will end up in Government?

I'm quietly confident that Labour will end up in government after the next general election. I meet daily with constituents and the general perception does seem to be that people are tired of this tired government. People often say to me that 17 years out of the last 20 or 10 years in power is enough. I believe there will be a change and that Labour will be part of it.

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

We must abolish the two-tier health system. The current level of waiting lists are simply unacceptable as is the ongoing crisis situation in A&E departments. There is also an appalling level of anti-social behaviour and vandalism in some estates across the country. Too many widows and widowers and other vulnerable people living on their own are living in fear and terror in their own homes. I believe that the Gardai must be properly resourced and have a more community oriented focus to tackle persistent anti-social behaviour. The current housing calamity must also be addressed. Too many people across the country are unable to afford to buy their own home and settle in their own communitites. 80/90,000 homes are being built a year and there are still 3,500 people on local housing lists in Dublin North East. Labour in government will implement our 'Begin to Buy' scheme which will enable more people to begin to buy their own home.

What are your thoughts on a United Ireland?

I strongly believe in a united Ireland. In fact, it is already on its way in the economic area, for example with the Single Electricity Market (SEM) that should come on stream in November and in areas such as the Inland Waterways body. There is significantly more interaction taking place between North and South and the outstanding example of the all island rugby team shows what can be achieved with North/South cooperation.

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

We must continue to work along the lines that were first laid out thirty years ago by John Hume and the SDLP and which have proved to be the most effective way of making progress between the two communities. There has been a lot of success in Northern Ireland since 1994 and I believe there is more to come.

I noticed you have been critical of Minister for Education Mary Hanafin on a number of issues. What are your thoughts on her and the government's performance on Education?

All children should have equality of educational opportunity. However, Minister Hanafin and her predecessor have done little to achieve this critical objective. Primary class sizes in Irish primary schools are the second highest in the EU and too many children are forced to learn in classes of 28 plus. Minister Hanafin is also failing to put the resources in place to eliminate waiting lists for children with autism and special needs. I welcome the new emphasis on 4th level education but we need to ensure that there is a firm foundation at first and second level for all the children in the country.

You are Labour's Spokesperson on Communications. What are your thoughts on the broadband services available in this country?

Broadband rollout under Minister Dempsey has been an absolute disaster. We were supposed to have 500,000 lines supplied by mid-2004 and we are only starting to approach that target now nearly three years later. Last November's Eurostat survey reported that at just 13% Ireland had one of the lowest household broadband connection rates of the EU 25. Only Cyprus (12%), Slovakia (11%) and Greece (4%) performed worse, while the Netherlands achieved 66%.

This is having a serious effect on too many families and local communities across the country. I was recently contacted by residents in Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny, for example, who are desperate for broadband services for their area. Over 150 local Kilmoganny residents signed a petition and forwarded it to Eircom to urge the company to upgrade the Kilmoganny Telephone Exchange and provide essential broadband services. Yet Minister Dempsey has as yet failed to bring forward his promised replacement for the rural Group Broadband Scheme, or his proposals to achieve the 100% broadband enablement of the country as has long been the case in Northern Ireland.

You were first elected as a TD for Dublin North East in 1992 and you've managed to hold on to your seat ever since. Do you anticipate a tough battle for your seat this year and are you confident of being re-elected once more?

It will be very tough in Dublin North East this time round, as it always is. This will be my 7th election campaign, and my 5th for the Dail and it has always been a battle. It is a three seater constituency which currently has two Fianna Fail T.D.s and myself representing Labour. There will be a major challenge from Fine Gael and Sinn Fein and I also think that we shouldn't underestimate the Greens.

From talking to your constituents, what are you finding their biggest concerns to be?

Health, policing and anti-social behaviour, housing, planning and facilities in the new city of the North Fringe in Dublin North East and public transport are constantly being raised on the doorsteps with me.

What do you think will constitute success for Labour in this election? How many seats would you expect the party to pick up?

Success in this election would be achieving 28 to 35 seats. I'm looking for a gain of at least 7 seats to 28 Labour T.D.s in Dail Eireann.

How do you think Sinn Féin will do in this year's election?

Going by the polls of the past three or four years, they should get about eight seats.

What would another term of Fianna Fáil and the PDs mean for Ireland?

More of the same. They have been a wasteful, turgid government and have squandered much of the gains of the boom. They lack ambition and vision for Ireland and are years behind on roads, public transport, energy, communications and broadband. I agree with the recent slogan used by the nurses protesting at Minister Harney's policies, "A third term for Fianna Fail/PDs? No way."

What do you hope Ireland to be like twenty years from now?

An island at peace with itself, and with perhaps seven million inhabitants. It should be a high quality knowledge economy with a lot of our energy being produced from indigenous renewable energy sources. I hope for well planned cities and towns and good public transport infrastructure and that all of the newcomers who have arrived into Ireland since the late 1990s will be well integrated. The precious rural environment and our large seas should be well protected and cherished. I hope 2027 will also see a Labour/SDLP government in its second or third term.

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

It's time to make a change. I believe that a change towards Labour and its allies would establish a new government that person for person will be better and more committed. We have a vision of a fairer Ireland with a stronger sense of society and community support for each other.

What does the future hold in store for you?

In local government I led the Rainbow Civic Alliance (at Dublin City Council) for eight years. Unfortunately, it had little power though there were many achievements where the City Manager followed the agenda of Labour, Fine Gael, the Greens, Workers' Party/Democratic Left. After ten years in opposition I'd like to be in government. If the electors of Dublin North East decide against sending me back (as is their prerogative) I'll happily return to my former work in education and my ongoing interest in local development and small business.

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:

Bertie Ahern - Turf Accountant
Enda Kenny - Mayo
Pat Rabbitte - Order of Business
Mary Hanafin - Form Teacher
Michael McDowell - Gonzaga
Labour - Family
Fianna Fáil - New Money
Fine Gael - Old Money
Sinn Féin - 1970s
Tommy Broughan - Northside

Best of luck to Tommy in his bid to retain his Dublin North East seat.

Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews. Previous interviews can be read here.


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