Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Words on Wednesday...with Catherine Murphy TD

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

Having already brought you interviews with Labour TD Tommy Broughan, Sinn Fein TD Arthur Morgan and Independent TD Tony Gregory, I now bring to you another interview with a sitting TD, this time Independent TD for Kildare North Catherine Murphy.

My thanks to Ms Murphy for agreeing to be interviewed. With that being said let's begin...

What initially attracted you to political life?

I always had an interest in history and decision making. My Grandparents have taken part in the 1916 Rising. My Grandfather was interned following the rising. My parents were both committed trade unionists so there was always some sort of political discussion going on at home.

You are an Independent TD for Kildare North. Talk us through a typical day in your life.

The one thing to say is there is no typical day. When I am working from my Dáil Office which I do when it is in session, I work around my speaking commitments. I belong to the Independent part of the Technical Group so we divide speaking time, priority questions etc. When legislation is at Report or Committee stages depending on the subject matter I may make contributions. I deal with constituency issues, I also have a diary of events I have to attend and I will attend to press matters. I am supported in the Dáil Office by a Parliamentary Assistant and in my Constituency Office by a Personal Assistant. When the Dáil is not in session I generally operate from my Constituency Office. Constituents call and between us we deal with the issues raised.

You were once a member of the Worker's Party and joined Democratic Left after the Worker's Party split. I've read you were unhappy at the merger of DL and the Labour Party in 1999 which resulted in you leaving the party. Tell us a bit about this period.

One of the driving forces for me in getting involved in politics was change. I joined the Workers Party during a campaign on water/refuse charges at a time when we had extremely high personal tax rates and I felt the ordinary worker was paying more than their fair share. There was, I felt, little point in complaining if I was not prepared to get involved myself.

The Workers Party and to a lesser degree Democratic Left were campaigning parties where politics with a small p mattered, empowering people was a component of the political practice. I had hoped the political practice of the Labour Party would change with an influx of people from that tradition. Everyone who joined the WP or DL did so out of conviction unlike the Labour Party which would have much more of a traditional background. I felt I was investing too much negative energy with the mechanics of politics within the Labour Party particularly in Kildare and am more interested in focusing on issues.

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

I feel we have been too short-termist in how we approach problems and we need to plan. Physical planning is not enough we need to deal with resource and logistics planning in order that we both anticipate problems and deal with them before they reach a crisis, for example we have a school place crisis, transport planning needs to be a central part of our communities just to give a couple of examples. We need to stop the system of crisis management and start to anticipate and plan in the real sense of the word.

I would change the Health System. We have a unique public/private system that has resulted in Health Apartheid.

Would wish to build to get to a point where we build communities rather than just housing units.

What are your thoughts on a United Ireland?

In an ideal world I would like to see a United Ireland, I believe it should only occur by way of consent by the people.

Do you think there will be progress in Northern Ireland now as a result of recent developments?

Yes I am very optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland. There is a desire by the people of Northern Ireland for normality and peace. I believe the people have been ahead of the politicians for some time. There is no doubt tough decisions have been taken by the North's politicians and I salute them for that.

You recently had words with Minister for the Environment Dick Roche over lack of funds available to Kildare county council in order to improve the quality of Kildare's roads. Tell us a bit about that.

I tend to take an evidence-based approach to politics and have done some comparisons on the funding of local government. Rapidly developing area's like Meath and Kildare are playing catch up. Funding of day to day Local Government services comes from two primary sources, commercial rates and the local government fund (motor taxation is ring fenced for this purpose however Kildare is the biggest net contributor). While the argument was about rural roads it could just as easily have been about the need for traffic calming outside schools or footpath improvements in towns and villages.

Last month there was outrage when a man convicted of raping mother-of-three Mary Shannon was given a 3-year suspended sentence. What were your thoughts on that and does it concern you that these days criminals seem to be getting away with such soft sentences?

There is a lack of consistency in sentencing. Mary Shannon deserves great credit for revealing her identity and the circumstances of the case. Very few rape victims pursue the matter through the Courts, the example above hardly encourages others to do so. Clearly there is a need for greater consistency and that the punishment fits the crime. There have been calls for minimum mandatory sentences which I have grave concerns about.

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

- Health i.e. waiting lists, hospital bugs.
- Education, finding a school place and large class sizes.
- Quality of Life issues such as time spent in traffic jams - need for better public transport
-Childcare from the point of view of it being affordable and assessable.

There is an election on the horizon here in the Republic. On what issues in particular do you think the current Government has failed the people?

They are a hands off government. There is no commitment to build a good society, the main focus is on a strong economy. While its obviously important there are funds to spend, its essential that what they are spent on fits into a vision.

With regards to your own Kildare North constituency, in 2005 you took the seat previously held by Charlie McCreevy when you won the by-election there. Are you confident that you will retain your seat?

I am hopeful. There is an extra seat in the constituency however it will be competitive like all elections.

In your opinion, who will be in government after this summer's general election?

It is simply too close to call. That is why it's an interesting election.

I notice unlike a lot of your colleagues that you run a website which is very well maintained and is updated regularly. Do you think websites and blogs have a significant role to play in reaching out to the electorate?

In my constituency it's important I get a good bit of traffic. Issues I have been focusing on, for example Unfinished Housing Estates, Management Companies etc. are of major concern to people in the 25-40 age range. There are a lot of PC owners in my constituency. I simply see information as part of the service.

Where should Ireland be twenty years from now in your opinion?

I would like to think it would be less chaotic but still optimistic. We have an ageing population, I expect grey power will be in evidence.

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

If they're in my constituency, needless I would be happy to canvass for their support. Otherwise I can recommend a number of very good Independents who are good community advocates. Increasingly people are looking for those who are prepared to work for their constituency which seems to be replacing the traditional party vote.

What does the future hold in store for you?

I have no idea, a lot depends on the electorate. The outcome of the next election for example, if I am returned and hold the balance of power who knows?

Best of luck to Catherine in her bid to retain her Kildare North seat.

Previous interviews can be read here.


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