*Roisin Garvey. Photograph: Martin Connolly
Twenty years ago Roisin Garvey made a promise to her then unborn son that some day she would run for election, that day came and resulted in her winning a seat on Clare County Council on Saturday.
It was the “appalling” condition of the health service when pregnant with Corrán that led to the Inagh woman making the promise, however she is dismayed to see no progress in two decades. my “Friends are having babies twenty years after me and they are going through the same, they are being mistreated like I was”.
Her success was the first time a Green candidate was elected to the local authority since Brian Meaney in 2009 and Garvey is the first female candidate in North Clare to become a county councillor. However she’s not happy with the amount of female councillors that will be joining her. “The news shouldn’t be it’s the highest amount in thirty years, the news should be that it’s an absolute disgrace we’re still only one seventh of the representation yet we’re fifty one percent of the population. Maybe the more we get more people would encourage to run”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, the forty five year old stated, “It’s not just about the gender, it’s about the person too, you have to have a strong neck on you, you have to really want to get in and be willing to work really hard to run a really good campaign to get in, you have to have the time to do that so if you’re a mother or a father of lots of young kids that is going to be a difficult task, the challenges of getting into elected office are not just gender specific but I guess for the most part women are the primary carers. Now lots of women have great husbands that can stay at home every evening to cook the dinners so the women can head off to politics but that’s not traditionally the way it is but we’re slowly changing things and it shouldn’t be so slow. All the young kids and teenagers are going, how come there is only three women in there, all the kids see it as ridiculous, we’re behind the next generation”.
Flan Garvey, her father was a Fianna Fáil councillor from 1974 to 2009, one Monday a month she would have to wait in the Council gallery for him at monthly meetings when her secondary school day drew to a close. For the course of the campaign, Flan put down the Fianna Fáil flag and instead supported his daughter.
“That was his personal choice, it wasn’t difficult at all. He played his part in certain ways, we’d lots of people playing integral parts. I had a social media guy, a guy helping me write press releases and really good canvassers, there was a lot of people integral to the campaign. You have to give credit where it’s due, I’ve been working and campaigning for twenty years, people say it’s the Green Wave or my father but I’d actually say it’s me and all the people that came behind me because they saw the work I have done in the past and they wanted to see is it possible to get a community activist who has genuine care for the people of North Clare into office as opposed to a big machine”.
She added, “I was the first candidate to use a flash mob in Ireland, we had badge making, seed bombs for the rain and lots of different things. Politics has to move on, it can’t be just about door to door, people are not stupid, it shouldn’t be if you go to every door you get elected, it has to be based on some of our previous achievements but not only that but our skillset. You need public speaking, PR skills, communication skills if you want to be a good councillor because your job is to communicate to the people. Let’s look at what’s really important as a councillor”.
On her decision to use posters, the Green councillor elect said, “The poster issue was a non runner, I tried to organise a poster ban but none of the other candidates agreed to it. I had to spend money on recycled plastic, no other candidate spent extra money on recycled plastic and all the posters I used are recyclable are are going to be used by the relay for life in Ennis which does great work on cancer research. As Kermit the Frog said ‘it’s hard being green’. It’s everybody’s challenge now, it’s not just the green party that live on planet earth, we all live here. If you’re talking about global warming or climate action on a local level, you’re talking about better water quality, better public transport, better public housing, less money wasted on heating houses, better infrastructure with regard to car charging points for the electric cars and you’re talking about better food quality, better prices for meat and milk, it’s a win win and I think people realise that”.
Regarding her prospects before the weekend, Roisin said, “I wasn’t confident the Greens would win a seat. Barry O’Donovan wasn’t long in the game, I’ve been there for ages but I knew going green might have been a bit of a disadvantage”. Now that she’s in the County Council, Garvey is confident of making positive changes. “Anytime you have an event you need a united parish whether it’s for a fundraiser or to support the local councillor that’s how you bring people together and that’s how you engage people. You get teenagers to help out putting out posters and engage with people, it’s really important for mental health that every human has company, no man or woman is an island, the more communities and parishes work together, the more you engage with people on every level. That’s why playgrounds are good for mental health, if you’re a stay at home mum and you’ve only had the baby with you all day there is nothing better than going out to a playground and meeting other mothers.
“We need to look at politicians and our role as a councillor to bring a more caring side to it and maybe that’s partly to do with the fact of the more male councillors to women. Maybe there would be more care in local politics if we had more women. I’ve been working with children for years and you’d be fighting for a little footpath or a cycle lane to give them a place to play outside a little bit more. It shouldn’t be so difficult, it can’t be, there is something wrong there. It can’t all be about the car, the carpark, we’re making loads of money from parking cars so where is that money going and can we put it back into other spaces that aren’t for cars but for people, let’s have park benches and playgrounds in every villages, that way people are networking, coming together and that’s how you prevent mental health issues”.