With the Presidential election hustings gathering pace, Ireland South MEP and Sinn Fein candidate, Liadh Ní Riada managed to pull a pint, chat to a concerned dog owner about animal cruelty while discussing with several business owners about the economic situation in rural Ireland during her short visit to Birr on Monday afternoon last.
Stepping off the Sinn Fein tour bus, Ms Ní Riada was greeted by excited local party faithful along with Cllr Sean Maher. A seasoned politician, the MEP brought her experience on the campaign trail to the fore as she readied herself for a walk around town, umbrella under her arm in case the threatening skies about decided to open. Cllr Maher soon took the opportunity to highlight the many facets of “beautiful Birr” as the pair headed off across Emmet Square.
Venturing down Main Street, we stepped into a nearby shop where the MEP chatted to the owner about their business. “It’s hard nowadays being self-employed,” she heard as the pair chatted for a few minutes about the reality of the economic situation in rural Ireland. Leaving, the shop owner wished the presidential candidate well on her campaign.
Passing the pub next door, “Will we go in,” one supporter suggested and in they stepped. Delighted with the visit, punters inside happily chatted with Ms Ní Riada before someone jokingly asked if she would pull a pint. And, that she did but not before getting a quick lesson the art-form. “At least, I have a back up plan if the presidential thing doesn’t work out,” Liadh laughed as she headed out the door.
Popping into the post office, it was off out again heading down Main Street towards the Manchester Martyrs monument in Market Square for a quick snap. En route, I chatted to Liadh about the sorts of issues she is coming across on the campaign trail in rural areas.
Originally from west Cork, Liadh pointed out some of the hot topics on the ground in rural areas were “the cost of living and the lack of infrastructure”.
Further up Main Street, Ms Ní Riada and her supporters stopped into one of the town’s pharmacies to chat to its customers and staff. Taking a few minutes to have a look around, Liadh was asked what the reaction to her campaign was like over the last few weeks? “The support on the ground has been tremendous. It’s been very positive,” she enthused.
The conversation soon turned to how it might be nice to have a female president once again. “It’s long needed,” one person remarked before they wished Ms Ní Riada well.
Stopped along the street by a concerned dog owner, the MEP was asked about her thoughts on cruelty to animals. “I wouldn’t tolerate it,” she quickly quipped before brushing off the poor overwhelmed dog that was anxious to jump on those gathered around her.
Back in Emmet Square, it was time to stop for a quick photo with local supporters before stepping away to chat to the Tribune further about issues she is hearing about on the campaign trail. ”As a rural person myself, living in west Cork and as a MEP, the issues are very much the same in rural Ireland. It’s neglect. It’s complete dismantlement of services in rural Ireland and these are the towns I am talking about as well. You see that lack of initiative and proper investment.”
“And, I know from my experience in the European Parliament because I sit on the budget committee there’s finance there but it has to be drawn down and used. That is one of the things I would like to do as president is to hold the Government to account. It is not that you necessarily have the power to legislate but at the same time, it’s not about being a president who looks away from social injustice. I will never do that. It’s not in my nature.”
“I would use that power to go in and address the Oireachtas and the Dail, which in in the constitution that the president has this power and it’s being under utilised. I want to go in there and be the watch dog and hold people to account.”
Ms Ní Riada then pointed to initiative she would like to bring if elected president on October 26 next. “I want to bring in a charter of decency at work. This is for people, so they shouldn’t be afraid to join a union. That we would see more social partnership so that employers can be nominated for this award every year if they sign up to this chartership. It’s about dignity, fair pay. It’s about being able to work and have a roof over your head.”
According to the Sinn Fein presidential candidate, there are a lot of families struggling and “are one pay cheque away from a full blown crisis. That is not an Ireland that we need to be living in or creating for the future. I do think however, going for the presidency gives people the opportunity to take ownership of the future. Because in some way, when you do that it’s empowering. It’s about shaping and imaging what should be and capturing that. I am having great engagement with people on this issue. It’s a bit of a beacon of hope in that regard – that we can create a better place.”
Quickly adding she felt it was important not to “give the establishment what they want by continuing with the status quo”, Ms Ní Riada concluded by saying she believed “we should challenge the status quo”.
Back with her supporters, the MEP wrapped up her whistle stop tour of Birr, shook a few more hands and assured her local supporters she was “giving it her all” before heading off back to the Sinn Fein tour bus towards Portlaoise to do another “meet and greet”.