LIADH NÍ RIADA is a passionate Gaelgoir (the sort of person who asks ‘an bhfuil Gaeilge agat?’ upon first meeting an interviewer). A native of the Muskerry Gaeltacht in Cork, the mother-of-two has been Sinn Féin’s Irish language officer for the last three years and was selected to run for the party in Ireland South in September of last year.
TheJournal.ie sat down with the former RTÉ and TG4 producer at Leinster House during the week to discuss her priorities for the next five years, should she win a seat in the ten county constituency.
Over the course of the encounter, Ní Riada spoke of her determination to work within the structures of Europe to try and access further job creation funds, discussed the need to increase the appeal of politics to women, and stressed the importance of protecting Irish speakers’ rights.
But first, a little background…
“I’m not going to be one of those politicians that promises the sun, moon and stars and deliver on nothing,” Ní Riada says. “I think you have to be realistic about what you can actually achieve.”
If elected, the former documentary maker will be one of just 11 MEPs representing Ireland in the 751-person European Parliament. However, she says she’s determined to do what she can to help the country tap into much-needed job creation funds that aren’t currently being accessed.
She says the European Investment Bank (which borrows from international markets and lends to countries at a low interest rate) can “well afford to be giving us a lot more” than the €680 million received by Ireland last year.
“The fact is we are part of Europe — we have to put up with the fact that we’re part of Europe, and it’s better work within those structures,” Ní Riada says.
Things like the European Investment Bank for instance, you know, that has quite a large fund — something like sixty billion that we don’t access.
We only access a very little amount of that — why aren’t we accessing more? Because really that could be used as an investment for jobs.
When you look at that balance there’s a huge inadequacy there. So as an MEP I would be challenging issues like that.
Sinn Féin currently have one MEP in the parliament (Northern Ireland’s Martina Anderson) and if elected, the Ireland South candidate will join the ranks of the party’s EU grouping the GUE/NGL, which currently has 35 elected members.
She says she’s prepared for the “bureaucratic mechanism” of Brussels, having visited the assembly several times recently, including on a ‘fact finding mission’ with Anderson.
There seems to be quite a lot of horse trading going on in one sense.
So it’s how you network and its how you can influence people over there to come around to your thinking, and maybe come to a collective view, that you can then push for certain policies that would be beneficial to this country.
[John Walton/PA Archive/Press Association Images]
Ní Riada says she’s backing a proposal put forward by the National Women’s Council of Ireland this week to bring in a 40 per cent gender quota for Cabinet appointments.
You know, something had to be done because there’s a huge deficit of women in parliament, in power and in the Dail.
The political life — it’s something that I’m learning about — is definitely not family friendly, for men or women. Specifically, traditionally women would have been seen as the carers and the nurturers at home, and so it’s a huge wrench personally for me obviously having three young daughters.
It is a sacrifice that if I get the seat I’m effectively out of their lives in that sense for five years — except via Skype.
That’s not exactly family inducing — so I think there needs to be some kind of a balance that you can make it more accessible and more family friendly for men and women, but particularly women.
Despite giving a ‘yes’ to the idea of a gender quota for Cabinet membership, Ní Riada says she doesn’t think “anyone should be elected or put into office based on their gender”.
Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald (r) and a cross-party group of female Oireachtas members [Photocall Ireland]
As Sinn Féin’s Gaeilge officer and an ardent supporter of Irish speakers’ rights, Ní Riada says she thinks the decision of Seán Ó Cuirreáin to resign as the Language Commissioner last year was “a damning indictment” of the failure of the Government to implement language rights.
Where I think some of the problem lies is that there needs to be some kind of bridge probably created between the Irish-speaking community and the English-speaking community.
Ní Riada says there needs to be more coverage of issues faced by Irish speakers in the English-language media.
As woman from the Gaeltacht, services are quite poor.
I can’t conduct my business as Gaeilge. I have to wait forever to get a response from any of the State organisations to deal with me in Irish. It’s a constant — you’re constantly swimming against the tide to be able to conduct your business as Gaeilge.
Ní Riada was given TheJournal.ie‘s EU politics quiz before we finished up — three questions of varying difficulty on the history and workings of the European institutions. Here’s how it went…
You mentioned already how many seats there are are currently in the Parliament. What’s the number going to be after the election?
Well there’s 766 at the moment… After the election, I would think there would be somewhere in the region of 751 or something like that. [That's the exact number there would be]
When did Ireland join the EEC?
1972 [It was 1973, but the referendum sealing Ireland's membership took place in 1972]
And what was the last country to join the Eurozone?
The Eurozone? [Croatia was the last country to join the EU]
I don’t know.
Light-heartedly pointing out that she felt a little ‘deprived’ by TheJournal.ie‘s choice of final question, Ní Riada asked for one more…
Head of the EU Commission?
José Manuel Barroso. [Correct]
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