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Lone parent to ‘swap lives’ with senator

Single mother Andrea Galgey and Senator John Gilroy will see how the other side lives for a new project.

Andrea Galgey
Andrea Galgey
Image: Andrea Galgey

A WATERFORD LONE parent is to swap lives with a senator to show him what life is like as a single mum.

Andrea Galgey and Senator John Gilroy will see how each other lives in a project that it is hoped will take place before the next Budget. The two are currently making the final decisions about which production company to undertake the show with.

How it all began

The swap all started on Facebook, explained Galgey:

I left a comment on the Labour Facebook page – it was basically saying I challenge a TD to come and live my life for a week and see how they like the austerity measures.

Senator John Gilroy replied, asking: “Would a senator do?”.  “It snowballed from there. I was really, really surprised,” said Andrea.

I actually thought, on that page no one really comments on it. I was just hoping to go back to my friends and go, ‘typical, they wouldn’t even live my life’. I was really surprised he answered back.
The likes started happening on the page as soon as he said it. There were 500 in a matter of days. Then we started getting the phone calls from radio stations, papers… It’s been unbelievable.

Cutbacks

Galgey lives in Tramore but is originally from Dublin, and has three boys, aged 13, 11, and 7. Last year, her eldest son went into first year in secondary school, and it cost €1000 for his books alone, while her back to school allowance was €600 in total for her three children.

Though she considers herself to be in a lucky position compared to some people, the mum-of-three said that the little cutbacks here or there add up. “My kids are living in poverty by the ESRI index, but I’m lucky because I’m working part time.”

My child benefit has been cut by €1600 over the last four years. It’s an awful lot of money.
“Everybody in Ireland is terrified and the government keep putting out little kites. People are in fear, people are really stressed out and worried about money.

She hopes that a project such as this “might make people in government see that what they’re doing is wrong” and might influence policy.

Swap

But how will the life swap work? While the exact details are being sorted out, Galgey does say:

We decided the best way to work around it was shadowing. He would shadow me for week, follow me around, see me worrying about bills on a Wednesday night. A week is not long for anyone. If he sees my experience, it might have more of an impact.

Galgey is also part of the SPARK campaign, which is for “single parents acting for the rights of our kids”. They set up the group around the time of the last Budget and have a core committee of around 20 people plus around 500 supporters.

Galgey considers herself lucky, as she is no longer on rent allowance and has a council house, which means she was able to get a job and return to education. She is studying for a degree in community development.

She hopes this project will break the stigma surrounding lone parents.

It’s how much we go through as lone parents – we deal with the marriage breakup, divorce, loneliness, the financial end and then the rearing of the kids as well. There are the problems specific to lone parents. Financially I do know I’m very lucky to be where I am but still I find it hard. Each week I do find it hard.

Senator John Gilroy

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Senator Gilroy said that he agreed to take part for a number of reasons. “Politicians have a poor reputation, generally speaking,” he said, but added that he is leaving it up to Galgey to decide how things will progress.

While admitting that he thought the Facebook comment was “a bit of divilment”, he then realised, after a phone call from Galgey, that it was “an interesting project worth exploring”. “If it is done right, I can see value in it,” he said. “It needs to be more than light entertainment.”

It is always good for people to view how other people live – that’s always a good thing. You might gain good insights into that.

He also said that his wife told him that “it’s very easy for me to be a politician”, and that he realised that he can be a politician because she has taken a career break and he has the support of her and his family. In turn, he realised how hard it would be for Andrea to enter politics herself, which is a pertinent point due to the current debate over gender quotas.

Senator Gilroy added that this year’s budget will include making savings in the provision of services, which will involve cuts in social welfare, health and education departments, so it “would be no harm for policy makers as myself to be aware and reflecting over this”.

Read: Parents “cut back on food” to pay back-to-school costs>

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