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'My thinking on social issues is really beginning to evolve': Lynn Ruane on her first full term in the Seanad

Independent Lynn Ruane has been an active campaigner on social issues since her election to the Seanad.

Senator Lynn Ruane at a climate change protest in 2015
Senator Lynn Ruane at a climate change protest in 2015
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

“THE STUFF THAT I work on in the Seanad in terms of social issues has always been there for me. What’s happening now is that issues around class, access and education are really coming to the fore for me now.”

Approaching the end of her first full Seanad session, with the chamber due to break for Christmas on on 16 December, Senator Lynn Ruane believes that her policies on the issues that matter most to her are continuing to evolve.

In the past couple of weeks, alone, she has spoken passionately about social deprivation, the housing crisis and funding for mental health services.

She told TheJournal.ie that, as the year has gone on, she has let the issues that brought her this far guide her on her way. She said: “Issues surrounding addiction, homelessness and other social problems are what drove me to third level education in the first place.”

Ruane was elected to the Seanad as the president of the Trinity College, after a very close run contest with independent Averil Power, which she won on the 15th count.

At the time she said that she wanted to “scrutinise legislation and be a campaigning senator“.

She added that “politics is very new to me, it might take me a while to get used to”.

When it comes to airing her views on issues up for debate, it seems that it is something she has taken to quickly.

https://www.facebook.com/lynnruanetcd/posts/336933860023636

Speaking recently on the Social Welfare bill, she said:

It is always the case when we talk about the budget, the economy and those who are most vulnerable that we, in these Houses, talk about the situation in a very abstract sense, which is what upsets me most.

“We keep going around sticking plasters on things while never acknowledging the gross inequality that exists or asking why it exists. No matter who has been in government, whether it was the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, the poor have remained poor.”

Education

Ruane told TheJournal.ie that, having worked in addiction services for over a decade and her background as president of the students’ union at Trinity, these issues occupied her mind from the start.

“Access to education is something that evolved throughout my time at Trinity,” she said. “I could see the barriers that existed to those from working class areas to access education, and I could see just how difficult it was.”

On the issue of improving numeracy in schools, she recently told an Oireachtas education committee that ensuring young people can access the help they need for these issues would “improve the rates of people from poorer backgrounds going to third level education”.

And speaking about the future of education, she was similarly unequivocal: “If it had been necessary for me to take out an income-contingent loan or if I had to pay for my education, I would not be in the position I am in.

Education is much more than filling a skills gap or creating new technologies. It is about opportunity, choice, freedom, and our future. Being in education, as a result of free education, my children will now go on to education.

“That changes the trend for the generations that come behind us.”

Social capital

In terms of what she has learned since becoming a senator, Ruane was forthright in how her thinking around policy has evolved.

The senator said she no longer simply looked at the financial barriers for people accessing services, but how the make-up of society affects people too. She said:

I’m now moved into not just looking at financial capital as the only barrier, I’m looking at cultural capital and social capital.

In terms of mental health, she has spoken using these same terms. Addressing a recent Seanad debate on mental health funding she argued: “Although services exist in communities, there is a lack of cohesiveness between some of the services and the community members.

“In more affluent areas, people have much more social and cultural capital and they know who to ask for help… People from the poorest backgrounds do not have that.”

As social debates around issues like homelessness, rent and mental health continue to remain prevalent, Ruane is expanding her thinking.

She added: “My thinking in relation to class and social issues is definitely starting to evolve. It’s driven by the same issues that I came here with but, with more time here, I’ve definitely begun to widen the scope of that.”

Read: Lynn Ruane: ‘I never had a desire to move into politics’

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Sean Murray

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