Clonakilty blogger, activist and former journalist Evie Nevin is gearing up for her next chapter, a bid to become a local councillor with the Social Democrats.
Her life is busy and full by any standards, as she and husband Martin also have two young children at home. Evie’s day-to-day life is made more complicated due to Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) a rare condition which affects her and both her children.
EDS is a group of disorders that affect connective tissues supporting the skin, bones, blood vessels, and other organs. Defects in connective tissues cause signs and symptoms which range from mildly loose joints to life-threatening complications. Far from being a fully justifiable reason not to get involved, Evie tells the Evening Echo that her EDS is part of the reason is putting herself forward.
“I’m very much one of those people who think if you want something done right you do it yourself,” she says. “As a woman with a disability, and with children with disabilities, I think there is a serious under-representation of people with disabilities in politics.
“I believe that as somebody who has lived on social welfare, being dependent on housing and waiting for housing and all these other issues that affect a lot of people in this country, I definitely have a different insight to what the usual demographic of councillors would have.”
Her illness led to her giving up her work as a journalist but also gave her experience she believes will stand to her in a councillor role.
“Since my diagnosis, I have been constantly lobbying and talking to the media and getting our story out - how there is no help in Ireland for patients with my condition. Generally, with rare diseases in this country, there is very little help.”
This experience was considerably boosted by the important role she played on the Yes side of the abortion referendum in May. Evie was a founder of the Disabled People Together For Yes group and campaigned passionately both online and around the country. It gave her confidence that she would be more than able for a role as a local councillor.
“After the Repeal campaign I realised I did develop a lot of skills,” she said. “In that eight months, I didn't take a day off. I was always doing something. If I wasn’t travelling, if I had travelled and was exhausted, I would still open my laptop in bed and do work. I was always creating content or doing something.
“The internet and technologies have opened things up for people. You can arrange things and have meetings over Skype, the Repeal campaign showed me I could do it and it gave me a real lease of life. It gave me something to focus on, rather than just sitting at home and thinking about how much pain I was in and worrying about things.”
Her confidence was boosted further when she attended a recent Women For Election training day.
“It was a one day course, Kathleen Lynch and some councillors came to talk to us,” Evie said. “It was great because it was really interactive and it showed us that we were all well able to do it. They reassured us that you can be a woman with a family and get involved in politics.
“For council work they said, you can pick the days a week to do it, it doesn’t have to take over your whole life but you can still make a huge difference in those days.”
Evie’s husband Martin was last year named Cork Carer Of The Year and it was important to her to know she could pursue political work without upsetting their home life with son Alex and daughter Olivia.
“It was really reassuring that I wasn’t going to be overwhelmed and could still be present at home and be part of my children’s lives,” she said. “I have been at home with them their whole lives, it would be a big change and disrupt the family and I think a lot of people are afraid of that. But we were very much reassured.”
With the local election set for May 2019, Evie has plenty of time to get the word out to voters about the issues that she is focussed on. Some are issues that are in the news nationwide but there are also key community concerns she wants to raise.
“The housing issue obviously is a crisis,” she said. “I think as somebody who is in that situation, it gives a great insight into what works and what doesn’t work. I think it would be good for people like me who to have representation.
“Everyone has a right to own their own home and there are things that we can do to help. We could use public land banks that are just sitting there, put them up for sale, let either developers or the councils use them. There are unfinished estates all over the place, there is room for everybody, we just need to get up and start doing something about it.”
Evie will be on the ticket in Clonakilty-Skibbereen and says there are plenty of local issues to tackle.
“Our roads here in Cork are a real issue,” she said. “My wheelchair was in the boot of my car and the roads were so bad the screws actually shook out of my wheelchair.
“I would like to make west Cork more environmentally friendly. Steps have been taken and it is great but it would be great for Clonakilty and Skibbereen to be a shining example of what you can do to reduce waste and plastic. There is talk of a plastic factory in Skibbereen which people are not happy about at all. It really goes against what a lot people in the area stand for.
“Another thing is that I would like to campaign for better accessibility for those with disabilities. West Cork is an amazing place with amazing communities and it should be accessible to all walks of life. Right now, we have serious problems in Clonakilty with our cluttered footpaths. People with visual impairment, those in wheelchairs and even people with buggies are having a hard time and some even avoid parts of town completely. We want west Cork to be enjoyable for everyone.
“Despite the local access group asking the Council to sort out these issues for a number of years, very little has been done. We are delighted our library is accessible now but there is still a lot more to do.”
Listening to her passion for her area, it is easy to understand why Evie is going for election. But why with the Social Democrats, the party formed by three independents in 2015?
“I think they were a driving force in the Repeal campaign,” Evie answered. “They are a relatively new party, and a lot of people aren’t very aware of them and their policies. But I met so many Social Democrats during the campaign and met Catherine Murphy our party leader, and they were such down-to-earth, welcoming people.
“They were genuinely passionate about issues and when I read through Social Democrat policies, I thought, yes, this is what I would stand for myself if I was an Independent. I felt it was a really good fit for me, I felt very at home with these people.
“What I love about the party is it is so women-driven. The majority of members and candidates are women and I think it is fantastic. They haven’t done anything to make that happen, it was a natural progression, because of their policies and what they stand for.
“I think they are trying to make things better for families. It is a party I genuinely believe in, I felt it was the perfect fit for me.”