UNDERDOG Holly Cairns surprised many people by taking the third and final seat in Cork South West in last year’s General Election. It left Fine Gael without a seat in the constituency.
Her party, the Social Democrats, have made a big impact in the Dáil this term, going from two TDs to six.
“People are responding to the type of progressive, evidence-based policies we are putting forward. The party is growing with new members joining every week.
“I believe most people in Ireland are social democrats, they just haven’t realised it,” Ms Cairns told The Echo.
She says most Irish people value equality and want good public services, where you can get medical help when you need it, housing that is affordable, and a good work-life balance.
However, this has been a year like no other, and for a new TD, settling into the job has taken on a different meaning, with little to no face-to-face communication with constituents.
“Being a TD is unlike any other job. It is an honour to represent my area and to try to give voice to the hardships that people have to face every day. The pandemic has affected everything. My party colleagues and others have told me this year has been so different to any other, so it is hard to judge the role yet,” Holly said.
“It was such an incredible honour to take my seat in the Dáil to represent the people of West Cork. On the first sitting, the chamber was full, with TDs and their families packed into Leinster House. Crowded rooms and big gatherings seem like a lifetime ago now for so many of us.
“While I will have happy memories of 2020 as the year I got elected to the Dáil, it is more significantly one of the hardest years for families, businesses, and society as a whole,” she added.
The pandemic, Ms Cairns said, is a “once-in-a-century challenge that has highlighted what is truly important and essential, but it has also shown up the inequalities in society”.
She highlighted an under-investment in state services and said it has become glaringly obvious that “women, who still are over-represented in health and caring roles, are bearing a disproportionate burden as professionals and parents.”
She also feels it’s concerning that the Government hasn’t learned from other countries when it comes to dealing with Covid-19.
“My sister lives in New Zealand and they are living with very few restrictions over there, the same is true of South Korea and Australia. After everyone has sacrificed so much the Government is too slow to emulate these successes.
“I was on the radio a few weeks ago with Aoife McLysaght, Professor in Genetics, Trinity College Dublin, who pointed out that the people of this country have done everything that is asked of them, the part that didn’t happen was the thing that only the Government can do: resourcing public health services properly and introducing mandatory quarantining. Families, closed businesses, and special needs students are all playing the price for this inaction,” she added.
On her accomplishments this year, Ms Cairns highlighted her work for those who are disadvantaged.
“So many different groups can feel voiceless in our society. I have spoken up for the victims of domestic abuse, new mothers and their partners, survivors of institutional abuse, the environment, communities experiencing flooding and I will continue to work for these groups and other causes to help achieve a more equal Cork South West."
Looking ahead to the coming year, her focus will be on a number of key issues.
“Firstly, the societal recovery from Covid-19. It is essential that hard-pressed families and small businesses are not subjected to the austerity that was pushed on them less than a decade ago. We need an ambitious recovery plan that aims for greater equality, supports local enterprises, and has sustainability at its centre,” Ms Cairns said.
“Secondly, the Climate Action Bill will be debated. This law is essential in addressing the climate crisis and its impacts with more extreme weather and flooding events. I am working with colleagues to have clear targets and greater accountability in the legislation, otherwise it is another toothless attempt to look green with little real impact.
“Thirdly, our abortion legislation will be reviewed this year, and I am committed to ensuring the will of the people is respected and the best medical advice is followed to protect the health of women and reproductive rights,” she added.
“Finally, through my work on the Disability Matters committee we are pursuing a rights-based approach to ensure that people with disability have access to employment, appropriate education, and suitable independent housing.”
Asked what her ambitions in the world of politics are, Holly Cairns said: “I just want to represent the people of Cork South West and to keep pushing for a fairer, more sustainable society.”