LIADH Ní Riada has admitted to overcoming initial ‘reluctance’ in returning to national politics once again after she was selected to run as a Sinn Féin candidate in Cork North West in the next general election.
Ms Ní Riada, who previously served as a member of the European Parliament for the South constituency from 2014 to 2019, is currently working as an Irish language planning officer for the Gaeltacht in Muskerry.
The former MEP has enjoyed her two-year break but is looking forward to getting back involved in politics once again.
“The last two years have been fantastic,” she told The Echo.
“It has allowed me to have a balanced view of work-life balance. I had two years off to reconnect with family and the community. I found the break fantastic in that regard.
“I was a little bit reluctant in diving back in, but I did say I would never close the door fully. I am working at the moment and I am out in the community which I am passionate about.
“You never lose your political hunger once you are in the thick of it. My time in Europe just went in the blink of an eye.
“I am now looking forward to focussing on local issues and trying to make a difference in my own constituency.”
The Sinn Féin candidate said that she gave her decision to put her name forward for the Cork NW constituency a ‘lot of thought’.
“It was a very measured decision on my behalf,” she said.
“It is not something you enter into lightly. I had two years to consider whether I would close the door on politics or not. The experience I garnered in Europe will be of very good use to local issues here.
“Hopefully, the people of Cork North West will put their confidence in me that I can do a good job. The constituency also currently doesn’t have any female representation in the Dáil and it would be good to address that imbalance.
“We make up 51% of the population so, in the fairness of equality and gender balance, it is important we have a female voice there."
The Cork politician will be attempting to become the first TD who is not a member of either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to be elected in the Cork North West constituency since it was formed in 1981.
She knows winning a seat in this largely conservative constituency represents a tough challenge.
“I am going into this with my eyes wide open,” she said. “It will be a very tough challenge as it is a very traditional constituency by nature. It is a strong Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil constituency. It has been dominated by those parties for a long time.
“However, I believe people are ready for a change. They were in the last election and it was unfortunate we didn’t have a candidate here. I don’t underestimate the challenge to take a seat in Cork North West. I am up for the challenge.”
The Coolea native has very specific aims she will hone in on within the large Cork North West constituency - which takes in a huge urban centre like Ballincollig and large areas of rural hinterlands.
“It is a big area. It is all about being active in the community. Planning permission is a huge concern, especially in rural areas. I will focus on the bread and butter issues that affect people such as housing.
“The lack of services in mental health is appalling and it is a big priority for me.
“We need to be putting more supports in place for all the small businesses that have closed since Covid. We need to look to Europe for more financial support in that regard. We also need to ensure the businesses that are presently open can keep their heads above water.
“Small business owners are so worried and they are trying their level best to survive.”
Ms Ní Riada is hopeful more can be done across all the political parties to entice more females into politics, while also ensuring that more systems are in place for politicians with families.
“Politics is a tough job," she said. “It is tough on both men and women, but it can be extra challenging for females. You are sacrificing a lot from a home perspective.
“There have to be improvements made with regards to childcare and accessibility. I think when you are a TD or a public representative you are on the clock 24/7 and that is tough. It can be difficult to manage everything and often families can suffer. It needs to be more family-friendly for both fathers and mothers who are involved in politics.
“It is important to give women a voice to ensure they are just as valuable in terms of what they have to say.
“We have to create that space for women to talk up.
“Sinn Féin has been very progressive in trying to attract as many women as possible into the party and ensuring they have a platform.
“Other parties need to also do this as it very much a male-dominated environment and it needs to be addressed,” she added.
The former presidential candidate believes people need to be held accountable for the increased trolling on social media, which she says is another factor deterring women from getting involved in politics.
“It can be nasty,” she said. “People can hide behind their awful comments as they are anonymous.
“I am lucky I haven’t had a huge amount throughout my political career, but it has happened. All politicians are trying to improve society and improve the daily lives of people and you are faced with being trolled on social media.
“If I see something that is not nice, I just block the person.
“It is human nature however to focus on one negative comment. It is important from a mental health perspective to block that person.
“Their opinion shouldn’t matter as if they can’t have a respectful conversation they shouldn’t be given any air space.
“I would be worried for the younger people and younger women who are interested in politics. They need more support to be able to deal with often negative and nasty comments.
“I am old enough and around long enough to handle this kind of stuff.
“I think people who consistently troll people and who put up horrible things should face some kind of retribution.
“We need to start looking at ways of being able to monitor it in a better way.”