What makes a likely entrant into politics? When someone describes me as being a politician simply because I am an elected member of the County Council, I protest. I contend that I am not a politician, merely a public representative who wants to use whatever skills she may have to benefit her community. It seemed in 2004 when I first ran for election as a non-party candidate that being a member of my local Town Council was the most effective way to do this.
My father had been a local authority civil engineer for most of his working life. His were the days of walking up hillsides to find clean water sources that could serve towns and villages around the country. It seemed like an attractive and beneficial way to spend one’s career. But I soon learned that service delivery had advanced somewhat and although I was grateful for my training in civil engineering, found my niche in the environmental sphere. The world had moved on so much since the 1930s and 40s that rather than deliver service, the crucial role was now to deliver the earth from the excesses that abundant services had brought. I specialised in waste prevention and treatment, improving water quality and renewable energy.
Engineers and technology are generally comfy bedfellows. But technology and society seemed to have a new relationship, and one that I was not always comfortable with. Perhaps it was easier to make positive change by advancing the role of good technology. So with qualifications and enthusiasm under my belt, I entered the world of consultancy, firstly within a large, well-established firm and later as a self-employed engineer. Some great work was achieved. Much of the European environmental legislation was beginning to kick in. The field of sludge management and its relationship to water quality was at embryonic stage. I was involved in researching and writing management plans for local authorities, policy documents for government and legislative reviews for the European Commission. It was fast-paced, exciting and all-encompassing.
I envy women who are able to dovetail babies and self-employment. Just a few years into running my own business, I found myself with a one-year old and expecting my second child. Guilt was my predominant emotion as I struggled to give what were always insufficient hours to work and family. I finished my last project whilst in labour, handed it to my husband for delivery to County Hall and, half an hour later, my baby was delivered. So draining had the ongoing effort of dividing my time been that self-employment was over, at least for the foreseeable future.
The self-employed rarely have the luxury of statutory maternity leave. So I temporarily buried myself in the delights of my little son and new baby daughter as I had not been able to do the first time round. We lived in a little house at the very heart of the pretty village of Monkstown, spending lazy hours each day throwing stones and catching sandhoppers on the shores of my beloved Cork Harbour.
A neighbour knocked at the door one evening, her arms full with folders holding a copy of a planning application for an incinerator proposed for Ringaskiddy. She asked me to help the community to oppose its construction. Confusion was my overwhelming emotion. Incineration as a technology has its place but was the proposal for Ringaskiddy the correct technology in the best location? In any event, my daughter was only six months old. Reluctantly I took the folders. Two weeks later, having worked through them both forwards and backwards, there was little doubt to me but that the proposed project was fundamentally unsustainable. I pledged my support to the community.
Thereafter began what could only be described as a crash course into the heroism of a community taking on the established system. It was 2004. Ireland was moving fast and bigger was better. Sleepless nights poring over technical information, holiday time lost, endless coffee mornings to pay for legal and scientific expertise, extended family services called in for childminding, new babies born, loved ones lost, new friendships forged. In that same year there was a local election. I was asked to run for a seat on our local town council. I had little interest in the political system and less in political parties. But I had tremendous interest in the beautiful area in which my children would grow up on the shores of the harbour and plenty of experience which might benefit it. I agreed to run as an independent candidate.
Ten years on and another local election later, I still sat around the Passage West Town Council table. It was a wonderful opportunity