As pointed out by the Independent.ie , 101 candidates running in the local elections are aged between 18-30 years-old. I want to get a flavour of how my generation is getting involved.
Most of Galway’s inhabitants are united by several underlying core issues that are blighting the community.
- The HOUSING CRISIS dominates headlines with figures for February showing that the number of people living in emergency accommodation passed 10,000 for the first time this year. The average monthly rent in Galway city is €1,260, which is an 11.4 per cent increase since 2018 according to the Galway Advertiser.
- Then there’s a lack of planning to address THE CLIMATE CRISIS.
- And of course there’s the infamous TRANSPORT and TRAFFIC issues.
SO WHAT CAN OUR LOCAL COUNCIL DO TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES? AND WHY DOES IT FEEL LIKE THEY’RE NOT DOING ENOUGH?
On a rare sunny day I sit in Cafe Express on Eyre square with Sharon Nolan from the Social Democrats party and a candidate running for the local council elections, to help me better understand.
She doesn’t mince her words: the problem is that Galway’s councillors do not represent, and cannot relate to, the people of Galway.
“A lot of the councillors we have now are retired, or they’re business people, or they’re solicitors and barristers. They have their mortgages paid off and children that are older than me. They live a completely different Galway than so many people in our city […] and no matter how much of an ally you are to a cause, if that cause isn’t your lived experience it will affect your perspective on it”.
With her shock of pink-tipped hair, matching lipstick and nails, Sharon ( despite being a “blow-in” from Roscommon) is every bit a conduit for the vibrant and creative energy of Galway. She’s also a renter, doesn’t drive, has worked various precarious jobs around the city, and has first-hand experience of the core issues that will likely sway voters on May 24th. She is, in essence, one of us.
“That’s all well and good” I hear you say, “but what qualifies her to enter politics?”
Glad you asked.
For starters, Sharon is a veteran activist, having found her voice during the Marriage Equality Campaign before joining Niall Ó Tuathail’s 2016 election campaign and the Social Democrats. She has sat on the party’s first National Executive and is involved with her local Galway West branch.
She is also Chair of Galway Pride and Bi+ Ireland Ireland Co-Ordinator.
And she was a vocal pro-choice campaigner during the Abortion referendum last year.
So she has had plenty of experience advocating for people who feel the odds are stacked against them.
Ok, but will my vote really make a difference?
YES, Sharon replies unreservedly.
Of course many people are fed up with toxic, old fashioned party politics. Most, after all, have had this impression of politics flowing between families so that “you end up building these political dynasties where if you have a certain second name you’re expected to go into politics through those parties” as Sharon explains.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
At present the Conservatives, Fine Gael and Fine Fail only have a slim majority explains Sharon – which could be overturned if Galway’s voters saw fit to elect a couple of the more progressive, younger voices.
“Local politics may not seem as impactful as the life-changing social change we’ve brought through #MarRef and #Repealthe8th, but having progressive voices in our council chambers is vital to continue fighting for change on local level. For ensuring we’re working on our housing crisis, to ensure that environmental action underpins all decisions, to represent community voices, and to have empathy shine through our political action while fighting for change.“
So what would Sharon do differently?
- She’d lobby to build more housing AND ensure said housing was implementing energy effective heating measures, for example.
- She’d petition to build cycling networks so that cycle lanes actually connected to other cycle lanes rather than trailing off (thereby equipping citizens with the means to go green and save money)
- She’d ensure that trained and qualified council staff enforced legislation to ensure that landlords and Air BnB didn’t exploit loopholes in the law, while petitioning for tightening up of said laws
- She’d oversee more outreach and engagements measures to include more diverse voices in the planning and development of the city, like local developments or disability inclusion strategies
- and plenty more besides…
What makes Sharon Nolan different from other candidates?
In her own words, what distinguishes Sharon and the Social Democrats from other candidates is that all of their decisions are evidence-based, and all their policies work towards providing good public services, transparency and equality of access for all.
Moreover, as a young diverse party, they take an intersectional view of society and plan for sustainable solutions that satisfy everyone be they old, young, of a different race, sexuality, religion, and abilities.