WIP Class Intern, Maria Kinsella Talks Politics, Leadership, GAA and 2012 US Presidential Election with Pat Deering, Fine Gael TD for Fine Gael, Carlow Kilkenny
What were you doing when you were my age?
I was learning to be a farmer. I was doing my green certificate. I had spent two years in agricultural college and then I did my green cert which is the qualification for farming. At this time of the year when I was twenty one I was probably on my farm placement in Tinahealy, County Wicklow. It was very enjoyable I have to say.
How did you get to where you are today?
I suppose it is a long story. Where do I start? First of all my household was a political house. My father would have been involved in local politics for over forty years. He was a candidate in one general election in 1982 and I would have been involved directly and indirectly in campaigns and I would have known what it was like and so on. Then as time moved on I was always interested in leadership roles. I was involved in the GAA as you know, at all levels. I first got involved in the GAA at administrative level when I was only about 22, looking after teams. I progressed through the GAA club structure as a club secretary at 22 or 23 I suppose as well. I took up club Secretary for a number of years. I became club Chairman. I became involved in county teams, I became involved in county board at executive level and moved up along to become county board Chairperson for four years. First of all Vice Chairperson for six years, then Chairperson for four years. I was always interested in politics obviously and then when the opportunity arose to run for local elections in 2009, my father was retiring so I seized the initiative and got elected.
First of all I went through the selection processes within the party and got elected. I would have put a lot of work in it to be honest. The election was in June and I would have been selected in March and from the day I got selected I was campaigning until June which was a long spell. Some people said I was mad but I personally felt it was worthwhile. I enjoyed it. Shortly after that, the party was planning a strategy regarding trying to win a seat back for the party within County Carlow. I felt myself that I had a reasonable chance. I had a decent profile from being involved in the GAA. I saw myself as having a good chance and in my own mind I was confident that I could do it. I put my name forward as a candidate. Five others did likewise and a selection process took place within the party in May 2010 and the election was in February 2011. The process of getting selected involves getting the members to support your cause in County Carlow. In County Carlow we have approximately 500 members and I had to convince them that I was the best person for the job. I set about interviewing each one of them on an individual basis between the end of February to the date of the convention in May. I was successful in getting selected. From the day the selection process took place in the end of May until the general election took place in February 2011. I campaigned prior to Christmas four days a week until it intensified, when the election got called it really got hot and heavy. On the 27th February 2011 I was successful. I suppose that’s the story.
Who was the most influential person in your life and why?
I would have to say my father. It was a political house all along. He always saw himself as trying to look after the people he represented, be they ‘gentle or simple’ as he would say himself. His motto was ‘politics is about people’. I would see myself in the same role. I’m often criticised at home for never being at home. They tell me ‘you are here and there looking after such and such when they aren’t going to do anything in return for you’. But being honest I would see myself as representing the people at all levels. That’s number one. I’m like my father in that regard.
In the bigger scheme of things I would have always been a fan of Irish history and in particular Michael Collins. I see him as my hero to be honest. My daughter is only twelve and would see herself as a big fan of Michael Collins as well. Recently they were all given a project to do in school and she wanted to do her project on Michael Collins. She was successful in doing that and she won whatever competition she was doing. They were two people who would have influenced my life.
If there was one thing that you could change about the Irish/Northern Ireland political system, what would it be and why?
That’s a big question. Any Irish person worth their salt would aspire to have a united Ireland no matter what angle you come from. We are all Nationalist in one way or another and there are different ways of getting to that particular point. There is a kind of a different attitude to politics in the North compared to the South. I am involved in the Agriculture Communication Natural Resource Committee in the Dáil and there is a similar committee in Stormont. We do tick tack and we go up and they come down from time to time. Interesting enough, the European Commissioner for Agriculture was in town there a while back regarding common agricultural policy. They were invited down and they learnt a lot from coming down.
Getting back to your question I would see the political system in the South, the proportional representative system, as the fairest system. I know the North is only at an early stage but personally I don’t like their actual system of governing. I know it has to happen to get everybody involved first of all. But I don’t think democracy gets the opportunity to work to its full potential. That is just my opinion.
What advice would you give to a young university graduate from Northern Ireland/Ireland?
Over the past ten years in particular that attitude, I’ll go back to the beginning. When I was your age your family was a big influence on how you would vote and that has changed a lot in recent times. For example during the local election you would call at a ‘well known Fine Gael house’ and you could be talking to Mammy and Daddy inside and you could meet young Johnny outside and he might have a totally different attitude completely.
What sort of advice? First of all I believe that our history is important and that we don’t forget our history. We should never lose sight of our history in particular from early 1900s and a lot of things have happened over the years that could be forgotten about and pushed under the carpet that shouldn’t be forgotten about. No matter where we go, and I know I’m getting away from the point to a certain extent, but we came through a lot of different stages up along. Certain parties would like us to forget about them and move on to the next level for their own political benefit which is fair enough too, from their own point of view. I think it is important that we don’t forget that.
What advice would you give in answer to your direct question? I suppose it would be to never forget where you came from. I don’t mean that in a smart sort of a way. Even though people are criticizing the country at the moment, we are a small country and a very proud country. Graduates in particular can do a lot to promote the country by going abroad, for example, like yourself. The perception of Ireland abroad was always good and I think it’s important that a graduate, wherever they may go, would not forget that we are a proud country and we have done a lot for ourselves and we have done a lot for the Americans. No matter where you go in America you’ll find some Irish person.
In your political career to date have you encountered difference and how have you dealt with it?
Politics is all about differences and different points of view. If there was no difference it would be a boring place. If we were all the same it would be very boring. The important point is you have to listen; take everybody’s view point on board. Pushing your opinion down somebody’s throat is not the best way in the world. I personally think listen, number one. Then encourage your opinion on somebody rather than force it.
What are the main challenges facing people from the island of Ireland?
Where do I start! It is a difficult time at the moment and unemployment is obviously a big issue here and the creation of a society. People here are proud of where they come from so we can show ourselves to people and companies abroad that we are stable, ready for business, prepared to roll up our sleeves, get ourselves out of the difficulty we are in and most definitely are not throwing in the towel!
What measures can be taken to encourage young people into politics?
First of all I think History and Politics should be taught and encouraged more so in national and secondary schools; perhaps as part of the curriculum. History obviously is but politics is left to one side. Maybe there is a reason for that. I remember when I was doing my Leaving Cert in Tullow there was a history teacher called Timothy Morriaty and he had a political view that wasn’t the same view as mine. We used to have good old debates whenever the occasion arose about whatever topic it was. History and Politics need to become part of the curriculum from a young age and kids in particular should realize what Politics is all about; what democracy is all about. Since I was elected to the Dáil last September I have invited every school to come to the Dáil to visit. They should see where the power and the central government is in the country and see what Leinster House is about and what actually happens there. It is amazing the number of teachers, for example, who haven’t a clue or who have never been there before and are totally over awed by the whole place. A crowd up from Myshall a while back and this young fella put his hand up to ask a question and maybe he was primed before he came but he asked “Why do you have to put taxes on houses?”
Generally the answer to your question is teach it at an earlier age; let them know how the political system works. Take yesterday for example (European Fiscal Referendum). Only 50% of people turned up to vote which is very disappointing and those same 50% will probably be the ones turning around tomorrow and giving out. I think no stone should be left unturned to educate people how the
What can young people do to make Ireland a better place?
In fairness young people do a lot to make Ireland a better place. Hopefully those who had to unfortunately emigrate in recent times will be in a position to come back, having learned a lot in their travels. The experiences that they have gained in America, Australia or New Zealand will be of a benefit to the country in a year or two. Hopefully shorter rather than long term.
Do you encounter much disillusionment among the Irish people today?
There is plenty of disillusionment unfortunately I suppose. When we are in difficult times people will get frustrated and disillusioned about different things. It happens to me as well to be quite honest. One of the most frustrating things from my point of view at times is progress and reform. The word reform can be slow. The political system, government, departments, are slow about change.
People are disillusioned when times are difficult and money is scarce and for example to see the people who have caused the problem still walking around free and taking advantage of whatever benefits are there. That is a big disillusionment at the moment now.
Do you think the GAA can help build positive relations between North and South?
Very much so. Having said that now, going back to the time Croke Park was opened which I think was a very positive move. The GAA scene in the North is different from the South. The GAA scene in the North, from experience, is a religion and the Catholic religion plays a big part in it. They are very committed and disciplined about themselves and I think the GAA down the South can learn a lot from the North from a discipline/commitment point of view. They can definitely learn a lot and can be a big help towards building bridges. I think it is happening when you see clubs coming from North and going South and vice versa and different tournaments and things like that. Some of the initiatives the GAA have brought out in recent times have also been very good in that regard. So i think the GAA is very very important building positive relations.
Who do you think will win the American Presidential election and why?
I think Obama will win. The reason why I think that Obama will win is because I think his opposition is not equally brilliant. Having said that I think it will be tight enough but that is one of the main reasons why. The Republicans have had difficulty getting a candidate. Romney I don’t think has the same flair as Obama. Once the actual election campaign starts I think Obama will be the man.
If you could invite four guests to dinner who would they be?
Obviously one would be my wife. Enda Kenny I have to say is a very good dinner guest. He is very very good with people. Obama would be very good and Michelle obviously. I think David Cameron is very enthuastic and would be somebody that would be a very good dinner guest.
What traits do you consider vital in a leader?
I would see the leader as the captain of a team, who has to bring everybody with them and has to be able to listen, take on board all the different views and ensure that the team is disciplined. He is the captain, the leader I suppose you could say. If he hasn’t got the back up behind him he is going nowhere. So it’s a team effort with the Captain bringing everyone with him. So one who can do that. That’s kinda the way I would see it.