- 21 May 19
While still fully engaged with domestic issues like racism, financial inequality and Garda reform, Clare Daly has decided to join partner Mick Wallace in standing for European election. In a typically forthright interview, she tells Stuart Clark why it’s time to take the fight to Brussels with climate change and the drift towards an EU army top of her agenda.
Clare Daly is market researching a slogan idea she has for the Independents 4 Change party political broadcast that will air in the run-up to the European elections.
“It’s a 45-second online thing that we have to film ourselves, so I don’t think we’re going to get into any nuanced policy discussion,” the 51-year-old Dublin Fingal TD laughs as we settle down for a chat in the office she inherited in 2014 from Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan when he headed off to Brussels.
Daly could soon be heading in that direction too with herself and her partner, Mick Wallace, on the ballot paper for May 24’s Euro showdown. There’s lots to discuss, so let’s cut straight to the chase…
STUART CLARK: When did you decide to run?
CLARE DALY: We considered it the last time round when Luke successfully stood for Europe, but decided that there was a lot of work to be done in the Dáil still. At that time it might have looked like us walking away, so we didn’t pursue it. Since then, Dáil business has been utterly dominated by issues that in some way have a connection with the European Union – be it either Brexit or other matters which arise directly from the EU or where the EU is used as an excuse for things not being done. A topical example of that being broadband and the European Commission ruling that, as a commercialised service, it has to be opened up to tender. That’s put us in the situation where the Irish taxpayer is going to end up paying €3 billion, maybe, for a broadband rollout that might take ten years. When the ESB did pilots in 2013 based on the existing network which goes into every home, they reckoned they could provide rural broadband for probably half a billion.
One of the big EU issues at the moment is climate change. What does Ireland unilaterally need to do right now to combat it?
For starters, it’d be nice if they stop issuing feckin’ oil and gas exploration licences. We’ve got to cut down on our carbon emissions. The last available data shows the EU subsidising the fossil fuel industry to the tune of €55 billion a year, which is madness. We’ve 55 road projects planned at the moment but no decent investment in terms of rail. Sixty per cent of our stuff for feeding cattle is imported from Brazil and Argentina. The list goes on and on…
Unbeknownst to many, Ireland already has a carbon tax, which the Economic and Social Research Institute warns will have to be hiked up by 1,500% unless we reduce our emissions.
We need a progressive policy where carbon is targeted at source rather than some old lady being asked to pay double for a bag of coal. It also needs to be done in tandem with a proper state programme of retrofitting people’s houses to make them efficient in terms of solar or thermal energy. The debate needs to be moved on from “this is a battle to make sacrifices, to give up things” to a positive engagement about how we save the planet.
The biggest curveball of the year has been the emergence of Greta Thunberg. Is she a game-changer or just enjoying her 15 minutes of fame?
Talk about the truth from the mouth of babes. She’s incredible! I was crying listening to her speech to the European Parliament gathering a couple of weeks ago. She could teach the Taoiseach a bit of how to get to the point and just present your message succinctly and don’t be worrying about what you’re looking like or sounding like. Just speak your truth. It’s woken up her generation, which is key because it’s ordinary people who change things. We saw it here with marriage equality and abortion rights; the establishment had to be dragged kicking and screaming to a place of enlightenment. Hopefully we’ll see the same happening with climate change.
Mick and yourself are making your own election stand in relation to single-use plastics.
You can’t say, “I’m worried about the environment” and then pollute it with election posters so, yeah, we’re not putting any up.
If things pan out of a certain way, you could find yourself in the same room as that nice Mr. Farage. Is there anything in particular you’d like to say to him?
I’d say “hello” and leave it at that. (Laughs) I don’t imagine us being friends. Look, there are some vile racist ideologies being espoused in the European Union. The way you take them on is by exposing their arguments and their targeting of refugees and asylum seekers. One of the reasons people are looking to them is that the EU establishment has left behind millions of people who are struggling with greater levels of inequality than ever before. We were promised a Europe of harmony and raising standards but that hasn’t happened. There’s been a race to the bottom, a gutting of public services. Unless the European Union addresses its neoliberal policies the far-right are going to keep growing because the needs of the people aren’t going to be met.
If elected, what will you argue for in relation to the treatment of North African migrants?
That we need to stop supporting US wars, which destabilise these areas. Allow people to live in their own countries free from either military aggression or economic exploitation. The EU has signed off on increased budgets in terms of border security, but building walls doesn’t work. There’s been appalling stuff like sending people back to Libya whose lives are clearly at risk there. The Germans aren’t stupid. Them taking in a million refugees wasn’t a compassionate move; it made sound economic sense. In countries around Europe with aging populations, they need talented young migrants to come in and boost the economy.
I imagine you’ll have a few things to say about the drift towards an EU army.
More than a drift, sadly. It’s gathering pace very, very quickly now. Ironically, the departure of the Brits will accelerate the situation because they’ve been a bit of a stumbling block to that. Not out of any peaceful desire but out of a love of NATO and their American friends. Last week, the EU signed off on €13 billion for “defence research and development.” On top of that, they’re haemorrhaging funds from other budgets into military projects. This will allow troops common headquarters within the European Defence Agency, which Ireland sits at. We’re spending €200 million on a multi-role vessel, which is capable of carrying battalions of troops and landing craft and all of that. What do we need it for? Are we going to invade the Aran Islands? At the same time, our own soldiers and defence force personnel are being pauperised. It’s obvious where Ireland is heading.
What about the argument that an EU army is the best way to protect us from terrorism?
The reason that the world is unsafe is because the West is facilitating or actively engaging with going into other countries and bombing people and taking families out of their homes. To expect that there isn’t going to be some kind of blowback from that is absolutely ludicrous. Were you taken aback when a former female member of the Defence Forces was detained over alleged ISIS membership? No, we’ve been aware that quite a number of Irish people aligned themselves to ISIS. The West fully fueled and armed the jihad in Syria, so we can’t go blaming citizens when they went along to fight the good fight – even though we now say, “It’s absolutely reprehensible.” The same western governments who armed the jihadis are now saying to their citizens that went along, “Oh, no, you can’t come back here.” The West created this monster out of the Iraq War, which record numbers of Irish people tried to stop happening. The blowback was ISIS, and those supporting them.
You’ve been consistently critical of the Gardai who, of course, you had your own brush with in 2013. Would you now consider them fit for purpose?
Oh dear God, I’d very firmly say “no.” The Garda Representative Association held a press conference yesterday at which Charlie Flanagan’s claims that the force is now adequately funded were ripped apart.
There’s a picture doing the rounds online of lockers in Clonmel Garda station that are covered in pigeon shit.
There are still a lot of problems and a long way to go. It’s a bit like what’s happened with the Catholic hierarchy. The deep-rooted problems with the Garda Síochána have been exposed. In the eyes of the public it’s been undermined. There’s an embedded belief that things need to change, but the problems from the old system – like people being promoted on the basis of who they knew and played golf with rather than on merit – are deeply ingrained. And that’s the tone that’s set from the top. It’s been underinvested in terms of training, in terms of education, in terms of the guards on the beat. The list goes on…
What marks out of ten would you give the new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris?
I don’t think he’s been there long enough to start rating him. He’s… well, the best thing about him is that he’s been different. A lot of the establishment within the guards is very unhappy he’s there, which is kind of a good thing because one of the big problems in the past is that the leadership nominated their own successor. It dominated the entire promotion process and maintained the ‘who you know’ network. I think he’s broken that, even by his appointment. He seems to have that sort of blunt approach, which will have a bit of an effect.
I assume you watched the Maurice McCabe documentary.
No, I didn’t need to watch a version of what happened. We were there during all of it. Maurice is a great guy and I know what his family went through. His father, his wife, his kids, himself. I remember when he first came to Mick and myself in 2011 when we were only recently elected. He made contact because he’d seen me on the Vincent Browne programme about the guards harassing women involved in the Shell To Sea protest. Remember the tape with the rape threats and that? He’d been to every justice spokesperson of every political party – Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, the lot – and got a brick wall. From the allegations initially being made to our getting involved and Maurice becoming the people’s hero was a long road.
Have you spoken to him recently?
Yeah, he’s been in touch about the elections. He’s doing okay, thank God. It’s worth pointing out that even recently we’ve had people come to us who’ve had terrible experiences at the hands of guards, where they’ve been harassed for no good reason. Maybe because of, you know, a neighbourhood dispute or whatever. Realistically, any big organisation like that is going to make mistakes and do things badly. It’s what happens afterwards that’s key. When they occur and aren’t addressed, that’s where public confidence is seriously eroded. I think they’ll be more wary about doing that now, but I know they’re still doing it.
In a parallel universe where you’re made Garda Commissioner, what would you do to systemically change the force?
Sadly, before Drew Harris arrived, there was a huge rush to promote a load of people in that last year. A lot of those people are still there, so there needs to be further change at the top. I’d speed up the programme of civilianisation, which is underway but not going quick enough. We’re still waiting for the Minister to change the manner in which Garda protected disclosures are dealt with. It’s interesting that the Policing Authority, now that they’re up for the chop under the Commission For Future Policing, have been very critical of An Garda Síochána’s approach to implementing change.
As tough as the Garda Commissioner gig is, Drew Harris is probably looking at what’s going on in the North at the moment and thinking, “Thank God I got out of the RUC when I did.”
I think we’ve all been shocked by events there, which are a depressing throwback to pre-the Good Friday Agreement. To be honest, Lyra McKee hadn’t been on my radar but it’s obvious hearing about her since that she was a remarkable person. It’s appalling that it’s taken her murder to give everybody a jolt. You could say it’s sparked something positive but, for fuck’s sake, why did it take the death of a young woman to do that?
What did you make of the political wing of the New IRA marching down O’Connell Street 24 hours later?
It was incredibly insensitive. God almighty, that’s putting it mildly. I fully support people’s right to assembly and peaceful protest but under the circumstances it was utterly thoughtless.
The New IRA is already on the proscribed list, should Saoradh be similarly banned?
It never worked before; it’s not going to work now. We need to get to the roots of why these people are alienated in the way they are. We prefer to try and engage where possible, to bring people away from that path as it were.
Do they have any validity in your eyes?
It doesn’t seem to be up to much now, does it? It doesn’t seem to be built on what we’d call a defined political ideology at this stage.
They appear to have validity with a certain number of young people in Derry.
Look, it’s a reflection of the fact that many Catholic youths are alienated from society in the north at the moment. We know from talking to the Protestant paramilitaries in Maghaberry that many Protestant youths are totally alienated from society as well. They feel they don’t have a future. When people are alienated and disenfranchised they’ll go in all sorts of mad directions. We need to deal with the issues that drive people into areas like that.
Ireland has no history of embracing the extreme far-right, but you can’t help feeling that the conditions are ripe for a Marine Le Pen-type to come along and exploit people’s justifiable anger over issues like wealth, health and homelessness.
It would be very silly to dismiss that possibility. We’re already seeing racism used as a tool to divide Irish society. Could somebody gain ground politically if they did that in a clever, more skillful way? Maybe but I don’t see it happening in the short-term. Its chances of happening will be increased if it’s not checked along the way. It’s a responsibility of everyone in politics and all right-minded citizens to challenge idle racist comments. The appalling incident where the young boy in Waterford had acid thrown on him; that’s the direction we’re heading in if we don’t challenge these people.
Peter Casey is running against the likes of Ming, Anne Rabbite, Maria Walsh and Mairead McGuinness in the Midlands-Northwest constituency. Do you think he’ll get elected?
I don’t really want to mention Peter Casey because he’s just doing it for publicity. It’s a stunt that he pulled in the presidential election that got him attention and now he’s doing it again. It’s ridiculous that the media gives so much coverage to someone who’s contradicting even himself at this stage. When he gave out about travellers during the presidential campaign, he made the point that genuine refugees were great. They were coming in and doing jobs as distinct from the lazy travellers. Now in this election, he’s going on about ‘freeloading immigrants.’ Unfortunately, they gain an ear if people feel under pressure from not having a job or enough income to pay their bills. History tells us that we have to tackle those issues or we could veer off in unwelcome directions.
You and Mick are very much doing this in tandem. What if one of you gets elected and the other doesn’t?
If that happens, one of us will be working in Brussels and one of us will be working in the Dáil on what in so many ways is a commonality of issues. Both of us will continue to try and make a difference.