For just over four years now I have been working in Leinster House as a Parliamentary Assistant to an Opposition TD. I started towards the end of the 31st Dáil, was Director of Elections during the General Election 2016 and then was offered a new contract at the start of the 32nd Dáil. Alot of people don’t realise that we are on fixed term contracts, our jobs are tied to our TDs or Senators, if they are not re-elected or decide not to run again then our jobs are gone too. When there is disquiet in the Dáil and election speculation starts we often wonder about our own jobs. But I don’t think many of us would change it at all. We are all there because we believe in what we are doing and certainly for myself, it is about wanting to help change things for the better for everyone in Ireland.
Having worked in the not-for-profit sector for many years, I became more interested in the policy side of things and how national politics impacted on the lives of people around us, the people we worked with, our peers and colleagues. Luckily, I was successful in an open competition and the learning began, with a goal of potentially running myself some day.
Working in the Dáil means that I am already working on legislation, I am submitting Parliamentary Questions, Topical Issues, amendments to legislation, drafting legislation, drafting and submitting Private Members’ Motions, working on Private Members’ Bills, research, speech writing, communications, representing my Deputy at briefings and meetings and participating in those meetings. I have learnt so much and would be able to hit the ground running if I was elected to the Seanad as one of your NUI Senators. Essentially I am doing much of the work that I would already be doing as a Senator, just not delivering the speeches or having work in my own name. I was delighted to be invited to take part in the inaugural Danielle Carroll Summer School in July 2018 & also joined a number of other panels during 2018 as a speaker. It is not uncommon for Parliamentary Assistants to run for office themselves and recent successful examples in Ireland are Averil Power and Minister for Health, Simon Harris. We work so closely with our TDs, Senators and others that we know the inner workings of Leinster House, we know what is expected of elected representatives and understand the process in progressing a piece of legislation from inception (initial research and drafting) to, hopefully, a Bill which becomes an Act. Some Opposition TDs and Senators have had great success with Private Members’ Bill during this 32nd Dáil, including Deputy Thomas Pringle’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018.
As the Citizens’ Assembly began to wrap-up during the summer of 2017, I started ‘Oireachtas Staff For Choice’ to reach out to other staff in and around the Oireachtas who might need a safe and supportive space in the onslaught of anti-choice contact, the protests at the gates of Leinster House (the ICBR were particularly bad). I guessed that statistically there was no way that I was the only staff member there who had been forced to travel to the UK for abortion care and that others would definitely know someone who had been forced to travel. When Deputy Brid Smith shared her own story I dropped her in a brownie, gave her a hug and told her that I had travelled to. I thanked her for her bravery in speaking out because I knew what abuse she would get from the other side. Seeing Deputy Catherine Murphy or Deputy Clare Daly around Leinster House during the meetings of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment made me feel like I was in the midst of history even though all of my repeal work was, and is, outside of work hours and my activism is something that I do on my own time. The Oireachtas Staff For Choice became a great resource for support and we had many lunches, debriefs and ‘heads up the protestors are outside’ and I really appreciate the people, from all parties and none, who came together to support each other through difficult times.
I have learnt so much over the past four years, am already working on legislation day in and day out and I would love the opportunity to represent NUI graduates in Seanad Éireann. Make sure you are registered to vote in any upcoming election by getting your registration form in to the NUI office before the 26th of February. Use your voice, use your vote.