The challenges we now face are collective and require a collective response. Each individual will have particular strengths and vulnerabilities, but it is when we work together that we are most effective.
This is something many already knew. The young climate activists across the world, who are calling for system change. The public, who sent a strong message that the housing crisis which cannot be left to market forces. The women who have placed their stories alongside each other to demand equality.
However, the importance of social solidarity and collective action has never been clearer than in recent weeks, as people in Galway and across the globe face the COVID-19 pandemic together.
I was visiting NUI Galway last week when the shutdown was announced and I was struck by how many reached out to me as their NUI Senator to express concern for other people. Students asked about job security for staff, staff worried about costs for students already facing high rents, people with disabilities spoke to me about pay for their personal assistants. And young person after young person spoke about their concern for older people who might be affected by the virus.
Community groups have sprung up across the country to support those in isolation. Many people have made hard decisions to keep children at a distance from their grandparents.
In the coronavirus crisis, our older citizens may be particularly vulnerable, however we are also facing a climate crisis where the youngest are most vulnerable and have least access to decision-making power. A spirit of inter-generational solidarity should guide our response to both these threats.
Social protection is another important expression of social solidarity and it is essential that older people, families and those in precarious employment get access to supports they need at this time.
We all share a deep appreciation for the doctors, nurses and other professionals in our public hospitals who are at the frontline. As a recruitment drive gets underway, it is important that we do not continue the unfair conditions and unequal pay that caused so many to drop out of our health service in the past. We need to listen to our public servants.
Times like this underscore the importance of a public health service which can prioritise need over profit. At EU level, some fiscal rules may need to change so governments can respond speedily and effectively to this crisis and countries must be supported to strengthen the resilience of their public services to future shocks such as climate change.
When I was elected to Seanad Éireann in 2016, I promised to bring care into the heart of political decision-making. I have been true to that commitment by supporting lone parents and pension equality, winning protections for animals and nature and paying close attention to legislative detail. I have also campaigned for better pay and conditions for those working in care and early years education.
Care is underfunded and undervalued, yet as we see now, it can make the difference in the life and health of those we love. Workers in this area should be respected and rewarded and, when we emerge from this crisis, we must invest in care as essential social infrastructure and quality employment.
Galway as global leaders in medtech
We are fortunate to have medical technology companies in the west of Ireland that play a crucial role in the global response to coronavirus. Aerogan make nebulisers, Aquila produce anti-viral wipes and Medtronic manufacture many of the world’s ventilators from their base in Mervue.
In a pandemic, the state must be more then a customer to these companies. I’ve called on Government to proactively support increased production of lifesaving equipment. While many working in these factories are already going above and beyond, further resources will be needed in the weeks ahead. Ireland has skilled workers who could be redeployed in this area and accelerating and adapting supply chains will also be crucial.
Increased availability of ventilators will be important for our own hospitals and those in other countries. This is one practical way Ireland, and Galway, can show global leadership.
There are important decisions ahead in the short, medium and long term. We need to plan for the renewal of our society and economy in a way that is more equal and sustainable. Who you choose as your public representative really matters.
Not enough people have a vote in the NUI Seanad elections, but if you have one, please use it to vote Alice-Mary Higgins Number 1.
I am seeking re-election as a progressive, independent Senator with a track record on equality, environment and human rights, a proven ability to win legislative change and a deep commitment to collective action.
Since I can no longer call to your door, I invite you to read about my work and vision at www.alicemaryhiggins.ie Ballot papers can be posted using freepost envelope. Deadline for receipt is 11am March 31.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins is from Galway and is seeking re-election as a progressive voice for equality and environment on the NUI Panel for Seanad Éireann