Dig Deep, Remain Steady: Mary Lou McDonald speaks to Dublin Gazette

by Rachel Darcy

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has urged Dubliners to work together to stop the spread of Covid-19 over the winter months. 

The Cabra-based TD also warned of tough times ahead and urged the Government to loosen the purse strings in next week’s Budget. 

She told Dublin Gazette: “My message to people is to dig deep and remain steady. These are difficult times, and I absolutely  know that people are doing their best.

“I don’t believe that this jumping up and  down and criticising young people is useful.  

“We need to talk about the things we  can do, rather than the things we can’t.” 

Blasting the Cabinet for cutting the Pandemic Unemployment Payment she added: “People have lost their jobs…  struggling to pay their bills. The budget needs to address issues of the real world.”

In an exclusive interview, the Churchtown native discusses the government response to the accommodation crisis, whether the correct decisions are being made for the wellbeing of the citizens during the pandemic, and what she believes is needed for the people of Dublin and beyond in the coming months.

On the Government response to Covid-19:

“These are very difficult times. Big asks are being made of people, I know people are anxious about their health, their welfare, their families, the health of their community, and I know that people are concerned about their jobs, businesses, their ability just to get by, and of course the ability to have a normal life with some level of social interaction.

“I’m very disappointed and angry, actually, that the Government has moved to cut the pandemic unemployment payments, and to leave huge numbers of low paid workers out of the employment subsidy scheme, that they have failed to reintroduce protections for renters, that they have failed to continue the mortgage breaks that thousands have relied on.

“I think all of those are critical mistakes, mistakes that will have real consequences for workers and for families across the state, and they’re things SF have challenged the government on greatly.

“I understand where the State has to do difficult things or has to make difficult asks of people, when you’re in the middle of the pandemic, but what I cannot understand is how a Government can say to people ‘look, we’re asking you to take this tough medicine, you can’t go back to work, or you can only go back to work in very limited ways, or you can’t reopen your business, but at the same time we’re going to cut the supports and protections that you need just to get you through what is a very difficult time’.

“I think it’s wrong, incredibly wrong. I’ve said that to the Taoiseach, i’ve said it to the government, I think they’re wrong, and I can tell you, it’s really outrageous that on the same day we learnt that mortgage holders are no longer going to get a bit of breathing space, a payment break, that we discovered that a politician from one of the government parties is leaving politics to work as CEO for a management investor lobby group.

“It brings into question this whole idea of we’re all in this together. it seems, as somebody once said, we may all be in this storm together, but we’re in very different boats.”

On the upcoming budget:

“I was talking to MABS, the money advice and budgeting service, recently and they have said that we are facing into what they have described as a tsunami of household debt.

“What they mean is that so many families are on a much reduced budget where people have lost their jobs, lost income, many people have been really struggling to just try and meet their bills. People will have struggled on 350 quid a week, now it’s cut down to 300, some others are looking at a lot less.

“There’s no appreciation within the government that this is the reality for ordinary families. That’s the real world.

“The budget needs to address issues of the real world, and ensure in very difficult times that we have proper income supports, proper investment in our health services, to ensure the huge waiting lists are gotten to grips with, that we have sufficient capacity in our public health system, and also, to ensure that we have a plan for affordable housing, that we start to see bricks and mortar housing, and I don’t mean co-living accommodation. They’re just modern tenements. There needs to be quality affordable housing for people.”

On the Accommodation crisis:

“I think the government are completely out of touch. It’s a matter of alarm that the government still haven’t produced their affordable housing plan. Minister Dara O’Brien, the Taoiseach and others in government told us that we would see the plan in September. well, guess what? There’s still no plan produced.

“They have persisted also with co-living, something that FF – before they were back in bed with Fine Gael – had spoken out against. it’s really really shocking that they think that anybody would think it appropriate that people would live in accommodation the size of a parking space. My colleague Eoin O’Broin has published legislation in the Dail to outlaw co-living, and that’s what should happen.

“We need to plan for rent control, for proper protections for people in the rental sector. Rent is still too expensive for too many people, it is still the case that a whole generation of people still will find it next near impossible to own their own home, so all of these things are what the government need to get to grips with.

“I see no indication that this government is any different to the last one.

“It is FG policy all over again, and that’s a policy that has failed people, not least young people – they have failed them disgracefully.”

On the coalition:

“The last few months have certainly been a test for the coalition. The hilarious thing – actually, it’s not hilarious so much as tragic – is that at the last election, FF and FG bragged about the fact they were going to keep SF out of government and they said at the time that they had to go into Government together to ensure that we had stability, a good government.

“I think any person looking at the government in the months since then, since both parties have been in office, can recognise that they have been wholly chaotic. It’s been an absolute shambles.

“It has been a shambles at the very time that you need steady, credible surefooted leadership. They’ve certainly failed in that regard.

“I can tell you that we need a different government. iI we’re going to make life better for people and we’re going to address so many of the big social issues that effect peoples lives, certainly FF/FG together aren’t going to deliver it.

“Because there is a public health emergency and because it would be so difficult to have an election in these circumstances, I think that is something that might give them shelter for sometime, but that’s not going to last forever.

“There’s a very strong team of Sinn Fein TDs in the dail, and every single day we’re pressing the case that policy needs to change. I think for everyone who came out and voted the last time, some people who voted for the first time, I would urge people not to lose heart and not to be pessimistic – there’s still every reason for hope, because I believe that the appetite for change that we saw in the last election is still very much alive and well.”

Her message to Dubliners for the coming months:

“My message to people is to dig deep and remain steady. These are difficult times, and i absolutely know that people are doing their best.

“I don’t believe that this jumping up and down and criticising young people, for example, is useful. I don’t think it gets us anywhere positive. We need to have a conversation about the things we can do, as communities and as a society over the next weeks and months.

“Very often the public health messaging, the messages from the government, are about what you can’t do, a list of things that we’re not allowed do. We need to change the terms of the conversation, particularly for younger people. we need to start saying what it is that they can do, and we have to have a sense of realism.

“We also have to have a sense of compassion and understanding for each other. that means we need to say to our young people, and we need to ask them, and we need to appeal to them, to stay safe and do things that protect public health while also giving them some social opportunities.

“I think if that’s not the case, if we don’t start saying what we can do, we’ll be walking ourselves into the worst possible scenario which would be that people say ‘well i’m finished with that’ and give up entirely.

“I would just ask people to stick with it, to stick with things – it’s hard, it’s not always going to be hard, we’re not always going to be living with these restrictions, but for the next number of weeks and months, we’re asking people to be careful and to mind themselves and each other.”

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