People to watch in 2016: Advocacy and activism

Education, disability access, direct provision and women’s rights will likely be on the agenda in 2016

L-R: Louise Bruton, Alan O’Neill, Ellie Kisyombe, Lynn Ruane. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

L-R: Louise Bruton, Alan O’Neill, Ellie Kisyombe, Lynn Ruane. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Student and equality activism

Ruane rose to prominence when she was elected president of Trinity College Students Union in February 2015. She left school when she became pregnant at 15, but enrolled in Trinity in her late 20s through its access programme. A strong voice on matters of equality, with a background in drug addiction work, she announced her candidacy for the Seanad at the end of last year, running as an independent. With three of the Seanad’s 60 members elected by Trinity graduates, could Ruane replace David Norris, Ivana Bacik or Sean Barrett?

Ruane is a hugely motivated activist, smart, articulate, and a critical thinker. Her preference for community over commodity struck a chord with students: “I hope beyond my year that if I can ignite that solidarity in students, that might be something that will carry on in my absence,” she said last February.

The ability of the student body to mobilise huge numbers to both campaign and vote in the marriage referendum in 2015 has alerted politicians and the wider population to the potential of that constituency. If Ruane becomes a student voice in the Seanad, she’ll certainly have the attention of the student body, and she’ll have plenty of issues to campaign on too, with a draft report on third-level funding proposing a loan system for graduates.

ELLIE_KISY_WEBEllie Kisyombe
End Direct Provision

For Kisyombe, 2015 was a disappointment. While there was plenty of talk about direct provision, there was very little action. The Malawian native has been in direct provision for over five years, and volunteers with the Irish Refugee Council on the End Direct Provision campaign. As a direct provision resident, she is barred from paid employment. Kisyombe’s message to government last April was, “Stop the suffering. Stop the damage. Hopes have been raised, please do not let us down again.”

As conversations on refugees and migrants were heightened globally last year due to the continued humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean via Syria, the plight of the migrant and refugee remains the plight of our time. “With the end direct provision campaign, the main thing we need is to end it, and to fix the asylum backlog as people are still stuck in the system,” Kisyombe says.

“I know we’re on the margins, and now there’s a lot about Syria and people being divided by other people saying ‘these are refugees and these are not’ or ‘these are this kind of refugee’, but we need to clear the backlog in the direct provision system and end direct provision.”

Will 2016 be the year where there is real and tangible action on direct provision? “We can’t keep quiet,” Kisyombe says. “We just have to keep pushing.”

LOUISE_WEBLouise Bruton
Access and disability

Bruton’s website, reviews clubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, festival, cultural spaces and more from a point of view of wheelchair accessibility, as well as giving an overall appraisal.

As a wheelchair user who rightly refuses to be curtailed, her articles in the The Irish Times and Buzzfeed have exposed readers to a new much-needed voice in the area of access. She’s currently putting proposals together for access consultancy for music festivals.

“When someone meets someone with a disability, suddenly everything falls into place as to why this is important,” Bruton says. “People’s eyes are opened and they see the aspects of society that don’t acknowledge people with a disability.”

Bruton has also been meeting managers of venues in Dublin keen to make access a top priority. If the first step is talking about a problem, the second is definitely fixing it, and Bruton is proactive in her approach.

“I want people to stop saying ‘no’, and start saying that they want to make a difference.”

Domestic violence/gender equality

The Men’s Development Network works on domestic violence intervention programmes, campaigns on gender equality, as well as working with the Turn Off The Red Light campaign, and the White Ribbon Campaign to highlight violence against women and how men hold the solution to ending it.

In 2016, they’ll be expanding the Men Ending Domestic Abuse (MEND) programme, and are hoping to see the Sexual Offences Bill passed before the next election, as well as continuing to promote the White Ribbon campaign with their ambassadors in the FAI and GAA.

“There are two messages to the white ribbon: ending men’s violence against women and promoting gender equality,” O’Neill says. “The priority is creating safety for women, and amending the behaviour of men who use violence.

“To back that up we need the engagement of the vast majority of men who don’t use violence to achieve this goal. Some men wear the white ribbon on the 25th of November but very few men wear it permanently.

“Wouldn’t that be a great message to get out from men? If you see men wearing it, it at least creates the sense that guys are becoming aware of this. That’s really important to us, that ordinary men start taking on that call.”

Reproductive rights

The X-ile Project is an online gallery of people who have travelled from Ireland to have abortions.

The coalition to repeal the eighth amendment is a multifaceted one, but as the momentum for repealing the constitutional ban on abortion grows, women’s experiences will now be central to the conversation, in a way that they haven’t been before.

For the broader pro-choice movement, the battle for hearts and minds will be won through the telling of personal experiences.

Established by five Irish women, the X-ile Project aims to put real faces to the issue of abortion.

One of the founders, Julie Morrissy, said: “We believe there is an identification problem between women who have abortions, and the Irish government and some factions of Irish society.

“Reproductive rights are a human rights issue, and women who travel for abortion are human just like everybody else in Ireland. These women are our mothers, friends, partners, sisters. Showing these women as the people that they are rather than a statistic is certainly key to our campaign, to which we have received an overwhelmingly positive response both at home and abroad.” 

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