Politicians ‘speed dating’ with the public for better Ireland

Young people, environmental organisations, and others address TDs and Senators

 Alison Duggan, student at St Colman’s Community College, Midleton, Co Cork speaking at the Evidence Matters event at the Houses of the Oireachtas. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Alison Duggan, student at St Colman’s Community College, Midleton, Co Cork speaking at the Evidence Matters event at the Houses of the Oireachtas. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

In what was an unusual form of speed dating between members of the public and politicians, 16 citizens arrived in Leinster House to lay out their case for a better Ireland based on evidence-based policies.

Their stories had the hallmark of brevity; each speaker took just one minute to outline the issue of concern to them.

Young people, environmental organisations, artists, community groups and organisations campaigning on equality from around Ireland addressed TDs, Senators and Ministers.

They had different compelling stories but collectively asked that evidence be central to formulating policy, that Ministers use evidence to explain their reasoning and that the Dáil “ at all times seek and scrutinise reasoning behind policies”.

Accessibility advocate Alannah Murray from Virginia, Co Cavan told assembled politicians: “Policy changes supported by evidence is the difference between being able to go down the street without fear of bumping into sandwich boards and not. Evidence is the basis of our fight for our rights as disabled people.”

On biodiversity and extinction of species, Alison Duggan, of St Colman’s Community College in Midleton, Co Cork said: “I am 16 years old and in another 16 years, it may be too late. The evidence is not just important; it is clear and stark.”

“We have global scale crises across a number of areas: our climate is in breakdown, our oceans and seas are over-exploited, and biodiversity is in the middle of a mass extinction. However, the evidence also clearly illustrates that we can reverse these through our leadership, actions and policies,” she added.

Farmer

Farmer Mona O’Donoghue Concannon from Dunmore, Co Galway, asked people in power to consider the impact of the under representation of women in agriculture statistics on policies in the future.

“The most recent evidence we have shows that women account for 11 per cent of the farm workforce. Do you think this is correct? It’s not. It’s a lot more than that. I work full-time on the farm, but I actually do not exist when it comes to farming statistics,” she added.

Dublin Cycling Campaign chairman Dr Paul Corcoran said he had been cycling for the past 25 years. “In that time I have seen very little change in the way of safe cycling infrastructure.”

“The Government aims to have 10 per cent of all journeys by 2020 by bicycle, currently it’s around 3 per cent. There is so much evidence that cycling can address many current issues such as mental health, obesity, pollution and climate change,” he added.

Melíosa Bracken of Celbridge, Co Kildare described how her daughter Niamh recovered from cancer in her kidney and lungs diagnosed when she was 3-years-old.

“Her dad and I took comfort from knowing her treatment was underpinned by a wealth of research and we were over the moon when she was declared cancer-free at age 5. Unfortunately, we discovered Niamh’s heart had been damaged by her cancer treatment.”

Transplant

At 15, Niamh needed a heart transplant. Late effects of cancer treatments in survivors of childhood cancer is a new and under-researched area, it was much more difficult for them to access information about her needs.

Niamh is 10 months post-transplant now and doing well “but she needs evidence to make informed decisions, doctors need it to optimise her treatment and policymakers need it to make decisions on funding and resource allocation”.

“Evidence is essential so survivors like Niamh can thrive as well as survive,” she said.

Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley said the stories were enlightening and underlined the need for politicians to be proactive rather than reactive. The exchange “was so brief but so amazing”.

What was achieved in 60 seconds was far more impactful than hours of speaking, said Ciarán Seoighe deputy director general of Science Foundation Ireland which supported the event.

Síle Lane of Sense About Science said the idea of engaging with politicians was prompted by a “post-truth world” and fears that politicians would ignore evidence in favour of the sound bite in such a scenario.

Minister for Training, Skills and Innovation John Halligan, who hosted the “Evidence Matters” session, commended each contributor for speaking “from a scientific viewpoint”. He urged politicians to become informed and then deliver policy – and promised the speedy exchange of views would become an annual get-together.