Someone else can make the sandwiches
A profile of Sinn Féin Councillor Pauline Tully
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Despite the sparcity of women elected to Sinn Fein's Ard
Chomhairle (2 out of 17) at the party's recent Ard Fheis, there
is a growing number of women increasingly active in Sinn
Féin and a number of women elected to councils or the
Assembly. Their work is not well documented or much recorded, but
these women are a reflection of new life in politics, if not
success in the long hard struggle for equality in this country.
County Councillor Pauline Tully, from Kilnaleck, Cavan, is one of
these young women, whose very election to Cavan County Council
reflects the challenge Sinn Féin presents to the cosy
consensus politics of local government.
between Pauline Tully and establishment party councillors is
stark. She is young, with no airs or pretences, genuinely cares
for the welfare of local people, young and old, and the less
fortunate in our hard, money grubbing society. She is a dedicated
republican who comes from a long line of people who fought in
their day for the republic. Tully is a thinker, warm and
approachable manner and in addition, a woman. In every respect,
she is the opposite to the corruption and conniving of those
self-seeking councillors who have allowed local politics to
degenerate into the cosy cartels which have run councils down the
years or who have left unelected managers to dictate local
Pauline Tully and Charlie Boylan are the two Sinn Féin
members of Cavan County Council. Has it made a difference having
Sinn Féin councillors, I ask her? ``It's only a beginning.
It takes a little while to get to know how things work, but we've
certainly begun to raise issues,'' says Pauline.
``The other councillors have all treated us with respect, but
they are wary of us, fearful we will take their votes. They are
watching us. If we raise republican issues, like the release of
all the POWs, they are quick to group back and vote in consensus
for amendments which make our resolutions anodyne.
``But we have raised some issues like the school transport
system, where the Department of the Environment regulations
stipulate three kids for every two seats on school buses. It's
crazy. It means children standing in the buses, which is quite
unsafe. We've called for these regulations to be changed.
``Then we raised the question of small farmers, who may get
charged with what is often quite accidental pollution. They are
brought to court and a minimum fine imposed of perhaps £30, but
then court costs are added which can be anywhere in the region of
£1,000. It's not that we condone pollution at all, but sometimes
it can be quite accidental. We've argued that minor cases of
pollution should not go to court at all. The fine should be on
the spot. Only more serious cases should be taken to court. The
fines and costs at present go the Department of Justice. Instead,
they should come back to the council and be set aside to rectify
``Housing is very short in Cavan, especially with well off
people coming in from outside the county to buy property. We
looked for the First Time Buyers' grant of £3,000 to be increased
to £10,000, and available to people buying second hand houses.
This would help local people to be able to afford accommodation.
The Department of the Environment has replied, however, that the
grant will not be increased. You'd wonder if county councils have
any power whatever, or whether we are just running things for the
Department of the Environment? We need the power to solve the
housing shortage in our county.
Pauline Tully is secretary and a founder member of the
Kilnaleck Community Co-operative, a voluntary group which has
drawn down the near 100% grant for social housing from the
Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. ``The council
provided the sites at nominal cost, and we built 12 houses for
older people and we are looking now to extend this to 10 family
units,'' says Pauline.
``We're also looking to build a community centre, which will
cost over £( million, which will have a women's centre; a day
care centre for elderly people who often have moved into the
village to be nearer services, maybe meals on wheels, even a
laundry; and then Information Technology training, which should
bring jobs to this area. As it is, we've very few industries
here. We've factories, but they are empty.''
Pauline is a secondary school teacher, maths and history. She
is unhappy at the way education is going. ``I am afraid that the
quality of our education, which is rightly recognised as far
better than the system in England, is going to be lost as the
Department of Education tries to imitate the very mistakes from
which the English system has suffered. We're throwing away what
was great in our system.
``The whole-school inspections, the very poor rates of pay,
the proposed assessment of one teacher by another, and the
concentration on `academic ability' as measured by exam results,
are all going the way of the English system and eventual league
tables for schools, which only serves to stigmatise schools on
the limited basis of exam results. Teachers can always spoon feed
students to get high marks, but that is not education. The
quality of teaching will fall. Teachers will be bogged down in
writing reports instead of teaching.''
Pauline is clearly a most committed educator. She talks about
the problems of children not staying in school to get an
education. ``We started the `stay-in-school' initiative, where
we've a homework club, more sports, lunchtime music and even
drama. All this takes place after school or at lunch times. I
train the camogie team. It's all to ensure that children get a
broader education, and enjoy school.'
As it is, Pauline is racing in between classes to fit in the
phone calls she has to make as councillor. It is a very heavy
workload. Every night there is preparation for classes,
corrections, and then meetings and representations to make.
As if this weren't enough, Pauline is secretary to her cumann
and of the Comhairle Ceantair. ``It's always secretary isn't
it?'' she says ``It's like the sandwiches. Someone suggested
sandwiches for a little reception around a commemoration. They
are all looking about them, thinking that I would step in to make
them. I said I wouldn't. `Well I suppose my wife might be able to
help out.' ` I could ask my sister, she might be able to give a
help here'. But all the men were looking to me. In the end, there
weren't any sandwiches. Old attitudes are hard to change.
``I think Sinn Féin's Women's' Policy Document is
excellent, and the Women's Forum is great, but some people still
don't understand that women have to get together themselves. It's
like Ógra Shinn Féin. But we've a long way to go.
It is only in the past 15 years that we have equality acts, equal
pay for women at work. When you think of Countess Markievicz a
minister, and then no woman in government for years. De Valera
put things back a long way. He was so anti-women, with the 1937
constitution and the woman's place in the home, all reinforced by
the Church and Bishop McQuade. We can't expect to reverse those
attitudes in a generation. It takes time.''
Both Pauline's parents left school at 14 and went across to
England to work. They returned to a small farm. ``There were ten
of us children, and things must have been very hard, but they
insisted that we get an education, and that's what we all did,
thanks to them.''
Consequently, Pauline is one of this new generation of
republicans, a generation which the old politicians of the
consensus politics will find a lot harder to put down.