Republican News · Thursday 27 April 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Someone else can make the sandwiches

A profile of Sinn Féin Councillor Pauline Tully


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.

The contrast 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 government.

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 the damage.

``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.

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