John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) interview Dr. Anne McCloskey (AM) via telephone from Shantallow about her candidacy as an Independent in the Assembly Election held in The North of Ireland on Thursday. Thanks as always to TPQ transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
7 May 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 32:15)
MG: Our next guest is Dr. Anne McCloskey. Now Eamonn, one of the headlines said he's been trying for a seat for fifty years, Dr. Anne McCloskey is a doctor in Shantallow. She is on the line. She actually ran for the first time and we're going to ask her why in order to support her constituents why she thought it was important to enter a race in which her opponents would not only include Eamonn McCann but they would include Martin McGuinness, they would include Colum Eastwood, the head of the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) – Martin McGuinness of course is Deputy First Minister – they would include the formidable party machines of both Sinn Féin and the SDLP and she went right to the end nearly winning a seat and is to be congratulated for that. Dr. McCloskey, are you with us?
AM: Hi, Martin. I am indeed.
MG: Okay, Dr. McCloskey, and of course if you had won that would have dealt with one of the issues - the fact that there are no women representing that constituency of Doire - but I want to ask you as a medical doctor as somebody who – not like Phil Flanagan was talking about how he's now unemployed because he lost his seat - what are the issues that inspired you to run and seek election and go through all the door-to-door canvassing that you have to do to win a seat in Doire or win an election in The North of Ireland?
AM: Yeah - it's certainly been some journey. I work and have worked for the last twenty-five years as a GP in Shantallow Health Center in Doire. It's one of the most socioeconomically deprived regions of the town. We have sixty percent child poverty – it's a very high rate. As you know, Doire is one of the 'unemployment black spots' of these islands. It's got double the unemployment rate of any other region in The Six Counties. Where I work I see every day the real effect that the policies made in Stormont, and increasingly in Westminster and in Brussels, these unjust policies have on people's lives and well-being and, particularly, their mental health. You cannot possibly work and try and help people whenever they live in a place which is discriminated against. Doire, no matter what index of socioeconomic deprivation that you would use to measure Doire is way up there. We don't have a single mile of dual carriageway between Doire or Belfast or Dublin. We're the only city on these islands of similar size that doesn't have a university. We don't have any factories. We get hanging baskets and empty promises from the politicians and really, I felt it was time that something – that I made a stand on behalf of my patients – on behalf of the marginalised and disenfranchised in society. And the fact that Eamonn got elected and Kathleen Bradley, as an independent - there were something like eight thousand first preference votes not for the big parties so obviously there's an appetite among the ordinary people for change. And I have to congratulate Eamonn. He is a class act. I loved The Internationale at the end of his speech. It was something else, you know?
MG: Dr. McCloskey, one of the issues that you were campaigning on was that you thought, running on an independent, you'd be able to promote the objective of a united Ireland and get away from some of the discriminatory policies that underline the fact why in a Nationalist city like Doire you don't get the economic development, you don't get the resources that might be reserved for some other areas. How were you intending to do that if you were elected?
AM: Well, I mean the Six County state was - normal politics can't really work here. You have a state set up around, or two states, set up around an imaginary line across our country based around a sectarian headcount and within the Six County state you have these implacable two opposing power blocs and they can't deliver for people because a benefit for one is seen as a loss for the other. Whereas usually in independent models you can be there and work directly on issues so that even though I might disagree with somebody on the national question I can certainly cooperate with them around health or around welfare or around getting a children's play park – you know whatever the issues are you can work and set up alliances outside of those sectarian power blocs. And certainly a united Ireland will only come by consent but I think by people actually working together, and Eamonn's saying a lot of these things, too, people working together from the ground up will progress that vision. If you want to get the country united you first of all unite the working class people and make them see that their interests are the same. So it's an interesting model. And certainly, although while I didn't get elected yesterday, we gave it a good run and we're not going away – we'll certainly be there for the long run. In Doire City Council there are independent councillors who are doing trojan work exposing the corruption and cronyism that passes for governance in this country and they've really shone the light into the dark corners. These parties just cover one another and they're playing games with us so the independent voice and the independent model of politics is desperately important.
MG: One of the issues that I know that you've expressed concern about is that of Tony Taylor. Tony Taylor is a Republican, he lives in Doire, he had served a sentence and then was out on licence as they call it - or parole as we term it here in the United States – and he was suddenly returned to gaol, he's not being told how long he has to stay there and he doesn't get any sort of independent hearing. His lawyers, or solicitors, are not told what evidence they have against him, why he was put back in gaol and I know that's one of the issues that you've campaigned about. What can you tell us about that issue?
AM: Well I know Tony personally; I know his wife, Lorraine, very well. He's a patient of mine – and I'm allowed to say this so this isn't breaking confidentiality so I know him and his family. Tony is an unrepentant Republican and he's absolutely entitled to his political views – that he was arrested when he was out on a family day out with his wife and children and taken away without any shred of evidence or any reason even being given - that's not justice and it is internment again by another name. There are obviously hundreds of ex-prisoners out on licence here and if it can happen to Tony it can happen to any one of them and I think it sends a very poor message about justice and the rule of law in this state.
MG: Now you are campaigning to go into Stormont. I know John McDonagh, my co-host, and I we have both campaigned both for Peggy O'Hara in 2007 in Doire and she was going to, if elected, she was not going to take her seat – she was going to be on an abstentionist platform, to try and discredit the system whereas Gerry McGeough, I worked on his campaign also, he was intending to go into Stormont and highlight issues of injustice, highlight issues of poverty and discrimination and try and discredit the parliament in that fashion. What were you intending to do and how were you intending to do it as an independent without a party machine, without party backing in Stormont?
AM: I mean I understand fully and I have a lot of respect for the abstentionist argument. I certainly would not have been going to Stormont to help administer British rule in Ireland. And as I said I completely understand people who think that any cooperation with that system is doing so. But I do think it's important – in order to highlight issues and to make sure that the people who have no voice have a voice in the centres of power is vital – as I said I certainly wasn't going to be going there to show the place any respect but I do think that I could have made a difference. One of my patients was laughing at me the other day and saying: I've been like a 'wee Nationalist Jim Allister'. Jim, as you may know, is a very strident Unionist and he's a lone voice but by God, he's heard, you know? So I think it would have been a good thing to have that Nationalist/Republican/Socialist perspective.
MG: And why do you think that Sinn Féin or the SDLP fail to provide that type of perspective?
AM: Well it used to be Sinn Féin/IRA. Now certainly a lot of people in Doire are calling it Sinn Féin/DUP. They're quite comfortably cosying up together and there aren't any radical policies. Sinn Féin, while I have a lot of respect for individual members, it really has become a machine to win elections – they've lost touch – they don't have a connection with the people – really and truly. And I was talking to Noel McCartney yesterday and he was telling me that on polling day they had five hundred people out on the streets. They have a fantastic machine but there's a real dearth of policies that are going to help ordinary people to try to live their lives with a bit of dignity. This latest thing where they've handed the power of welfare reform back to the Tory government because they couldn't get an agreement is really just symptomatic of a lack of connection and I think they need to be taken to task. I think people are looking for an alternative.
MG: Alright. Now one of the things that I know, that John knows, from working on an election campaign: In The North you get transfers – if somebody's eliminated you get transfers. In other words if you vote for a candidate who's eliminated then the votes then are then counted again and can go to a second choice or a third choice. You didn't get transfers from the SDLP or (cross-talk).
AM: The PR system - it's fascinating. Yesterday, as I said, was the first time I ever stood and it was a real experience. My brother's a physicist and a statistician and he was my election agent and we were sort of looking at the calculations – it's hugely complicated - but you get so many 'first preference' votes and indeed I polled better than some of the really big guns you know – the people in the parties. But you're relying then on transfers and certainly Sinn Féin gave me almost no transfers and likewise the SDLP for obvious reasons so I suppose we didn't really anticipate that but in retrospect we could have expected it so that was part of the problem. But you know you live and learn and as I said we're just going to come back stronger next time around. I had a phenomenal response on the doorsteps – and we'd no money – we had no organisation – I just had people - childhood friends, family – one of the people said we're a collection of political misfits. You now all these people just came together and: What can I do to help? It was really empowered. It was a wonderful experience and even knowing the result I would do it all again. It was something else and everybody has gained from it so we're really stronger and we're going to keep going.
JM: Anne, John McDonagh here. I just want to give you a response about what Sinn Féin thought about People Before Profit's winning. This is in the Irish News today: 'A West Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor plans to snub constituents who help get their party rivals elected' - and he put it on Facebook. He said: In future I will take time to help those who took time to help us yesterday. I don't mind those who didn't vote for political or personal reasons but those who voted for the SDLP and People Before Profit need to go to them from now on if these parties are my political opponents.
Now I told the story about Ian Paisley that there was an IRA Volunteer in Long Kesh and he couldn't get a package in. He wrote to Ian Paisley and Paisley got the package into the prison! And to think that Sinn Féin is now telling: If you don't vote for us don't come to our constituents' office – we're not going to help you!
AM: Yeah. It was a disgraceful comment. If you put yourself forward to be an elected representative you're there to serve everybody you can't check who they voted for. I mean it's just nonsense. He should retract it and apologise. In a democracy the power that we have is how we use our vote. I think it's really sad that only fifty percent – the poll was just I think fifty-six percent yesterday – which is poor – so it means you've got forty-four percent of people just staying home but to use your mandate I think is your debt to society but then you expect representation without fear or favour. And I've heard that about the Reverend Ian that he would help anybody and that's probably why he was such an effective politician.
MG: Okay. We're talking with Dr. Anne McCloskey who was one of the candidates in Foyle which is basically the area around Doire City and who narrowly lost – defeated many of the hired guns of the long-term political forces in The North – just narrowly lost out at the very end but fortunately, if you had to lose, it was to Eamonn McCann. Dr. McCloskey, you've now gone through an election – I know you have a lot of lessons that you've learned – you'll do things a lot better, a lot differently in future so we're looking forward – I know you're going to be a force in Doire politics for a long time to come. We want to thank you for coming on and I know we're going to be hearing from you a great deal more in future.
AM: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
(ends time stamp ~ 46:50)