In conversation with Dublin Mid-West bye-election candidate Cllr. Emer Higgins. The Dublin Mid-West area comprises Lucan, Palmerstown, Clondalkin, Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart. and the bye-election will be held on the 29th of November.
Emer you’ve been a local politician for a number of years now, why do you want to take the plunge and run for the Dáil?
Yes I’ve been a County Councillor for eight years now and I absolutely love it. I’m a real people person and in politics you get to meet so many people and hear so many people’s stories; there’s nothing as rewarding when you can help with something that matters to someone. I’m really proud to have been able to have made a positive difference locally and I want to do that nationally. I think we need more young people in the Dáil, I think we need more women in the Dáil. Outside of politics I work for PayPal, I’m Chief of Staff for Operations, so I’ve experience in the real world too and I think that practical business experience is something we need more of in Leinster House.
How did you get involved in politics?
My interest goes back to school. I went to school locally in Holy Family Community School in Rathcoole and I was one of the first classes to do CPSE as a subject for the Junior Cert. Our homework was to watch the news and I became really interested in current affairs, something my parents were always interested in. I went on to become a member of the Students Executive in Rathcoole and, when I went to college, I was elected to the Student Union Council in U.C.D. I’m actually on the Board of U.C.D. now so it’s been nice to have come full circle there.
I joined Fine Gael because of Frances Fitzgerald who’s seat I’m standing for now. My Dad’s old boss was a member of Fine Gael and he set me up on a kind of ‘political blind date’ with a young guy who, at the time, worked for Frances. He was really intelligent, really passionate and I felt ‘do who know what’ if Fine Gael can attract people like this guy then I’m definitely willing to meet Frances and hear what she’s about. Today, that young guy sits at Cabinet table – Simon Harris. He introduced me to Frances. We met in Kenny’s in Lucan and we hit it off right away. I volunteered with her for about six months and then she offered me a job running her General Election campaign and then managing her Constituency Office in Clondalkin. I worked with her for five years and it was fantastic experience. It was a real honour when Frances nominated me as the Fine Gael Bye-Election candidate to fill her seat.
If you were elected what would your priorities be?
I believe we need to build infrastructure hand in hand with housing, so that we develop communities not just housing estates. That means delivering better public transport and less commuter traffic. I’m on the M50, the N4 or the N7 every day, full buzzes whiz by bus stops without stopping for people because there isn’t enough buses on our routes and the train still doesn’t stop in Kishogue. We need to drive change for commuters because it’s impacting people’s quality of life.
We also need investment in our schools. In Lucan we need new school buildings for a number of schools, and the same in Rathcoole. Community is my big passion and I believe we need more support for community initiatives and sports clubs. I’m a renter so I know first-hand how difficult it can be to save for a mortgage if you’re renting in Dublin. There’s a lot of people who have moved home to save. Access to affordable housing needs to be a priority for this Government, and we need someone from our area advocating for that and for investment in our community at Government level.
I’d also like to campaign for alternative energy supplies to develop a greener future. You know the way your laptop heats up when it’s being used? Well image how much a data centre heats up. Our Council is working on a big flagship project at the moment, to take heat-waste from a datacenter and use it to power buildings like Tallaght IT (Technological University Dublin) and the Civic Theatre. We have loads of data centres in Grangecastle and other business parks and I’d like to see their heat waste utilized as energy.
Obviously it’s going to be a busy few weeks ahead for you, will you get time to relax? What do you like to do to switch off?
Campaigns are all-consuming but they are fantastic fun. We had the Taoiseach out with us this week and he did a press conference from one of my local coffee shops, it was great to be a part of all that excitement. I’ve taken my annual leave from work so I can be out canvassing six hours most days, and I’m really lucky to have a fantastic team of volunteers helping me. There’s nothing glamourous about leaflet dropping or postering in the rain and I’m amazed at how many people are willing to do that for me in their spare time. As for me, spare time is kind of at a premium right now. When I can, I try to spend as much time as possible with my family and nephews and niece, but as soon as this campaign is over I plan to hit the dance floor. Last year I took to the stage during a LipSync for two of my local GAA Clubs and I really enjoyed the experience – I had very patient dance teachers. It has re-ignited my love of dancing and I hope to get back to salsa after the elections.