Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty has cited “convenience” as the only reason why he has taken over an office in a Donegal town premises previously used as HQ for former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan.
Last week Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty hosted more than 100 people at an impromptu reception to mark the opening of his clinic office in the rooms once occuppied by Ms Coughlan.
“As a Sinn Féin TD I only take the average industrial wage, so everything else goes into providing the best possible service to the people who voted for me and of course to the people who didn’t as well,” he said.
Many of the issues that drove Pearse Doherty to become a voice for the people of Donegal South-West remain as relevant as ever, he said. He is still concerned about infrastructure, jobs and the fragile economy. However the people that come to him for help reveal the problems that worry them most at the moment.
He said: “The position Ireland is in now creates many new barriers for families who are only trying to get by as best they can. Most people are struggling to keep their heads above water.
“I have listened to people who are waiting 8 or 9 months for medical cards, or are waiting on responses from Social Welfare. Some people come to us because they have a good business idea. They are not looking for handouts, only good, relevant technical support. There are others in the process of applying for a visa to emigrate to Canada. Then there are people who advocate on behalf of a child or elderly parent who is waiting for a hospital bed.”
Meeting the cost of mortgages is a major concern across the country and Donegal is no different. Deputy Doherty is very aware that many people who were able to get a moratorium on their mortgage are now coming to the end of their agreement.
He said: “The agreement was only for two years, and for a lot of people their situation has not improved in that time.
“Across the country a further 92 families are falling into distress every week. It is up to us to as politicians to deal with those underlying structures that are not working, challenge the government decisions that are making the situation worse, and to put forward alternative proposals that will benefit people who are struggling.”
Deputy Doherty also said ensuring that people have access to good public services and amenities is a big priority.
“We have launched a Rural Ireland Scheme to highlight the importance of servicing small communities in the west of Ireland,” he said. “As things stand they can be picked off too easily, one hospital, school or post office at a time, so we end up with towns like Lifford and Ballyshannon left high and dry.
“We recently saw all the meetings about the closure of Laghey Post Office, but it is hard to make your concerns heard if you are from a sparsely populated rural community. It is our hope that the Rural Ireland Scheme will help give a stronger voice where it is most needed.”
Deputy Doherty recently visited the Castlefinn Partnership Initiative (CPI) Centre. He was greatly heartened by the strength of community commitment and enterprise in transforming an area of swamp into a fantastic facility that has become a focal point for moving forward in these difficult times.
TV gardener Diarmuid Gavin became involved through the North West Garden Centre element of the project, and has offered great encouragement. He suggested they build a replica of the White House’s Oval Garden as a symbolic alternative to the presentation of shamrock by An Taoiseach on St Patrick’s Day.
Deputy Doherty said: “The project got the support of the White House, so Castlefinn will have an exact replica of the garden. Americans would not normally get near the real garden but it is part of their heritage, so they will now have a great reason to visit Castlefinn if they are in Ireland!
“It gives me hope when I see communities achieving something like this.”
Deputy Doherty said that he was overwhelmed by the level of support he received in the by-election and then in the general election. Feedback has led him to believe that it was much more than a protest vote. Many people contacted him personally to discuss their reasons for switching from traditional allegiances to vote for him. He recognises that this was an enormous decision to which they gave a lot of consideration.
While he feels that the last year has been good for Sinn Féin, the ideal situation for him would be to see a government in place that works well for the country.
“That matters far more than anything else,” he said. “In the meantime, myself and others will keep challenging the policies that are tearing the heart out of the country, and continue to put forward our own solutions.
“For example instead of a household tax that many people cannot afford, and that the government estimate will bring in €160m - and that’s if people pay it - I have proposed a third tax band, whereby every Euro earned above €100,000 would be taxed at 48%. This could generate €410m without hitting the worst off.”
He added: “People should never have to go to a TD about problems with medical cards or social welfare claims, but the reality is that they do. Many do not have the confidence to contact their county council to see what they should do about housing, or know how to go through an application process.
“I want people to know that our policy is to work through the process with them, helping them to understand what is going on, how their application is assessed, what supports and entitlements are available to them. Our staff will give them the support they need to get through the system, but we will never pretend that TDs have the power to influence applications.
“It is not my policy to make false promises or to try and claim credit for something that came about through an application and assessment. I really want to challenge the false perception that it is your local TD who gets you a council house or a medical card or a passport.”
“In the meantime, I will do what I can to bring about real, positive change in this country and this constituency.”
The new office is located on the first floor at Pier 1, Quay Street, Donegal Town. It will be open on the first and third Friday of each month. Kelly McMenamin who will be running the Donegal Town and Ballybofey offices.