PICTURES: Tony Keane
There was a large turnout at Newbridge Town Hall on Monday last when all the candidates contesting Kildare South constituency were present, apart from Sinn Féin’s Patricia Ryan who was out of the country.
The big issues discussed on the night were: housing, health, childcare, crime, climate action, transport and of course, the working conditions for members of the Defence Forces and their families. MC was Shane Beatty of Newstalk who introduced each candidate who then was given a minute on the podium to express their priorities, policies, etc. The order of sequence was previously chosen by lot.
In order, Cllr Fiona McLoughlin Healy (Ind) was followed by Deputy Fiona O’Loughlin (FF) with her FF running mate, Cllr Suzanne Doyle up next. Linda Hayden (Social Democrats), Dr Cathal Berry (Ind) and Anita Mhic Gib of Aontú spoke next before Green Party candidate, Ronan Maher took the microphone.
Deputy Martin Heydon (FG) was followed by Cllr Mark Wall (Lab) with Roisín Úi Bhroin (People Before Profit) being the final candidate to address the audience.
The poor working conditions and wage structures for members of the Defence Forces was later debated as the ‘white elephant in the room’. Deputy Heydon took the brunt of the criticism, with claims that 'homeless soldiers were couch-surfing with friends', and Defence Force's families were living 'in poverty'. There was weighted criticism of the last government for 'standing by as €18m a year unspent was handed back to the Exchequer', and for 'wages slashed' by recent governments.
Other matters raised included the need to provide more fair rail charges for commuters through to Portarlington and generally, issues of rural transport, disability services, the farming crisis and climate change. Child care was another hot topic, with Linda Hayden highlighting the Social Democrats proposals for government-funded assisted childcare, that could be started from a low base 'but would grow'.
The event was organised jointly by Newbridge Community Development and Kilcullen Community Action (KCA).