The Political Interview
2007 IS shaping up to be a momentous year for Harry Barrett. The self-professed ‘dark horse’ of Mayo’s general election candidates has recently been dividing his time between campaigning, teaching and a hectic family life. To some it might seem arduous, but it is obvious that the Erris native is thriving on the juggling act and is relishing the battle ahead.
A relative newcomer to the political trail, he ran in the 2004 Castlebar Town Council elections, shortly after joining the Labour party. While he was unsuccessful on that occasion – losing out by a mere five votes, after a recount – his appetite was whetted for the cut and thrust of political life, and three years on he is back for more. This time the bar has been raised even higher, but Barrett feels he is fully ready for the challenge.
“I ran in the town council elections and, while I was not elected, I found the whole experience very positive overall. At present the campaign is going very well and I am getting huge reaction on the doorsteps. People want a change and from going around Castlebar and my own native Erris the same issues are cropping up again and again. Rising housing prices, unfinished housing estates, the cost of childcare facilities, education and health, not to mention the quality of the roads. I am hearing all this on the doorstep and it is quite obvious that a change is needed. There has been huge financial mismanagement on the part of the current government and serious neglect of our own county,” says the teacher based in St Patrick’s NS, Castlebar.
A native of Erris and the eldest of six children, Barrett left north Mayo in the early eighties and studied at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. After graduating, he spent a number of years teaching in Dublin before moving west to Castlebar. While he admits to being ‘apolitical in university’ he explains that after settling into family life with his wife Siobhán and two young sons, Ethan and Eoin, his political conscience was awakened.
“Well, when we were growing up in Erris, my father Harry worked as a foreman and was very involved in the SIPTU movement, so as a young man I was very socially aware of issues. Sundays in our house where spent poring over the newspapers, followed by hotly-contested debates afterwards. It was tough growing up during the eighties, which were economically testing times, and as the eldest I would have been very conscious of the difficulties facing my parents, and indeed those same difficulties faced many parents with families.
“Once I married Siobhán and we had Ethan and Eoin, I think that settling into family life sparked a political light. I became frustrated with the way things were – the high cost of living, crèche costs, poor health care, bad roads. I can empathise with voters when I am out campaigning because I am completely frustrated by the way things are at present.”
While certain sections of the electorate may say that as a nation we have never had it so good, Barrett does not subscribe to such a theory and feels that his native county has lost out badly in the last ten years.
“Castlebar has been lacking in production industries. We have an industrial park lying idle here, while in the largest town of north Mayo, Ballina, there has been no major industry brought in since the Coca Cola plant. We need to attract industry to the west; at present our current boom is founded on retail and a construction industry of simply selling houses. We desperately need to attract production industries to Mayo. There is a huge need for a Minister for the Regions to focus solely on developing regions in terms of industry, and that is one of the specific areas I will be highlighting with the Labour party.”
Barrett feels the west has been obstructed from progression because of the current underspend in the BMW budget and the poor infrastructural return under the NRA.
“The N5 and N26 are our two major route ways, yet they have been neglected and we are still in the dark as to when they will be completed. Infrastructure is key to Mayo and we cannot expect to attract industry here if our roads and technological infrastructure, such as broadband, are completely inadequate and below par, ” he says.
Recently, Labour have been accused of ‘auction politics’, and of reneging on their traditional tax policies, in light of their proposed tax cut from 20% to 18%. However, the Mayo Labour candidate does not agree with the view that Labour, in sporting parlance, are moving the goal posts.
“If you look at the last time Labour were in government with Fine Gael, it was an extremely progressive government. Labour have consistently worked for the good of the ordinary working individual. There has been a huge increase in the levels of inequality in our current society and as a party we are working to eradicate that. We have a number of excellent plans, in particular for young families with children, which includes free childcare, free health insurance for under 16s, free medical cards and of course the tax drop will benefit a huge section of society. We simply cannot be satisfied with the current system, which, ten years on, has brought very little to Mayo.”
The passionately-spoken Castlebar resident feels there is a golden opportunity for the Mayo electorate in the guise of a Labour and Fine Gael coalition. It is one, which he says, should be seized with both hands.
“There is a brilliant opportunity for Mayo in 2007 to have a Mayo Taoiseach and Tanáiste in government. It is a golden opportunity. For the past number of years there has been no power base in Mayo and, as I have consistently said, we have fallen behind. Furthermore, this Labour candidate will be a government TD and I can guarantee that we will deliver on our commitments to the public.”
Harry Barrett has chosen to dive in with the sharks at the deep end of the political spectrum, but he feels he has chosen the right time to take the plunge. He’s doesn’t see election 2007 as part of his learning curve, he’s sees it as the start of a long life as a public representative.
On the record
Harry Barrett on...
> political ambition
“Definitely you need a thick skin to go into politics. It is tough work and it is non-stop but that is what is required to compete in this game. You have to be prepared to give of your time, get out there and knock on doors, listen to the people and deal with their issues. I am determined to get elected and to be in Leinster House, representing Mayo and working for the good of the county.”
> Johnny Mee’s Labour legacy
“The man is absolutely brilliant and has been a huge figure in my political life to date.
He was the man who convinced me to run for the town elections and now the general election.
He has an excellent track record in politics and has definitely been a mentor figure for me. I simply cannot speak highly enough of Johnny.”
> Corrib gas issue
“As an Erris man, I have a great affinity with the area and I return there regularly to visit home. As regards the Corrib gas issue, I am pro gas but I favour the best solution, which is an offshore solution. There have been endless consultations on the part of Shell, but since 1998 their proposals have changed very little. I do believe in job creation and promoting the benefits of the Erris region, but, as I said, the best solution is offshore.”
> his wife Siobhán
“I would not be able to run for election without the support of Siobhán. As I said, we have two young children and Siobhán also works with the Western Care Association. She has a hectic work schedule herself and has taken on a huge amount of work, while I am tied up with campaigning. She pretty much posts me out the door in the morning!”
> Michael Ring
“I would admire Michael Ring in terms of what he has achieved politically. He has worked tremendously hard for the electorate down through the years and still continues to do so with tremendous energy and enthusiasm.”
“One of the biggest changes in my life was the birth of my first son, Ethan. I suppose once you settle into family life you become much more socially aware of the world around you. After the children were born I did become more aware and more concerned about the state of services. For instance, having to search for childcare was a huge issue and it was so difficult to find good childcare. As a father with a young family, I can empathise with a lot of voters in a similar situation.”
> the campaign trail
“It is going extremely well. I am obviously sharing the Castlebar constituency with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, but that is not taking from my own campaign. I have been on the campaign trail for the past while with brilliant feedback. I am confident of a good showing and that Labour will be successful in 2007.”