“A YEAR full of change,” was the verdict of first-time TD Deputy Violet Anne-Wynne as she reflected on the last 12 months. On February 10, 2020 she was declared elected on 11,903 votes in a General Election where Sinn Féin claimed victory, nationally, and the largest share of the popular vote. The Kilrush resident admits her success came as a shock to many. “The prediction was that Sinn Féin wouldn’t take the seat in Clare,” she said, “so the result came as a big surprise and a nice surprise. It was proof that the desire for change and for an end to the so-called ‘old politics’ was being felt right across the country.”
The result made Deputy Wynne the third female TD to serve the modern-day constituency of Clare since the foundation of the State.
First-time TDs can face a struggle in finding their bearings amid the corridors of power, but when you combine that with the upheaval created by the pandemic, Deputy Wynne and the other 47 fresh faces elected around the country really had their work cut out. “I suppose I’m conscious that everyone in every walk of life is really struggling right now,” she said. “Our training from Leinster House got interrupted because of Covid-19, but the civil servants are very helpful and there’s a lot of support within the party. I’ve really been focusing on how best to represent the people of Clare, and comply with the different levels of restrictions so that I can keep issues affecting this county at the top of the agenda.”
One thing that Deputy Wynne has found harder to handle, however, is the attitude taken by the main parties in the process of government formation. “The huge vote for Sinn Féin showed a real appetite for change in the way politics had been done in this country,” she said. “But to see the way that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil blocked us from the government formation process was very disappointing. There was no willingness even to engage with Sinn Féin. Not even a gesture and no recognition whatsoever of the public demand for change. That appetite for change hasn’t been satisfied and it’s still there in my view.”
Among the issues that Deputy Wynne is particularly passionate about is the rights of people with disabilities and the challenges facing carers. “I know first-hand the hurdles that carers face because I had that experience before entering politics,” she said. “I was selected by the party to take one of our two seats on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters. The area is very close to my heart and I sought that committee role. Many carers are barely coping and they’re not being heard by government. We see it in the lack of services and early intervention for children with disabilities. That’s a situation that really impacts the whole family and it’s a huge issue.”
Deputy Wynne added that she believes that Covid-19 has exposed many of the deep-seated inequalities in Irish society.
“Over the last year and with pandemic, that situation facing carers has become really apparent,” she noted. “They can’t lobby in the way they did, they can’t protest and a lot of them are feeling frustrated and hopeless. That being said, I have been very inspired by peoples’ attitudes over the last year and the fact that they’ve come up with new ways to raise funds and new ways to express themselves. There’s also huge goodwill from the wider public. This has been demonstrated in extreme circumstances.
“Mental health is another area of massive concern and the party has been pushing to get 24/7 community services in place. When someone is in crisis, they shouldn’t have to travel to the Emergency Department in Limerick. That’s something we really need to change.”
Given the additional hardship being experienced by so many, Deputy Wynne finds that her constituency work is complex. “People have so many challenges to deal with,” she said. “They’re in a time of terrible uncertainty and have so many questions as the situation around the pandemic changes. They’re worried about their families and the stresses are really huge.” Providing support and representation remotely is also a phenomenon that the Sinn Féin representative is grappling with. “Clinics have been online and over the phone when I would really prefer to be meeting people,” she said. “The situation has been ever-changing in terms of restriction, so I’ve been trying to learn quickly and to adapt.”
If the current government runs to full term, Deputy Wynne has four years ahead in which to pursue her priorities on behalf of the people of Clare. “I have a lot more to give and I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I’m very motivated and there’s a big job of work to complete.”