‘It’s madness, but I’ve as good a chance as anyone’ – Kilkenny’s sole candidate in Euro elections
By SHANE DORAN
“I’LL need a miracle – but I happen to believe in miracles …”
Breda Gardner laughs away my query as to whether she stands a chance of being elected to the European Parliament next month.
“This is madness,” she exclaims, but then adds seriously: “I’ve as good a chance as anyone else.”
The Thomastown-based Independent councillor revealed she only decided to throw her hat into the ring for the Euro elections six weeks ago.
But despite her jocular demeanour, it’s obvious Breda is taking the election very seriously. And as the only Kilkenny candidate contesting the Ireland South constituency, she’s confident of winning over many voters in her home county between now and May 24.
She is, by nature – and profession (Breda is a self-employed health therapist) – a very positive person. But she’s clearly dismayed at the direction the country is going in on many fronts, particularly our ailing health services.
As a former nurse and mother of four children (“three-tech savvy” daughters and son Fionn, who previously starred on The Voice of Ireland), Breda is well qualified to comment on our health system, which appears locked in a never-ending cycle of controversies, scandals and interminable cost overruns. She is also a vocal spokesperson for the South East Patient Advocacy Group (SEPAG), which is campaigning for 24/7 cardio services for Kilkenny and the region.
She doesn’t hold back when asked to diagnose the problems with the heath service – “the model of healthcare in this country is not fitting the people it’s supposed to serve” – but unlike many politicians, she also has a few positive and practical solutions to offer.
The Kilkenny councillor would like to see the bloated bureaucracy that the HSE has become to be abolished, and for a return to a modern version of the old regional health boards, which she said served the country well in the past.
She wants the Irish health system to follow the German model, where everyone pays some form of social insurance but where all are entitled to the same rights of care, not the two-tier system that has evolved in this country that sees the wealthy take priority over the poor, simply because of their ability to pay.
Breda also cares deeply about environmental issues and is scathing of the Government’s alarming failure to meet EU targets year in, year out. In fact she predicts the Government’s inability to comprehend voters’ growing anger on climate change issues could prove to be its downfall.
We conducted our interview in the snug surround of the Blackberry Café in Thomastown, just around the corner from the Concert Hall where three senior Cabinet ministers recently outlined various rural development initiatives and funding, almost all of which had been previously announced.
Breda said she repeatedly tried to raise environmental issues with Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton, at one point physically tapping him on the shoulder in a bid to grab his attention.
But to no avail: “They didn’t want me to talk, they only wanted to stick with their script. They didn’t want to discuss environmental issues – it was a Fine Gael PR stunt. It was completely staged. When I approached the stage they turned their back on me. Their behaviour was embarrassing.”
While not afraid to tackle the bigger, national – and international – issues, she’s also grounded when it comes to the nitty gritty of local politics. She says she loves the minutiae of everyday life as a councillor, and her family farming background and two decades working as a public nurse has kept her feet firmly planted on the ground, even if her heart is sometimes on a more celestial footing.
Then there’s her family. She admits her practice has taken a major back seat as the political “madness” takes priority for now. But she’s quick to stress she couldn’t do it without the support of her husband and campaign manager Jerry (“I’d be lost without him”) and her children.
For the moment she’s wondering how in God’s name she’s going to stump up cash for campaign leaflets within the next week, and somehow manage to overcome a crowded field of no fewer than 23 candidates in the Ireland South constituency and capture a seat in Europe against all the odds. And, in keeping with her environmental ideals, to do it without the help of a single election poster.
But the Independent-minded Kilkenny mother-of-four isn’t thinking about the odds, just doing everything in her power to make that miracle a reality.