Hugh’s Labour of love

Hugh Baxter traces his passion for the Labour Party back to his schooldays.  ‘I always had a left-wing philosophy. It went back to my schooldays at Roscommon CBS where teachers like Tom Geraghty and Dominic O’Duill were very questioning of the establishment and the whole question of social equality has always being of great interest to me.’    Social equality is very much on his mind as he looks forward to another election campaign.    ‘The economy has prospered for sure in recent years but it is only a small few that are really doing well while a lot of people are still struggling. We have a responsibility to fight for those who have no voice or who cannot be heard in terms of Education, Health and Housing – and Labour certainly do that’.   Labour have entered into a pre-election pact with Fine Gael – with a view to forming a Coalition Government – and Baxter professes to be happy with this arrangement.    ‘I would have been critical of the Labour /FG Government in the 1970s but with Fine Gael in Government I am happy that a lot of Labour party policy will be implemented. Of course there will be sacrifices – that’s the essence of coalition – but overall I am confident that Fine Gael  and Labour will form an excellent Government. We have had a very right wing Government for the past ten years. Fianna Fail are a centre-right party and the PDs have pulled them even further right while Fine Gael are a centre-right party and we will be pulling them to the left!’    The Ballyleague man acknowledges that there has been significant economic progress but maintains that there is a serious imbalance to address.    ‘The growth had been good for very few people. The average income of the people living on the East Coast is now 42% over the EU average while in the case of those living in the Border Midlands and West regions it is 10% less that the EU average. The people who live in this region have been losing out while the east coast is thriving. It’s this kind of lopsided development that needs to be addressed in a very positive and aggressive way. Land speculators and developers have made a fortune out of the economy in the past few years and good luck to them but it’s a precious few that have done really well.’    He continues: ‘There is no doubt that people in general are doing much better and there is a great confidence and vibrancy in our young people now that was not there in the past and it’s great to see. However on the downside people have to work harder than ever to make ends meet. Most households now have two people working and they are working longer and longer hours. They have less and less time to spend on social and other pursuits and it is getting very hard for voluntary organisations to get people to help out, which is very regrettable. People just do not have the time any more and our society is becoming more like the USA with every passing year which I’m not sure is a good thing’.  I ask the Labour man whether he believes the Celtic Tiger will continue to ‘roar’ or not.    ‘I think it will, but we are very reliant on the building industry and there must surely be a slowdown there in the near future. We must also try to ensure that we can sustain highly-paid jobs here. It is not much good if all we can offer is low-paid service jobs. The IDA and the other state agencies have done a good job in this sector over the years but they will have to keep it up into the future. I would like to see the wealth spread around a bit more though as up to now it is only the golden circle that have benefitted.’    He says the issue iof immigrant workers and refugees is one that is often blurred, adding ‘that’s very unfair’.    ‘We have many thousands of immigrant workers here who are doing a brilliant job in the economy and who are very welcome. The issue of refugees is a totally different matter altogether and we must adopt a compassionate stance on this issue too.’   Baxter says he is very interested in so-called ‘Green issues.’ ‘This is something that interests me very much. On waste management I would be totally against incineration. There is no need for it. The onus is on the companies to reduce the amount of packaging that they produce. There should be a package of incentives to reduce packaging and severe fines for those who do not comply. People want to recycle and efforts should be increased in this area because the public are very receptive to this whole issue. I also would like to see a comprehensive programme to introduce sustainable alternative enegry such as bio fuels, wind and solar energy and other alternatve forms of energy. Regardless of the global warming debate we have to move forward and anything that is done is this area is very welcome indeed. However I am also totally against any burning of waste at the old power station in Lanesboro.’      Even those who are opposed to Labour policies concede that Baxter is an impressive candidate. However has he been disheartened by previous unsuccessful electoral outings?    ‘It has been a bit of a struggle but things are improving all the time in terms of organisation. I would admit that it is difficult to get people to vote Labour. I am getting a great reation from the public and many people on the doorsteps are very critical of the Government but to get them to take the ultimate step and vote against them is a different matter altogether. I would probably gain more votes as an Independent but people are now very receptive to Labour – and to myself. I believe in Labour party policies and that’s why I keep going. The organisation is better too. Our regional organiser for Connacht-Ulster is John Feely who lives in Kilmore and he is doing a very good job.’    Looking ahead to the election outcome, he says he would have no problem with Labour and Fine Gael being aligned with the Green Party. ‘The choice is simple at this election. We have had 10 years of the same old story from FF and the PDs.The arrogance of this Government is breathtaking at times and they treat the public purse as if its their own money. They have wasted hundreds of millions of euro on e-voting, PPars and a host of other schemes for which no-one took any responsibility. Watch the local media over the next few weeks as announcement after announcement is made granting money to this, that and the other as they try to buy the votes of the people. I hope that the people give FG and Labour a chance to go into Government. I look forward to Labour Party policy being implemented to make Ireland a far more equitable country for our people to live in’. Ten direct questions we asked….Hugh Baxter 1. In less than fifty words, can you tell us three reasons why people should vote for you ahead of any other candidate?  I am determined to push for the development of Roscommon and Leitrim, and will not settle for second best as many of our previous TDs have.   Returning two Labour-FG TDs here will be key to changing the government. 1 Labour, 1 FG would be the best outcome.   I have a clear view on linking national policy to local delivery. See 2.    2. In less than fifty words, can you tell us how this constituency would be better off in the wake of your election to Dáil Éireann? We have been taken for granted by TDs in the past. Linking national policy to local delivery is essential. As a member of Labour’s National Executive, with personal access to all our Front Bench, I will be able to maximise this link and get commitments. Current government TDs tell us they will deliver on, e.g. Roscommon Hospital or local job creation, but (then) support national policies which do the opposite. Independent candidates may focus on local delivery but will not have the influence in the next government.    3. Which of the other declared candidates in Roscommon/South Leitrim impresses you most? Probably Garreth McDaid of the Greens. He’s capable and forward-thinking. Like myself, he comes from a Fianna Fáil family and decided for himself that other parties (initially in Labour, now the Greens) had more to offer, especially to younger people who want a change from the traditional rivalry between two similar conservative parties.   4. In less than fifty words, what are the three big issues of Election 2007 in this constituency? Again, I stress the local-national link: Firstly, we need a government committed to public healthcare, not private profit, to retain local services like Roscommon Hospital and deliver BreastCheck.   Secondly, regional development too requires commitment from the top; Fianna Fáil have wasted the opportunity of the last decade.   Thirdly, Roscommon’s ageing population profile shows we need more decent jobs for young people.   5. Are politicians unfairly treated in the media and unfairly categorised by the public? No, in fact there’s not enough scrutiny. The biggest scandal of the last decade is how high house prices created multi-millionaire speculators with the wealth created by ordinary workers. The widely-known corrupt links to Fianna Fáil politicians went unreported until Ben Dunne’s escapade in Florida. The public have every right to be sceptical although some people tend to adopt the ‘ye’re all the same’ approach, which is unfair and untrue, and lets the real perpetrators off the hook. But sure that’s politics!   6. There are presently no declared female candidates in this constituency. Do you think this is unsatisfactory and what can be done to redress this imbalance? It is unsatisfactory, and reflects the difficulties women experience in balancing other commitments against involvement in public life. Labour has a policy requiring gender balance wherever we run more than one candidate, and we have a higher proportion of women TDs than any party except the PDs. Locally, we have and will continue to encourage women to get involved and seek election.   7. How can politicians connect with the Bebo generation Young people are actively interested in issues, but perhaps not in formal politics. Labour proposes to allow people over 16 to vote in Local and European elections to get them involved earlier, but we still have a long way to go to get the active kind of politics we see in, for example, Latin America. The corruption scandals have discredited politics, and many of our political processes are outdated. On the other hand, everyone, including young people, has a responsibility to participate; democracy has its imperfections, but it’s a whole lot better than other systems, including dictatorships, which I’ve witnessed first-hand.   8. How do you relax? It all depends on my mood, and how much time I have. Thankfully, I don’t tend to get stressed. Music is one of my big interests, (I like) a trad session and a Black Bush, hard rock, blues and some jazz. If I want real peace I go out on a boat in the middle of Lough Ree.   9. Who is the most impressive politician in Ireland – and why? Michael D. Higgins is still the most impressive member of the Dáil. He is one of the few TDs who actually has a vision of Ireland’s future, where everyone has equal access to health, education and housing, not because of who they know, but by right, as citizens of our Republic. Others who impress are Liz O’Donnell, Gerry Adams and Joe Higgins.  10. If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one of the other candidates in Roscommon/South Leitrim, which one would you choose and why? Can I answer that after we see if any female candidate declares? Preferably someone with a strong social conscience.