‘I can’t promise to fix everything – but I promise to do my best’

First-time candidate Sinn Féin’s Leah Cull was elected on the fifth count for the Boyle Local Electoral Area on Sunday, taking the area’s second seat on 1638 votes.

The level of support for the Arigna native could be seen even earlier however, with the newly-elected councillor racking 1416 first preference votes in the first count.

Speaking to the Roscommon People, Cllr Cull acknowledged this massive backing she received: “I’m absolutely honoured to have got the first preferences I did, and I also realise there’s 1416 people behind those votes that put their faith in me; I know I’ve a lot to do”.

Cllr Cull’s experience canvassing and campaigning over the past months has served to bolster her commitment and enthusiasm for the role.

“I think any candidate, especially first-time ones, would have this fear that they’d agree to run and then once things kicked off, wonder ‘What have I done?’, because it’s such an intense process”, she said. “So, I was happy to find that I actually really enjoyed it. I had a great team behind me, and it was a really valuable experience”.

She noted speaking to the public reinforced her awareness that “people are really struggling, and the country’s very dark at the moment”, but stressed that although “people are upset”, “canvassing would restore a lot of faith; 99% of people are really good people who just want the changes they deserve”.

The new councillor mentioned how she has studied counselling and psychotherapy, and how some skills were transferable: “I believe we need to listen to people, to really listen. It is the only way to understand and learn what’s needed most. I wasn’t trying to go to doors with a ‘sales pitch’ – I wanted to make sure everyone’s voice was heard”.

Cllr Cull canvassed for fellow Sinn Féin member Clare Kerrane (currently a TD for Roscommon-Galway) in 2016 and noted, “I don’t know if I would be here if not for that”. She said in terms of entering politics as a woman and the additional challenges associated with that, “having one person there, an example to look to, can totally change things… I feel I’ve a duty to do the same now”.

She expressed that while it was “empowering” to have been successful as a female candidate, she’s cognisant of not having to deal with barriers a lot of other women might face; “I don’t have children, for example”.

Mental health is another focus for Cllr Cull, who explained that experiencing the loss of two family members by suicide prompted her to engage in a lot of activism on the subject, saying it’s an issue that’s “high on the agenda” for her going forward.

“Nearly everyone has lost someone to suicide”, she said, commenting that when she was grieving, “I remember being so angry at the state of the mental health service”.

“There’s obviously frustrations and failings within the current system that need to be addressed”, she said. She noted that while there’s generally been progress in making mental illness “less taboo”, a deeper understanding and better approach is needed.

Agriculture is another key issue for Cllr Cull, with her own farming background having given her a good understanding of what that sector needs.

“I want to be able to represent everyone, to push what they need forward. If I can do that for anyone, from any part of the community, I will.

“I can’t promise to fix everything”, she said. “But I promise to do my best”.