For the most part I stay out of party politics, but I was honoured to be invited to speak about my experience of 17 years of living, working and travelling in social democratic countries in Scandinavia by Ireland’s Social Democrats, who held their first national congress in Dublin last weekend.
The night before I sat in a hotel room not really knowing what to expect.
Sweden and Scandinavia are often held up as paragons of virtue, and Ireland is often pilloried as being backward, but the truth of both is somewhere in between, and that was something I tried to address in these remarks.
They were not delivered verbatim as written here, mostly because I left my glasses on the table, and indeed one of the most important statements was left out.
That is, that Ireland should learn from not just the successes of social democracy, but perhaps even more so from its failures, and in that way chart its own course to a fairer future for all who live there.
I thank the Social Democrats for inviting me to speak and for giving me the chance to be part of a democratic process that those of us who have emigrated are normally and unapologetically shut out from.
REMARKS TO SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CONVENTION IN DUBLIN, NOV 19 2017
I live in Sweden.
I live in a country where I was welcomed with open arms in 1999 and treated fairly and with humanity, despite having nothing to invest and not being the most attractive person on the labour market until a few years after I arrived.
I live in a country that taught me its language and completed my education at its own expense.
I live in a country which believed in me, and I have repaid that country’s faith by paying my taxes ever since.
I live in a country that fixed my broken arm after playing football on a Saturday evening, and still had me home in time to see Match of the Day
I live in a country that saw people fleeing from war and who were in need, and that took them in and gave them food and shelter – 163,000 of them in one calendar year.
I live in a country where the chairperson of the sports journalists association I am a member of is a woman, and there are many more of them beside me in the press box.
I live in a country where full-time childcare for two children cost me around €220 a month.
I live in a country where I do not worry about my in-laws ageing, or being self-employed and getting sick.
I live in a country with a comprehensive public transport system that runs on time.
I live in a county where I do not worry for the future of my children, and where our hall door in an urban area is unlocked most of the time.
I live in a country where third-level education is free and students can get both grants and loans to help them complete it.
I live in a country where the beer is expensive and tastes horrible, where you can’t get smoked cod and chips and where they have never even heard of a spice bag.
I live in a country which has a terrible shortage of housing as it adopts free-market solutions to the problems of the state.
I live in a country – one of only a handful in the developed world – where it is legal and possible for a private enterprise to make a profit from running a school.
I live in a country that sells weapons to despotic regimes, and that is home to companies who manufacture technologies for those weapons, as well as technologies to prevent refugees from reaching Europe.
I live in a country that has subtly racist structures that builds glass walls around areas such as the one where I live, and that prevent some of my friends and neighbours from advancing and achieving their true potential.
I live in a country that is by no means perfect.
I live in a country that is built on generations of social democratic values, in which everyone is equal, and everyone is taken care of, regardless of the thickness of their wallet or where they went to school
I live in a country that I have lived in for 17 years, but I am not a citizen of that country.
I live in a country that is not my country.
But I long for the day when this country – my country – learns from my current home.
I want this country – my country – to treat my father, my mother, my brothers, my sister, and all my fellow citizens with the dignity and the care that all of us deserve.
I want this country – my country – to recognise the strength that comes from togetherness, from meeting the challenges of life head on, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, and not as individuals all just out for ourselves.
I want this country – my country – to be led by leaders whose first loyalty is to my fellow citizens, and not to themselves or the markets or the shareholders or the lobby groups.
I want this country – my country – to learn from the successes and perhaps even more so from the failures of social democracy.
I want this country – my country – to be worthy of my fellow citizens, and to recognise the truth in one of the oldest proverbs of our native language.
“Ní neart go chur le chéile” – there is no strength without unity.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.