Writes Cian McGrath – Byline Editor
Laura Harmon is an independent candidate for the 2020 Seanad Election. Born in 1986, she is a graduate of UCC. As President of the USI, Laura led the student campaign in the marriage equality referendum in 2015. Her work as an activist did not end there as she was also Head of Mobilisation for Together for Yes in 2018. Currently she is Leadership Co-ordinator with the National Women’s Council. Her campaign addresses a number of issues which are particularly relevant to UCC Students. I had the pleasure of speaking to Laura this week about her, her policies and much more!
How much did your time in UCC shape the person that you have become today?
For me, I got politicised when I was in UCC. I came out as gay in college and that really politicised me. I joined the LGBT society, then began to get more involved in societies and the Students Union as well. I became very interested in education equality and campaigning against increases in student fees and grant cuts. I got hugely interested in women’s rights as well.
As a result of my time in UCC, I ran for USI. I was of course Equality Officer there from 2012-14, before becoming the first female president in over 20 years. From there on, I got really involved in politics, leading the student campaign for marriage equality, where we registered 30,000 students to vote from working closely with Student Unions across the country.
Aside from that, I also have a lot to thank UCC in terms of the friends that I’ve made and the support I got when coming out and the amount of opportunities with societies and the like.
Do you feel your time in student politics has shaped your policies today?
Education is a big part of my policy platform. We have the highest student fees in Europe at the moment, which is scandalous. We have really extortionate student accommodation prices, as you can see with the rent hikes that students are facing at the moment.
I called down to the Occupy The Quad protest last week and spoke with Ben Dunlea, the UCCSU President. I completely support the actions of these students and the Students Unions across the country. The student maintenance grant currently works out at around €84 a week, certainly not enough for students to live on when they’re paying rent and coping with the cost of college on top of that.
I think that NUI senators need to be strong voices for students. They are representing that panel and investment in education Student support is something I will be putting on the table if I am elected.
You’ve worked extensively on fantastic campaigns, such as the Marriage Equality and 8th Amendment Referendum. Is this something that you hope to bring to the Seanad?
When I was president of the USI, the marriage referendum was happening, and I had been building towards that as Equality Officer for the previous 2 years. My brief involved working with LGBTQ students and campaigning for marriage equality. We made a submission to the Constitutional Convention in 2012. We held referendums in colleges across the country where they voted to support the campaign so there was a lot of build-up. I suppose I began campaigning for marriage equality during my UCC days with the LGBT society.
I’m currently working for the National Women’s Council and it was from there that I got involved in the referendum on the 8th amendment. I was responsible for voter registration, national tour and the get out the vote stage of the campaigns as well as working with a lot of local groups around the country.
I feel that I have high levels of campaigning experience. I was centrally involved in both of the last big referendums and I want to bring that experience to the Seanad. I think that we need Senators that are able to mobilise people on the key issues like climate action, like housing and Seanad Reform.
I don’t think it’s enough to just say that the last government refused act on Seanad reform, I think we should be putting more pressure on, even if that involves having protests or public meetings across the country. I would see that as one of my key strengths. I come from a campaigning and community organising background and there’s plenty of scope for meetings across the country.
Laura explained the importance she felt her background had in shaping her as a strong candidate
There hasn’t been a senator from Cork on the NUI panel in over 20 years and I really want to represent people in Munster and people in Cork. I’m from rural Ireland originally, Ballyvourney which is a Gaeltacht area, so for me protection of the Irish language is something that I feel strongly about, and I don’t think it gets enough attention or support. I think that there needs to be more investment across the board in Arts and Culture.
One of Laura’s other strong policies centres around a call for a repeal of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment limits the constitutional right to Irish citizenship of individuals born on the island of Ireland to the children of Irish citizens.
I believe that that amendment was wron and that we need to repeal it because I believe that every person who is born should be an Irish citizen. I think we need to call for a referendum on this issue to ensure that we can overturn that. At the moment, there are people in Ireland who could be facing deportation and they were born and raised in this country
I’ve received a bit of backlash for this stance, I’ve been getting quite a few emails from people holding different views. Some of these have had quite racist sentiment as well, which is quite worrying. I am very proud to stand over my position in wanting to repeal that. I think a lot of people are getting behind this and I think it is a huge issue for young people as well.
Do you think the fact that student politics is so often protest focused, has lent to your own activism?
When I was involved in Student politics, there was a lot of protests but also a lot high-level lobbying. We were meeting Government Ministers frequently and I am well used to political briefings and the like. I do that in my current role. I would certainly be making representations to Ministers and looking to ensure that the right people are listening to what needs to be done