“It’s very boring when someone comes along and shites on,” said Senator Lynn Ruane, standing in the second row of the Thomas Davis theatre on Thursday evening. As she chatted to the Vincent de Paul Society, her approach was consistently casual and humorous. Upon asking the audience what they wanted to know, Ruane, who is running to retain her seat in the Seanad elections, was prompted to talk about a variety of topics including harm reduction for those addicted to drugs, Trinity Access Programme and rehabilitation in prison systems. She began, however, by speaking about her background.
Ruane detailed her early life, recalling that when she was just 15 years old, she fell pregnant with her daughter, Jordanne, who is now a second year English and film studies student in Trinity as well as an IFTA winning actress. The Senator also spoke of her own drug use, describing herself as a “chaotic drug user” and outlining how she used her own experiences with addiction to become involved in changing drug policy and help those with addiction in the wake of Ireland’s heroin epidemic during the early 2000s. Ruane started working in the drug sector at a young age and developed a programme to help young users of heroin; this focused on harm reduction, taught youths how to help those who have overdosed, and facilitated discussions about issues around consent and STIs. Ruane commented that by taking part in activities together, addicts were less likely to use harmful substances as they were distracted by doing an activity as part of a group. She then went on to talk about her work with recovering addicts in the Bluebell area of Dublin, and mentioned the successes she had there. Her speech was scattered with anecdotes, including stories about how members of the programme had adopted a cat named Stigma and created a cookbook, which they toured around the country.
Ruane herself received a place to study in Trinity through Trinity Access Programme, and she subsequently became the president of the Students’ Union in 2015/16. She spoke of how a national access programme is needed on a universal level, and how support should be available in local communities for those who attend universities through access programmes, calling it an “intergenerational thing”.
Questions then turned to her involvement in reforming the prison system. Ruane passionately spoke about prisoners who aspire to do something different with their lives once they are released. She sentimentally mentioned some of her incarcerated friends who had sent her letters from prison expressing the desire to change their lives. Ruane has worked on drafting a bill which would prevent jobseekers being asked whether they have any previous criminal convictions when applying for work. She explained the proposal further, saying it “would stop stigma at the start of the process” and is currently awaiting approval from the Dáil.
Ruane was also asked what problems she would like to see addressed in the Dáil when it forms after the general election. “Obviously the housing situation is massive, you need to have a place to call home and a place of safety,” she said. Granting greater representation to the working class in the judiciary and working on criminal justice reform were also matters she said she would personally focus on, as well as creating a more autism-friendly society. Senator Ruane ended by asking, “Can I go? I need to get home for Love Island,” a sentiment that much of the audience could likely relate to as the talk came to a close.