William Priestley is on his third run for the Seanad in the Dublin University constituency, what he describes as “a 12 year project” leading to this election. Unlike the previous two elections however, both of which he was unsuccessful in gaining a seat, Priestley is no longer running as an independent, having joined the Green Party approximately two years ago and standing as their candidate in this election.
Priestley admits that getting elected will still be a challenge. “You never really know given that the current incumbents have such high profiles”, but says that he has been using the “Green network” of local politicians across the country, and is hoping that the party’s success in the Dáil election will carry over.
Priestley is standing because he says he wants “the opportunity to influence national policy”. In his campaign material Priestley draws attention to the fact that if you add up the amount of time Trinity’s current senators have been in office, it is over 40 years. He writes that it’s time for “meaningful change”. When asked why he chose to include this he says: “It’s not a criticism, it’s highlighting that if you have the same people there for a long time, people passionate about the same issues, then other issues won’t be highlighted as much, so for example we’ve never had a green voice on the panel, therefore climate change issues haven’t been prominent at all”.
Priestly has written a play, Inferno Kid, which he says was primarily about “trying to bring into focus the challenges that particularly young men are facing”. The play ran in the Edinburgh Fringe festival. “My background is in youth work and working with young people on the margins, people who may have maybe made bad decisions. I’ve spent my time working with high-risk reoffenders at the probation service.” Priestley came face to face with issues of gangland violence while working in Limerick on “one of the more rough and tumble estates”. “I’ve tried to give young people opportunities”, he adds, “but at the end of the day in order to make real change it has to be at the national level”.
Other than youth work Priestly says his other passion is environmental issues. “Unfortunately we happen to be bottom of the class on this in Europe” he stated, adding that he sees it as “pretty important that it is put on the agenda and people start taking it seriously”.
Asked what the first thing he would do if elected, Priestly suggests a Private Members Bill on harvesting rainwater from public buildings. “A very simple one would be some kind of national rain harvesting programme, specifically around public buildings, all new builds, that not to say we can’t retrofit old ones, putting the practicalities of the green agenda into practice.”
He states: “Very often people think being green is going to cost me money, when really being green is going to save you money. Central to the green agenda is the word innovation. It’s just little things that make a big difference. 25 years ago we had 500 pristine rivers in ireland, now we have 20 or 30. That’s a real consequence that we need to look at and address.”
Priestley believes he can bring these issues to the fore in Irish politics, which in his opinion, have not received enough attention by previous Senators. He states: “If you take Lynn Ruane and the association that people have with her, she does a lot of work around access, that would be her expertise. If you take David Norris, his expertise would be around gay rights and equality and Ivana Bacik would, I suppose, be a lot around equality as well and a number of feminist issues.”
“What I’m saying,” he continues, “is that is the number one association with those candidates, I’m not saying that they have never done anything in relation to climate change.” He believes “that climate change doesn’t have the prominence that for example gay rights has had in the Seanad among Trinity senators.”
Across the rest of the Seanad Priestley wants to see a greater emphasis on expertise, asking: “Is anybody on the agricultural panel actually an expert in agriculture? That is the way it’s supposed to be but what really happens is that it’s just filled up by county councillors.”. Priestly believes he has the expertise, stating: “I’d like to think I’ve quite extensive experience in education… I’ve been working in education for over 15 years. I’ve worked at primary level, secondary level and tertiary level. I’ve experience representing the students of Trinity and then all students at USI.
On Seanad reform Priestley says there is “no reason why Trinity should have its own Senators, obviously”, adding that the franchises “should be opened up to all third level graduates”. Priestley suggested moving the Seanad outside Dublin, stating that he believed it would “open it up to a lot more scrutiny”.
Priestly suggests an “initial step” of bringing the Seanad outside Dublin once a quarter, “and see does that engage people, do they some along, do senators have to account for what they are doing?” He criticises attendance in the Seanad saying it “can be a bit lax” due to a number of members “having other interests.” He suggests that “if you bring it down to Cork, Limerick, Galway or Letterkenny and there’s only seven senators there I think that will engage people and people will start asking questions”.
He muses: “Is it worth bringing it outside of Dublin permanently? Well maybe it is and if it costs a lot of money then maybe the upside is the engagement with democracy so I wouldn’t rule it out.
With 12 TDs, the Green Party are currently in quite a powerful position in the ongoing government formation talks. Priestley says that his party is “meeting with everyone”. He adds: “For us it’s essential that whatever [government] we have is stable, I don’t think anybody wants an election in six months so that would put a lot of pressure on the possibility of a left coalition. Dealing with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael it’s whether they are going to take climate change seriously, because that hasn’t been the case over the last 10 years, it’s an issue that can’t wait.”
Priestley says if elected, he sees it as an important part of his role to represent Trinity. “I’ve always had a great connection with Trinity and an an affinity for it, I would definitely see part of my role as promoting the college wherever possible, and that can be small things such as engaging as much as possible and promoting societies that may need assistance, or any campaigns that they might be running, I could be part of that. But also representing Trinity on the bigger stage.”
Priestley says he would be “very conscious that as a Trinity Senator you do represent the most prestigious college in the country and ones that’s at the heart of a lot of great initiatives”. He gives examples such as Trinity’s TAP, saying he would like to promote it “on the national stage”. He adds that he doesn’t view it as “a conflict of interest” for him to be “promoting something specific to Trinity because it’s something really positive.”