“We blame individuals for their circumstances without really understanding the complexity of class and the level of coercion that exists in a person’s decision making. From a distance our choice looks simple but it’s not”.
Senator Lynn Ruane is an Independent Member of Seanad Eireann, former President of Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union, and a long time activist and campaigner on issues of justice and equality.
Growing up on a local authority estate in Killinarden, Tallaght, Lynn left school early as a single mother at the age of fifteen. After completing an education programme for young mothers at community education centre, An Cosan, and fifteen years of community and addiction work, she gained access to Trinity College through the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), an initiative designed to improve access to the university from disadvantaged and minority groups.
In 2015, she became the first female president of the Trinity College Student Union in a decade, and the first mature student president since the 1990s. She was elected to Seanad Eireann in 2015, aged 31.
Tell us about your journey to the Seanad and why you have chosen to support the causes that you have?
Most of the causes I have gotten behind have been driven by my lived experiences or the experiences of those around me. When running for the Seanad I had hoped to use the campaign to raise some of those important issues. Actually, being elected was going to be difficult so I was overwhelmed that Trinity got behind me. I think it was a real sign that people want to see change and diversity.
Accessing our rights is made difficult by the mere fact that we don’t even recognise we have any
What is the An Cosan programme and what did it mean for you personally?
An Cosán is an organisation based in Jobstown, Tallaght, which offers adult education and other services to women and children from disadvantaged areas. The centre, which supports over 1,000 families in the locality, offers courses in early years education and care, as well as degree courses in Leadership and Addiction Studies.
An Cosan was a positive intervention at a time I needed an intervention the most. It gave me a place to just be, gather myself and work on who I am and where I want to be. It gave me the foundation I need as a young women to stand on my own two feet and aim for more. I knew after my time in An Cosan I had the ability to learn and to achieve. An Cosan, along with TAP, have been crucial in my life.
We blame individuals for their circumstances without really understanding the complexity of class and the level of coercion that exists in a person’s decision making
You will address tomorrow’s Sheehy Skeffington School on the impact of intergenerational poverty and educational inequality on the ability of women to exercise choice and social responsibility. Can you take us through some of the key points you will make?
Breaking the trend of intergenerational poverty is complex for a class of people and only a little more achievable for the individual. We blame individuals for their circumstances without really understanding the complexity of class and the level of coercion that exists in a person’s decision making. From a distance our choice looks simple but it’s not. My talk will look at how we think differently about individuals and how they make decisions when they are living in unequal conditions to the rest of society. How accessing our rights is made difficult by the mere fact that we don’t even recognise we have any.
The education system needs reform so that we can understand and teach kids that are coming from hardship and trauma
In your experience, personally and as a community education practitioner, what impact does poverty have on the prospects and potential of women in Ireland?
I think we need to create opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with targeted supports for particular groups. The education system needs reform so that we can understand and teach kids that are coming from hardship and trauma. The institutions need to understand the social context in which they are working and adapt their approach. I also feel we need to educate families rather than just children. Early Childcare and Education will only be a long-term benefit for a child if the family can encourage the learning, can recognise its benefits, and can engage in their own learning journey.
What can we do as a society, and as business leaders, to tackle these issues and support women from disadvantaged areas?
Businesses should create work experience programmes, training opportunities and employment opportunities for women from minority and marginalised groups. A diverse work place benefits everyone.
I also think that organisations and businesses should partner up with a school in an area of deprivation. That would be really useful in building relationships, mentoring programmes, and providing additional supports to young people on their journey through secondary education and on into third level or employment.
You are Co-founder and Whip of the Seanad’s Civil Engagement Group; who makes up the group and what are your aims for it?
Our Leader and Co-founder is Alice Mary Higgins (previously, National Women’s Council, Older and Bolder and much more). Our group is made up of committed activists, who like me have been working in the area of social justice for a long time.
Members include John Dolan (Disability Federation), Frances Black (The Rise Foundation), Colette Keheller who has worked in COPE and the Simon Community amongst others, and Grace O’Sullivan (Green Party and previously a rainbow warrior). Our aim is to involve civil society in the work that we do. There are so many activists, community groups and NGO’s doing amazing work so we try to utilize their knowledge to inform our work.