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Cian Ireland talks politics and activism amidst selection for Welsh candidacy

The Stirling University Labour Society treasurer chats about his politically formative years in student politics.

19 mins read

Cian Ireland has been selected as the Welsh Labour candidate for Dwyfor Meirionnydd in the 2021 Senedd elections.

The third year history student at Stirling University said he was, “humbled to have been selected by Labour members in Dwyfor Meirionnydd as their candidate for Senedd.”

An active and engaged member of the student political body at Stirling University both within the student union and the Stirling Labour Society respectively, Cian sits down with Brig to discuss his experiences within the student political sphere, his Welsh candidacy selection, and how important it is to engage with politics and activism to achieve change.

How important is it to get involved with politics as a student?

Cian: “It’s really important. Firstly, the only way we as students will see better housing and learning conditions is by organising and being active in demanding better. The more students involved in this process the better things will become.

“Beyond this more collective point, I also think it’s a really positive thing on an individual level. I’ve gained so much more confidence, understanding and friendship through my involvement in student politics and I really can’t imagine a university experience without it”.

How has your activism within student politics equipped you for future political endeavours?

Cian: “Organising with the tenants union in particular has contributed massively to my political experience. From learning how to run campaigns, chair meetings, public speaking to negotiating skills the tenants union has had a massive influence on me. It’s been a brilliant experience watching it grow and empower student tenants at the university.

“The Labour society meanwhile has been a fantastic space to discuss and debate with contributions from diverse perspectives within the party. It’s also provided me with life long friendships!”

As previous housing officer, you were intrinsically involved in various issues relating to accommodation and housing on campus. What are your thoughts on the 9K For What? movement that has spread across the UK, and in particular about the recent protest on campus here at Stirling?

Cian: “Firstly, I think it’s well meaning. It comes from the right place, but I don’t think it’s approaching this question in the right way. I think when we are saying “9K For What?” we are normalising the idea of a transaction; normalising the idea of paying for education. Instead, what we should be arguing is the end of marketisation for universities.

“We should also be listening to the UCU (University and College Union) and workers within universities. We had a discussion with our branch at Stirling, and they have said they have concerns around 9K For What? because they are worried that if this was done in this immediate moment and this campaign was successful, if refunds were given out, that the way they’d meet that cost is by sacking more staff.

“We already lost teaching assistants in April at Stirling, and that job loss has been observed across the entire country. So I think we should be listening to our UCU colleagues as well as arguing that we should be ending the marketisation of universities not just having a reflective movement concerning tuition.

“As an extra point, I think that in Scotland it makes less sense to be pushing 9K For What? from a refund perspective considering that the vast majority of students, especially at Stirling for example, are Scottish students who don’t pay that 9K.

“I think it would be much more fruitful if we focused our energies around campaigning against tuition fees as a practice, or focused on supporting the lecturers and workers. I think that would be much more effective.

“I do sympathise with the students organising this though, and I do see why they want to do that (get behind the movement).”

You were part of the Stirling 13, students who occupied the Cottrell building in support of the lecturers striking. Are you feeling any ramifications still from that situation, from the suspension you received?

Cian: “No ramifications per say. It’s all by the by in terms of punishment, we’ve all faced it and moved on from it. I’d also like to extend a massive thank you to the lecturers who supported me through that experience. They were just fantastic and they really went above and beyond to accommodate that situation and support me so I am forever thankful for that. I don’t think there’s much else to be said on it, it’s already been said and we’ve dealt with it and moved on”.

Cian will step down from his involvement within student politics if successful at the Welsh parliamentary elections naturally, with his focus being on representing his constituency if he is elected.

“Naturally I won’t be focusing on student politics as much, but will still be a supportive member of the organisations I have worked with and helped establish, and retain colleagues and contacts. My passion for these issues doesn’t change.”

We then discussed Cian’s selection to represent Welsh Labour in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, running on a platform of supporting Welsh independence and rural socialism in May this year at the Senedd elections, changes in Welsh politics such as increased devolution and enfranchisement of 16 year old voters, and some favorite memories growing up in the area of Dwyfor Meirionnydd.

The Welsh parliament has gained enhanced devolved powers over the last two decades. This election is the first to use the renamed Welsh Senedd (previously Welsh Parliament) after the change in 2020. How important do you think it is for Welsh people to have that change in name to reflect both devolution and Welsh culture?

Cian: “I think renaming it was an important step. It marks the confidence that Welsh people are getting concerning government and the way the country is run. I think it was absolutely the right thing for the Welsh government and parliament to make the decision on. While some commentators may have said it was purely cosmetic, I think changing it from an Assembly to ‘Senedd Cymru’ is a massive difference.

“It is a matter of self confidence and I do feel a certain sense of success that devolution and self government has brought to Wales over the years. It has allowed us to make different decisions from the rest of the UK that have benefitted a lot of Welsh people. Obviously that needs to be extended and pushed on further.

“Looking at the program we are going to be running on in just a few months time, I am confident that is something that the Welsh government is going to continue to carry on doing.”

You are running on a platform supporting and advocating for Welsh independence. Labour is known for the Better Together movement concerning Scottish independence. How does the position for Welsh independence fit into the wider notions of Labour as a pro-union party?

Cian: “I think firstly it’s important to differentiate the position of the Welsh Labour party relative to the rest of the UK. In 2002 Rhodri Morgan made his famous ‘Clear Red Water’ speech to differentiate Welsh Labour from the main party. It’s something Mark Drakeford (First Minister of Wales) wrote himself to differentiate from Labour under Blair in the early days.

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Image Credit: Cian Ireland

“I think that tradition has continued throughout the two decades of Welsh Labour governments. We have consistently done things differently from the rest of the UK, and I think that the way we are approaching the constitutional question is a real testament to this.

“We are able to have a much wider debate, and a really good debate that has been growing over time.

“There was an event only two nights ago where we had federalist MS’s as well as pro-indy candidates having these discussions and it’s really important, but also done in a comradely way because I think a lot of what we want as pro-indy candidates are along very similar lines to what the federalists want. We just have different ways of achieving it.

“I think there is a huge amount of common ground between us all. I think if we want to build towards independence it’s going to inevitably result in devolving more powers and building institutions that would be required for creating an independent nation in the first place.

“So there is a lot of common ground between myself and fellow candidates in the upcoming election that don’t believe in independence. I think there’s much more room for dialogue within the party. I am thankful that we are able to have that debate within the party and have that broad range of views, while coming together on the important issues such as raking care of the country of Wales and how we support the trade union movement, aswell as addressing numerous other major concerns within Wales.

“I think characterising the Labour party as a unionist party almost misses the point of the Labour party. I don’t think anyone got into the Labour party for the sake of discussing constitutional issues primarily. The constitutional issue for a lot of us is just a means to an end, which I think is very different to the Conservative party for example which is a pure unionist party – defending the union is one of their almost core principals.”

“I think it’s an interesting point concerning our involvement in Better Together amidst Scottish independence. By doing that we allowed ourselves to be labelled as a unionist party – from my perspective it was a massive mistake to do this. I think we should have run our own campaign separately at the time on different issues, but hindsight is 2020.”

How important do you think it is that there is the inclusion and enfranchisement of younger voters for the first time during this upcoming election? (16 & 17 year olds can vote in the Welsh Senedd elections for the first time.)

Cian: “I think it’s absolutely crucial and really brilliant that 16 and 17 year olds can get involved. Perhaps even slightly jealous, I’d loved to have been able to vote at 16.” he says with a smile.

“16 and 17 year olds being excluded from decisions that affect their whole lives, such as the Brexit referendum, is extremely problematic. I’m really glad to see that they have now been included in the voting and decision making process for the Welsh parliamentary elections.

“Even within my own constituency I think it’s a really big issue. Recently a lot of young services have been massively slashed by Plaid Cymru’s council. We have seen all youth centres shut down over the last two years. I think this has caused massive issues for young people in the area of Dwyfor Meirionnydd and beyond.

“On top of all the massive issues that a lot of young people face already, I don’t think it is a coincidence that so many young people leave the area becasue it is a difficult place to grow up. I think as a young candidate I really want to speak to the young people of Dwyfor Meirionnydd, highlight these issues and demonstrate that I think I have the idea and vision on how we can address these issues, and make Dwyfor Meirionnydd a good place for young people to live in comfortably with decent employment, with actual decision making powers over local decisions that are made, so they don’t feel as alienated as a lot of us do.”

What are the biggest areas and issues facing your constituency?

Cian: “The two massive problems that are plaguing Dwyfor Meirionnydd are the same issues the area has faced for a long time. Low wages- the average hourly wage in the county, Gwynedd, is £1 less than the Welsh national average- and housing. The housing is totally unaffordable for the local population who is stuck on these low wages, which is being inflated and exacerbated by the second-home ownership within the area.

“For example 40% of all houses sold in the last year were sold as second homes, which obviously then drives the tourism industry, which drives exploitative practices and low wages into even more of a reality for constituents. It’s a self fulfilling cycle.

“As a result of that, a lot of young people are then leaving the area which is having a massive impact on our culture and language.

“These are the two massive areas that need to be addressed. The Welsh government has made attempts to do so, but I hope as a candidate I can highlight these issues and put together an effective strategy to address these issues.

“From my personal perspective, the best way to address these issues facing Dwyfor Meirionnydd is by expanding community ownership and community cooperatives such as the one in my village.

“As we transition to a zero carbon economy, we should be advocating using for example, The Development Bank of Wales that the Welsh government has set up, as well as other schemes and grants that have been set up by the Welsh government. We should be using these to establish renewable green energy that are community owned, where the revenue created is spent in ways that are democratically decided by the community. Reinvest in the community, so they can start taking back control of the local economy and start making the decisions that effect them.”

You grew up in Dwyfor Meirionnydd. Do you have a favourite memory of your time spent there?

Cian: “Oh there are so many. Countless fantastic and incredible rugby memories prior to my injury. I’ll never forget what it was like playing rugby for the first time at the local club, how empowered I felt doing it.

“One memory that stands out to me is when I was really young at the time. At the most 12 years old. I remember there is a little hospital where I live called Bryn Beryl that my Mum worked in, in the dementia ward. There has been significant cuts to that hospital unfortunately; at the time there was a big protest against the cuts. It was the first big political event I was involved in. We were marching down the streets in Pwllheli, my local town, with banners. There must have been a few hundred people there at least. The memory that stands out to me was checking the paper and seeing myself on the front page!”

Feature Image Credit: The National

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