Lynn Ruane: From shoplifting to the Seanad

Senator Ruane spoke to Yates on Sunday about how having a child saved her life...

Lynn Ruane: From shoplifting to the Seanad

Senator Lynn Ruane. Photo:Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Outspoken and passionate, independent Senator Lynn Ruane is today one of the country's most prominent campaigners on issues such as drug law reform and the "devastating impact" of austerity.

Senator Ruane - who is still in her early 30s - spoke to Ivan Yates today about her remarkable story so far, as well as where she is likely to go from here.

Lynn grew up in Tallaght in a "very happy" home, with a hard-working mother and father. However, soon after starting secondary school, Lynn began experiencing "a lot of issues".

She explained: "I started to notice the impacts of drugs, death and people dying very young [...] I could really take in that something wasn't right."

"Sometimes when [kids are experiencing] difficulty... they're screaming out for help, and they're doing it in a way that people think they're bold and disruptive. But they're not actually."

"I don't think responsibility can be put on a child so young"

As a young teenager, Lynn became involved in shoplifting, stealing cars, and taking drugs.

She explained that her parents were "heartbroken" by the change, stressing: "All they did was continue to love me and support me."

She observed: "I was a 12 and 13 year old child - I don't know how much responsibility a 12 or 13 year old can take. In a lot of working class areas, kids are faced with big decisions very, very early in their life - and they're not able to cope with them.

"No, I don't think responsibility can be put on a child so young - they need help, and they need to be facilitated to make the right choices."

Despite having missed most of second and third year, Lynn was facilitated to sit her Junior Cert by her guidance counsellor Mr Nolan. It was around this time, however, that she found out she was pregnant.

She recalled: "I wasn't taking any precautions [...] It didn't bother me at the time whether I got pregnant or not.

"Maybe I wanted something to love, maybe I wanted some hope. The relationship [with my parents] was fractured at that time.... They probably found it very hard to reach me in that moment. I probably wasn't allowing them love me."

"I felt some hope"

Ultimately, Lynn believes having a child at such a young age actually saved her life.

"What I was experiencing around me - the death, and the poverty, and people dying unnecessarily - that was scary," she said. "Having Jordanne was not scary. I felt some hope. I stopped smoking and taking drugs instantly.

"I definitely don't promote pregnancy to people to save their lives, that's what I want to be very clear on - it was just my circumstances at the time began to improve."

Another educational opportunity for Lynn came in the form of An Cosán, the organisation founded by the now Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and her partner Ann Louise Gilligan, who died earlier this week.

Speaking about the two founders of the organisation, Lynn told Ivan: "[They] mean the absolute world to me.

"It was only when I got older, and I really began to realise the impact education has on transforming peoples' lives, and especially women [...] They really embodied all of that."

The experience in An Cosán helped encourage Lynn to start studying addiction in IT Tallaght, and she was later accepted to Trinity to study philosophy under the Trinity Access Programme.

Lynn has the utmost respect for the people she has worked and studied with in Trinity, saying: "I've ended up being with people that understand class, and understand the impacts of class, and what is needed in terms of people in social deprivation."

She believes Trinity is changing: "It is diversifying, and it is trying to accept and understand that they need to replicate society".

Life as a senator

After a few years studying in Trinity, Lynn was voted as president of TCD Students’ Union, and she was ultimately elected to the Seanad in 2016 to represent the Trinity College constituency.

Lynn never planned to enter politics, and instead hoped to 'learn the language' to persuade politicians. However, she has since learned the importance of 'having a voice'.

She told Ivan that the current make-up of the Seanad is allowing it to do "what it should be doing".

Senator Ruane has plans for many pieces of ambitious legislation, including to decriminalise drug possession and "stop wasting resources in a justice system that has no rehabilitative process in relation to addiction".

She has no plans to join a political party, instead hoping to embrace her ability to work across party lines.

"I'm going to write such good legislation, I will set the basis for what [parties in power] will do," she told Ivan.

Still only 32, it seems certain there is a long political future ahead for Lynn Ruane. Where does she see herself in 10 years?

She told Ivan: "I do have an opportunity, and I think for the first time in my life I'm in the moment [...] I'm enjoying a little bit of safety, a little bit of security, and being able to comfortably focus on the issues I care about.

"I don't really know for the first time in my life what's ten years away," she added - and she seems very excited indeed about that.