Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway has spent just over a year as a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas. In April 2011, the 37-year-old Ennistymon man won a seat in the Seanad on the administrative panel, and is now the Seanad Spokesperson on Disability and Equality. With just 16 per cent sight, he is the first visually impaired Oireachtas member in living memory.
Martin is the third generation of his family to be born with congenital cataracts, as his father and his grandfather also had the condition. As a six-month-old baby, Martin was taken to London for a series of eye operations which needed to be carried out before his first birthday. This treatment was groundbreaking at the time, and resulted in giving him some limited vision.
Martin was educated in mainstream school, which was, he thinks, very important in terms of developing his self-esteem and survival instincts. He went on to study Economics and Politics in UCD.
Martin has been a public representative in North Clare for the past seven years. He was first elected to Clare County Council in June 2004, representing the North Clare area and was re-elected in 2009, topping the poll. After getting a seat on Clare County Council, he had to adjust to being a public figure with a serious disability. But campaigning and getting elected was just the start of the process. Being a politician who can't drive, recognise people easily and read well holds its own set of challenges.
Martin relies on public transport to travel to Dublin each week to attend the Seanad, and regularly uses buses to travel around County Clare. He depends on family, friends and supporters to assist with constituency work by driving him to meetings across the large rural area of County Clare.
Martin's disability isn't very obvious, so few people realise the severity of his vision impairment. This can be problematic, when so much of politics is about meeting the public. People often think that he is ignoring them, unaware that he cannot see a familiar face across the street, or know if someone is waving at him.
Recent access to Apple iPad technology has revolutionised the way Martin works, allowing him to magnify the print to a very large font in order to read material with comfort. He is the first ever member of the Houses of the Oireachtas to access parliamentary documents electronically, by using his iPad.
In this documentary, Martin speaks about the daily challenges of disability, his early childhood, battling through education and eventually becoming a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas. We follow Martin as he goes about his work and gain a unique insight into how he has successfully become a national politician against the challenges he endured.
Produced by Sarah Blake
Sound Supervision by Mark McGrath
The letters in this documentary were voiced by Alan Torney, Colm Flynn and Margaret Hayes.
Archive audio from 2009 local election in Clare courtesy of Clare FM.
First broadcast: July 14th 2012
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