Tom Clonan has said he did not think he would be elected to the Seanad, but that he is now determined to maximise the opportunity to promote the causes with which he has been involved for more than 20 years.
The newly-elected Senator for Trinity College, Dublin said it was a “nail biting contest” and a “baptism of fire”.
“I didn’t think I’d win at all. I ran as a protest,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
The contest to fill the vacancy created by Ivana Bacik’s election to the Dáil last year involved a number of high-profile candidates including former lord mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu and retired Irish rugby player Hugo MacNeill.
They were both eliminated before the 16th and final count which which ended with Mr Clonan taking the seat with 5,358 votes. He won out over psychologist Maureen Gaffney, who ended up with 5,198 votes.
Mr Clonan said his son Eoghan (20), a student at Dublin Business School who has a neuromuscular disability called Pelizaeus Merzbacher Disease, was his campaign manager. He said that when Eoghan was diagnosed it was “like Alice falling through the looking glass” as the family moved into a parallel world where they had to fight “for really poor services”.
The former Defence Forces member said Ireland is “one of the worst countries in the EU” for disability care and services. “We can do better,” he said. “I want to make things better.”
Mr Clonan said that he did not know how long this political career would last, but that he intended to “make some noise” about radical campaigns and to have an impact while it did. He said he could achieve more by being in the place where people make decisions.
“It’s great to be inside, not outside the gates,” he added.
The security analyst said he supported reforming the Seanad reform and hoped the Government would fulfil its promise to do so.
He said “the Senate is very important” as it had the power to hold the Government to account.
Mr Clonan expressed disappointment that many who were eligible to vote in the Seanad by-election had not done so. As a Trinity College graduate he was a member of a very privileged group.
Of the 70,000 who were eligible to vote only 15,000 had done so.
“The most progressive community in the country didn’t vote. All they had to do was pop it in the post.”