Liadh Ni Riada is an Irish politician, an entrepreneur, a community activist, a filmmaker and a native Irish speaker who is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Ireland. A republican, she has been announced as the candidate for the 2018 Irish presidential election by her party, Sinn Féin, which is part of the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) political group in the European Parliament. After her candidacy was announced, she vowed to be a “new President for a new Ireland” and told Irish Times that she envisions a “pluralist and inclusive” Ireland “that respects the identities and traditions of all”. Before joining politics, she worked as a television producer and director, and served on the board tasked with setting up TG4. She quickly rose up the ranks of Sinn Féin despite being a novice politician because she supported the party’s major causes and didn’t have to carry the burden of the party’s troubled era. As a native Irish speaker who had learned English only after she went to school, Ni Riada often campaigns for restoring Irish as the country’s primary language.
Childhood & Early Life
Liadh Ni Riada was born on November 28, 1966 in Dublin, Ireland, to legendary Irish composer and musician, Seán Ó Riada, who had singlehandedly revived Irish traditional music during the 1960s, and his wife. Youngest daughter of her parents, she lost her father at the age of four and her mother at the age of ten, and was raised in West Cork by her siblings.
By the time she was 15, she moved in with her aunt in Limerick and began studying music as part of her Leaving Certificate Examination, the final exam of the Irish secondary school system. After completing her school graduation, she took up a number of different jobs before entering the television industry.
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In her early 20s, Liadh Ni Riada relocated to Dublin and began working in Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), a semi-state company and the national public service broadcaster of Ireland. She continued to work on television for the next two decades, and eventually went on to establish her own production company, Red Shoe Productions.
During her time at RTÉ, she directed and produced several documentaries, including one on the then-minister for arts Michael D. Higgins and the Earth Summit in Brazil. A high point in her career came when Higgins put her on the board tasked with setting up the Irish language television channel TG4.
She has always been proud of her heritage and culture and is a staunch supporter of Irish language rights. After she became an independent producer, she often expressed her discontent with the quality of homegrown shows on RTÉ, which she thought was "missing originality and creativity" as they were modeled on BBC shows.
Liadh Ni Riada was inspired to join politics by her first husband Fiachra Ó hAodha, who "had a strong social conscience and a sense of injustice" and "always stood up for the underdog". Long after his death, she began her political journey by joining Sinn Féin as the party’s national Irish language officer in 2011.
In early September 2013, at a party convention, she was selected as Sinn Féin's Ireland South candidate for the 2014 European Parliament Election and began her campaign one week later. She grabbed the nomination by a tight margin of only two votes to defeat her opponent Chris O'Leary, national party executive member and Cork city Councilor.
Throughout her campaign in the following months, she promised to create new job positions, to put an end to forced emigration from Ireland, advocated for rural regeneration and raised awareness about increase in child poverty. In May 2014, she was elected as the first Sinn Féin MEP in Ireland South after securing 125,309 first preference votes, the second highest of all MEPs in Ireland.
Following the election, she became a member of three European Parliament committees: the Budgets Committee (BUDG), the Fisheries Committee (PECH), and the Substitute Culture and Education Committee (CULT). She was also a member of the European Parliament Delegation to the People's Republic of China.
Since being elected, she has continued to participate in the Budgets Committee’s activities as the coordinator for the GUE/NGL group on the committee. A critic of EU’s move towards militarization, she condemned its increased military spending and encouraged a more social approach towards the EU Budget.
As part of her work on the Fisheries Committee, she criticized the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and asked for a "fairer deal" of the fishing quota for Irish fishermen. She is also very vocal about plastic pollution, particularly in the oceans, and has campaigned for taking measures to curb the pollution.
Her work for the committee on Culture and Education primarily focused on the "language discrimination" in the EU, highlighting the fact that Irish is the only language which doesn’t get full translation services there. She became a member of the Culture and Educations Brexit monitoring group, in 2017.
On September 16, 2018, Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, announced that Ni Riada will be the party’s candidate for the 2018 Irish presidential election to challenge incumbent president Michael D. Higgins. It was as expected because McDonald had previously expressed her interest in seeing a female candidate contest the election and Ni Riada was tested before national audience during a July interview on RTE Radio 1.
Ni Riada, who had previously refused to describe Irish Republican Army (IRA) atrocities as ‘terrorism’, was called ‘unsuitable’ to represent Ireland on the international stage by the son of murdered prison officer Brian Stack. She had earlier courted controversy by expressing concerns about the HPV vaccine, but recently told in an interview that she always thought vaccine to be necessary to save girls from getting cancer.
Liadh Ni Riada has served as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Ireland since 2014 and has worked on the Budgets Committee, the Fisheries Committee, and the Substitute Culture and Education Committee.
Personal Life & Legacy
At the age of 27, Liadh Ni Riada met her first husband, Fiachra Ó hAodha, 22 at the time, at a wedding in her home town of Cúil Aodha. They dated for two years and then got married in 1996.
Her husband, who was suffering from skin cancer, tragically passed away following a brain hemorrhage as a result of malignant melanoma just two months before their first wedding anniversary. Ni Riada, who had experienced the death of her parents at a very early age, told in an interview that the loss of her husband was more traumatic to her.
By the end of the century, she became involved with Nicky Forde, to whom she later got married in 2012. She and her husband live in Ballyvourney in the Muskerry Gaeltacht in County Cork with their three daughters, Cáit, Ailsa and Neans.
In March 2015, Liadh Ni Riada staged a ‘language strike’ in the European Parliament to protest discrimination against her mother tongue within European Union institutions. As part of the protest, she communicated only in Irish in the parliament since the beginning of the month until St Patrick's Day on March 17, 2015.