Thursday 29 September 2016

My plunge into politics didn't cost the taxpayer

Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30

Carol Hunt who took part in the Christmas swim at Seapoint in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Carol Hunt who took part in the Christmas swim at Seapoint in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

Did you get my Christmas card? You didn't? Well, that might just be because I didn't send one. It's nothing personal. Even my mother didn't get one from me this year.

  • Go To

Last month, totting up all the cash I didn't have to spend on cards, calendars, posters and other sundry pre-election materials, I decided that Christmas cards were an unnecessary expense this year. This, I have been informed, is very "unpolitical" of me.

Seemingly, every wannabe politician worth their salt gets a Christmas card out to potential voters, sometimes at their own cost, more often at yours. This doesn't strike me as being very much in the spirit of Christmas. Unless the spirit we're talking about is that of Ebenezer Scrooge, before the personality-changing visit of Christmas Future.

It's a bit rum, to say the least, to send a person an unasked-for-card, expect them to be grateful for it, while all the time knowing that you're landing them with the cost of it. Whether they wanted it or not. And yet that's what many of our politicians do, both elected and unelected.

Lucinda Creighton had us all up in arms last week when she tweeted that she "couldn't get a constituency newsletter printed in Leinster House b/c one TD clogged up the printer with an order for 85,000 Christmas cards".

Eighty. Five. Thousand. Surely a misprint? But no, Lucinda insisted that it wasn't. The Oireachtas printing services denied that they had printed 85,000 cards for one TD. Eventually the truth came to light.

That most popular of politicians, Michael Lowry, had "inquired" about getting 85,000 cards printed, but as all those other cash-strapped political representatives had put their own orders in for free cards and calendars and the like, he was told he hadn't a chance of getting them printed this side of the New Year.

So he went and paid for them himself. Like normal people do. Except Michael being Michael, there was nothing normal about the design of his card. Covered in baubles which modestly describe his attributes - "kindness", "efficiency", "friendship" - Lowry has made sure you don't forget who sent you this card. He has the word 'Lowry' gleaming repeatedly from inside the aforementioned baubles; truly a lesson for us all here in selfless self-promotion.

Senator Averil Power also got a bit of media coverage last week because she sent 73,000 calendars to the voters of Dublin Bay North.

She paid for their delivery herself, but we all paid for the cost of printing them. In all, 22 members of the Oireachtas ordered personalised items to send to their constituents, with the cost going to the taxpayer. It's a funny old world when you can send the bill for your own self-promotion to the very people whose vote you are attempting to get - or should that be "buy?"

But that's the rules. There's nothing illegitimate about using voters' hard-earned cash to tell them how fabulous you are - if you happen to be a member of the Oireachtas. It might be unfair, but it's part and parcel of how politics works.

It's one of the reasons why it's so hard for new people to get into the political system here. If you're not a member of a party machine - with well-positioned (and funded) members and cronies - you have to be a bit inventive if you want to get your message out.

You may know (or not) that some time ago I lost the run of myself entirely and decided to run as a candidate for the next election. After 10 years writing on social and political issues, bemoaning the dearth of women in Leinster House and complaining that "somebody should do something", I eventually decided to put my money where my mouth was.

It wasn't an easy decision. As I admitted initially, this is fundamentally DIY politics; I have no party allegiance or history of politics in my family or close circle. I'm not a teacher. I'm not called Mary. I lack all the basic requirements of a traditional Irish TD. In order to raise even the most limited amount of cash to run, I have had to do things I know other politicians would die before attempting.

And considering my latest venture, they may have a point. A few months ago my wonderful (completely unpaid) campaign manager had a "great idea" for publicity. "As you're taking the plunge into politics," he said, "and you're from Blackrock - why not do the Christmas Day swim?"

Discussing it in a nice warm pub, it seemed like a great idea. Not so great when I woke up on Christmas Day to the rain and wind and realised I would be stripping off soon and plunging into a freezing cold sea! I was initially mortified - but the jokes came fast and furious all day on social media, and eventually I had to laugh. As one said: "you've brought new meaning to the term 'political calendar girl', and it didn't cost us a penny!"

That's all well and good, but I bet Mary Hanafin doesn't have to do this to pay for her posters. But if I get elected, I may make it mandatory for all politicians to take a dip on Christmas Day. I'm sure the electorate would prefer that to the obligatory Christmas card. I know I would.

Carol Hunt is an Independent Alliance candidate for the Dun Laoghaire constituency

Sunday Independent

Read More