Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 March 2018

Elections will divide opinion but right to vote is precious

Fr Peter McVerry and Brian O'Driscoll both clarified they weren't endorsing a candidate.
Fr Peter McVerry and Brian O'Driscoll both clarified they weren't endorsing a candidate.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Nothing unites a nation in action and divides it in opinion quite like an election.

In boom times, the electorate is happy and the Government parties usually perform well; in more difficult times, the Government gets walloped.

But it's a bit more interesting this time around.

The present Government has been imposing one tough Budget after another, which they apparently believe will turn around the financial mess they inherited. The net result for a lot of people is varying degrees of hardship.

So are we ready to forgive, or at least forget, Fianna Fail's sins of the past? Or will we, either willingly or reluctantly, continue to support the Government in its current course of action? Time will tell.

And what of the independents and the other parties, particularly Sinn Fein? It has a well-oiled machine, bright fresh-faced candidates and has been steadily building a head of steam among the youth, disaffected Labour supporters and a section of the disenfranchised. Presumably they are hoping to have a significant impact on shaping the events of the 1916 centenary in two years' time. But has their growth got solid foundations or is it because it is easy to be popular in opposition?

The FG v FF conundrum is perfectly encapsulated by two events of the past few weeks – the Alan Shatter resignation and the Mary v Kate spat in the Blackrock ward, which has ignited a hitherto tame campaign.

Shatter's resignation took some pressure off Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He must have been delighted that Micheál Martin had already snatched the baton of 'embattled leader' out of his hands with the short-lived decision to bring back Mary Hanafin, a flag-bearing member of the old guard.

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Can't be much fun for those involved but its great entertainment for the armchair viewer.

However, at least the upside for Kate Feeney is that she is no longer anonymous, which has to be the worst problem for a politician.


Most of the election posters are similar in size, most have similar backgrounds while the slogans use the same words, just in varying order.

A certain Dublin councillor who used a photo of herself flanked by Brian O'Driscoll and Fr Peter McVerry in her election material found herself in a spot of bother when both men publicly clarified their non-endorsement position. Still, there's no such a thing as bad publicity.

I also spotted posters of a candidate from a neighbouring constituency being erected in ours. We are in Midlands-North West and the posters were being put up near Junction 3 of the M8, and were presumably aimed at drivers travelling to/from the nearby South constituency.

Some voters will see this as bad manners, others as a candidate showing the bit of neck needed to get results in the tough world of politics.

And what will voters make of candidates using old posters from a previous campaign (i.e. Paul Gogarty, former Green and now Independent) or, in the case of Independent Donegal Councillor Dan McBride, not putting up any posters at all?

And while I am not condoning vandalism, I am always engaged by defaced posters. Leaving aside the cost of cleaning or replacing them, I always think it adds a bit of spice to elections. Occasionally I find myself being drawn to look at a poster that never before caught my eye.

In the last European election, less than 60pc of the electorate voted.

I know it's almost an unfashionable thing to say, but I will cast my vote. That's because I believe a vote is precious. People I never met fought to get it.

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of the date when citizens of all races were allowed to vote in South Africa and I can still vividly remember stories of women queuing for days in the sun to do so.

Contrast this with the attitude of a celebrity like Russell Brand who says that he has never voted – he claims that there is nothing to vote for. But isn't our right to vote intrinsically linked to so many of our freedoms, even our right to free speech?

However, I feel that compulsory voting would alienate rather than embrace more people.

Then I came across a suggestion by a man called Jesse Ventura, a former governor of the US state of Minnesota who once said there should be a line on the ballot paper for None Of The Above (NOTA). Imagine being elected but having got fewer votes than NOTA.

The thought brought a smile to my lips and reminded me of the hairy old chestnut about the voter who wrote '1' for each candidate on the polling sheet and signed it 'As Promised'.

It's not that I think the system is perfect. But it's too easy to say that one candidate or party is as bad as the other, that nothing will change anyway. Instead, I agree with American writer David Foster Wallace who said "there is no such thing as not voting; you either vote by voting or you vote by staying at home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard's vote".

Elections are probably seen as relatively less important in urban areas where there is so much other stuff going on than in the country where the overnight appearance of the posters, especially for the local elections, attract plenty of attention and spark conversation.


Mind you, a lot of the discussion is not exactly high-brow. It's less about political views and more about whether that guy is wearing a toupee or how long ago such and such a photo was taken.

But scratch the surface and you will often find that old dividing lines linger.

The redrawing of the European election boundaries and the loss of a seat will obviously impact on voting patterns and also the outcome.

At the risk of alienating some of my readers, I freely admit that apart from integrity, personality and work ethic, one of the things that is important to me in selecting a candidate is someone who believes in the European Union.

There are enough people on the outside trying to drag it down than helping to elect someone seeking to undermine it from the inside. The EU isn't perfect, but you can't change a system unless you are also willing to work with it.

Indo Farming