Ask what you can do for candidates seeking election
In my little world, democracy is thriving. In just two weeks, more than 10 friends have asked me how they can get involved in the upcoming election. Separately, at a professional dinner two weeks ago, the question that kept the table buzzing was how to get involved in the election, how best to help a candidate of your choice?
In most cases, the people asking are without strong party affiliations or political experience; people whose political activity to date has been to vote and no more.
This feels like another part of the much-fabled recovery. In emerging from the economic crisis, we are also surfacing from a political one. We have lived through years of disappointment, disillusion and, in many cases, horror and outrage at the personal toll that political decisions took on people whose only mistake was to believe the yarns politicians told them.
Now, the mistrust and suspicion bred of the crisis feels like it might be abating - and it needs to.
If we are to encourage the best people into politics, we need to recognise their aspiration and support them.
We should not, as we have done too often, sneer at their vision and assume their only goal is self-interest. For most, their motivation is to improve the society we live in, based on their particular ideology, so that it is better for all of us.
So what can we do to be part of this energetic election campaign? How can we help the hopefuls for our next Dáil?
For starters, we can get the runners on and join a canvass team. By now, most candidates are out a couple of nights a week and at weekends too.
By signing up to help - usually directly with a candidate - we'll be paired off, sent out with an experienced canvasser and shown the ropes. A few hours of door-knocking and we'll be flying, getting a feel for the issues locally and for voters' perception of our candidate.
If canvassing feels intimidating as a starting point, do a leaflet drop first. No need to ring the bell, just drop the leaflet, canvassers will follow a few days later.
If door-to-door is not our thing, we haven't the time or inclination, we can support our candidate of choice from home. Host a coffee morning or a 'meet the candidate' evening. Invite neighbours to meet, greet, hear our candidate's pitch and ask questions.
If these don't work for us, we can look at our skills. Are we IT-savvy? Can we manage a database? Are we good at social media, PR, graphic design? All of these skills are costly and in short supply for election candidates. Offering to help pro bono can make a big difference to campaign spend and quality.
And finally, the big one: if we really want to back a candidate, we can put our money where our mouth is and raise some cash.
Oh yes, the brown envelope, the grimy image that springs to mind when we think about political donations. But election campaigns cost money and someone has to pay for them. We voters expect to get the leaflet through our door, to see candidates beaming down at us from lampposts, to access a functioning website, call a candidate's mobile phone and - in some cases - visit their office.
These things don't come cheap. A leaflet drop in a standard urban constituency costs about €1,500 each time. Add petrol to that for rural candidates and it's even more. For most, a general election campaign will be in the region of €30,000. Party candidates get some support from HQ - subsidised leaflets and posters, reduced design costs - but even with this, the personal financial contribution is substantial.
Giving money to a candidate we believe in is a democratic act, not something we should shy away from. Politicians are selling ideas and if we believe in them we should buy in. It is an unfortunate consequence of our political history that supporting politicians financially makes some of us squirm, but we need to get over it: if we want to see the outcome, we should support the cause.
This matters even more for politicians running for small parties or as independents and those without the personal finance to back their own campaign.
For my part, I'm feeling motivated. I intend to don the runners, host the event and open my wallet. I want to see good candidates running and show my support in a way that is of value to them.
So in this election, my advice is to ask not what your candidate can do for you, but what you can do for your candidate.