Anorak or anarchist — elections show us who we are

Green Party candidate for Europe Ciaran Cuffe, flanked by deputy leader Catherine Martin and leader Eamon Ryan, at the party’s final press conference before the European and local elections in the Irish Georgian Society, Dublin. Picture: Sam Boal

Elections are a thing of beauty. They allow us to do a sort of collective stock take, gauge the national temperature, showing us where we’re at on a broad range of issues.

And regardless of your politics or political apathy, our elections have also given us a chance to be grateful, as we get to see our relatively peaceful democracy brought to life in 3D form.

There was the jostling about who had their poster on what lamppost, the public keeping vigilant watch that they were above the 3m limit and not placed on electricity poles. There were a host of candidates with a rainbow of views handing out flyers and knocking on doors as you tried to mash the potatoes and get the homework done and signed off.

And there was heated and humorous debate on traditional and social media and when all was said and done, men and women, without voter suppression, and if they so wished, got to cast their ballot on 949 local council seats, 11 European Parliament seats and on whether to reduce the divorce waiting period from four to two years.

However, all that aside and before we get the results of your ballots, the last few weeks have given us a three-course meal in food for thought, providing us with a glimpse into the psyche of the nation.

There was the good, the bad and the ugly on the menu: our own swing to the right, housing, physical violence, the return of that ‘get out of bed early’ trope, the climate, more women running, more first-time candidates running and racism.

How alive and well is racism on this island, both explicit and coded? We know from Irish academic research, that proponents of hate speech use seemingly innocuous but very specific phrases, both in their election literature, in broadcast debate and on social media, to spread their message. The same language and arguments are used by similar proponents across the globe.

Could these people make racism fetch in Ireland? Did they succeed? Did their attempt to pit ‘Irish born’ against second-generation Irish raise your blood pressure? Did their ‘what-aboutery’ on helping our own first cause you to give them your number one vote on the ballot sheet?

We will know the answers to those questions later on in the day but from conversations with friends, family, neighbours, and Joe Soaps in doctors’ waiting rooms, I can’t say I’ve met any of those sentiments from real human beings I’ve encountered over the last number of weeks. Only the ballot will tell.

The polls have said that there is a Green Wave sweeping over the nation with the Green Party set to make gains locally and in Europe. This was the case in Northern Ireland’s elections earlier this month, but will the trend play out here?

After years of climate-change denial and the mockery and belittling of environmental activists, dismissed as hippies and tree huggers, we’ve been inundated with unavoidable bad news in the last year.

There were the two UN reports, one saying we have now 11 years to avoid irreversible climate damage and another saying one million species face extinction. And we’ve had the unrelenting voices of teenager named Greta Thunberg and a nonagenarian called David Attenborough.

Our Government became the second country to declare a climate emergency, but the question is whether there is real action to back up that declaration — enough to have inspired voters to vote Fine Gael? Or will voters opt to go with the crowd with the track record on this one, the Green Party? Or, do we care about the climate at all, and will the Greens gain any traction? Only the ballot will tell.

From a green wave to a pink one, a historic number of women ran in this year’s local elections. About 559 women declared themselves as running out of 1,980 overall candidates, making up nearly 30% of your choice on the ballot sheet. Only 314 women contested 2014’s local elections. No doubt that is a big shift, but did you give them a vote, enough for them to reach the quota and be declared a public official? Only the ballot will tell.

Age, experience, inexperience, all got thrown around during the debate season. A pale, male candidate accused a much younger female opponent of being inexperienced, not exactly a punishable crime. Now neither candidate could out match the other in the political experience stakes so his argument was null and void, for he was really just promoting the myth that years on the clock equate to a steady, capable hand on a ship’s deck. Does the nation buy into that notion?

Of the new women running, 10% of them are aged 18 and 35, and our youngest candidate nationally is a 19-year-old man by the name of Sárán Fogarty running for Fianna Fáil in Bray, Co Wicklow.

Trump has plenty years on the clock and never held political office in his life before winning the White House, so it seems it’s youth and not inexperience we’ve a problem with.

However, in Ireland, will we flip that biased belief and vote fresh young blood into our stale and very male 31 local councils? Only the ballot will tell.

Who thinks they’re worthy of your vote, worthy to represent you, deserving of public office? With nearly 2,000 people positioning themselves as worthwhile candidates, there were many approaches and abilities in the mix. We had one fella, let’s call him Mr PC, take to the national broadcaster to participate in a TV debate, whose arsenal of argument was fairly low in fact. Even Junior Cert students know that any assertion made in an essay needs to be backed up, not by personally held beliefs, but by cold, hard evidence-based fact.

Do we think the likes of Mr PC are good enough for us, or do we deserve better in our public officials? Only the ballot will tell.

And one final insight that this election process has given us: there has been little or no talk about the question of reducing the divorce waiting period to two years. It’s garnered little passion and provoked almost no debate. Yet just 24 short years ago, after a highly divisive campaign that involved Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, we voted to introduce divorce, by a minute margin of just 9,114 votes. How times have changed.

Were and who are we now? The opened ballot boxes will hopefully give us some kind of an answer to that.

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