A friend of mine discussed with me recently the need to get more women into Irish politics. We discussed how women could get nominated, what bodies they’d run for, what sort of campaigns they should run, and all the other stuff. Thinking about it, I realised I had forgotten to mention the most obvious thing. Don’t do it if you have something better to do.
Think about it for a minute: Running for the county council, the Seanad, the Dail, all are worth doing if you are an ambitious person who wants to win. But not if you actually want to do things. “But you can change things if you’re elected!” the committed will say. Mostly, you can’t. If you reach the cabinet, ten or fifteen years after entering politics, and most politicians don’t ever reach the cabinet, you might, but if you are one of the 99% of elected officials not in the cabinet, you are wasting your time. “But you have influence!” they say. Hmmm. Influence. Compare ten years of “having influence” with ten years of working within a charity as a volunteer. See, our politicians do actually work hard, both physically and for long hours. But most of the work is pointless. Imagine if you took that work rate and used it for volunteering. You would actually get more done.
Ireland is quite exceptional in its refusal to give politicians actual executive power, not to influence, but to issue orders. As a result, we have a political life made up for the most part of people “urging” and “calling for” other people to take responsibility for things. In Ireland, it is regarded as a thoughtful policy for a fully-paid parliamentarian with legislative assistant and support to call for a “full-scale review”, in other words, “I’m calling on someone else to come up with an idea how to solve X”. Someone else.
Coach a soccer or GAA team. Work with the homeless or those with disabilities, or visit the old. If you have children, spend more time with them rather than dropping leaflets telling people things they can look up on the internet, because after ten years you may say “I wish I had spent more time with my kids” but you will NEVER say “I wish I’d copied and pasted more stuff from citizensinformation.ie to put in a leaflet and give to people too bone idle to look it up themselves”. It’ll take less time and you will, for the most part, do more good.
N.B: When I write a post like this, I always get three types of responses. The first, from young activists, are always full of “But if everybody thought that/the men and women of 1916”. (Ever notice, by the way, how the women of 1916 have been elevated to equal status in recent years? I always think it sounds like a dodgy Playboy special edition) Their protests are sincere, and I know this because it was how I felt 20 years ago.
Then there are the jaded former hacks who now content themselves watching “Borgen” on BBC Four who agree.
Finally, there are the professional candidates who come out with phrases like “Well, I actually relish constituency work!” I’m not kidding, I’ve actually heard one say that. To that response, all I can say is “ah, bless”.