I knew your father/mother/social welfare officer well!
The first election campaign I was ever directly involved in was the 1991 local elections, where I canvassed for Jeananne Crowley in the Pembroke Ward, a seat I’d contest myself in the 1999 elections. After that, I campaigned in local, general, European and by-elections, and in a number of referendums. And that’s not counting the internal party elections I campaigned in. Between 1991 and 2005, when I resigned from the Progressive Democrats, I experienced a fair bit of Irish politics, and came across what I would regard as fairly solid general rules of Irish politics. They are general, there are always exceptions, but broadly speaking I believe they’re true:
1. With the possible exception of Sinn Fein and the Alphabet Left, and maybe in by-elections, there is no longer such a thing as party machines in the traditional sense. Successful candidates have to effectively build their own teams of, for the most part, personal loyalists. Many if not most of the party members who turned up to vote at the convention will not end up knocking on doors.
2. Irish people vote for people over ideas nearly always. People are far more likely to vote for a person they like but disagree with politically over a person they agree with but dislike.
3. It is possible to be interested in the politics of ideas, or the politics of winning elections, and never have anything to do with the other. Indeed it is getting more and more likely.
4. The one characteristic a successful candidate absolutely must have over everything else is physical stamina, and a willingness to keep knocking on doors and talking to people over and over again. It is possible for a stupid candidate to be elected again and again. A lazy candidate will probably only be elected once, and only because he/she is related to someone.
5. The lack of knowledge displayed by voters, and their pride in that lack of knowledge, about how the political system works, and how decisions are made, will never cease to amaze you.
6. By international standards, it is relatively easy for a small group to change things in Ireland if it has determination, courage and organisation. The failure to bring change has usually been because of a lack of one of those three factors. The Provisional IRA and the Progressive Democrats proved that.
7. Irish people take a masochistic comfort in believing that an uncontrollable force, be it the Brits, the IMF, or potatoes, is responsible for their woes, and are comfortable with people knowingly lying to them.
8. “The Rich” are people who earn €15k more than you per annum. “The Ordinary People” are your friends and family.
9. The fact that we ask candidates the same questions in both local and national elections explains a lot about why Ireland is the way it is today.