Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.
In my former career as a broadcaster, I took my duty of political neutrality seriously. For years, whether as a volunteer or a professional, I reported on political events, and interviewed several members of government, yet I never got involved with party politics. My neutrality was key for any credibility in my work, no matter how small or insignificant, and I honored it as much as I could.
Then, the marriage equality referendum took place while I was host of an LGBT programme on national radio. Once the referendum date was announced, my neutrality was shattered. As the often vitriolic and illogical statements emerged from the No side, my role as an unbiased (and silenced) figure couldn’t continue. Realising that I could not, and would not, allow homophobic and anti-equality venom be broadcast on my radio show, I made the decision to leave broadcasting altogether. My friends praised me for sticking to my principles, while some others thought that if the kitchen was too hot, then I was free to get out. I did get out, making their criticism a moot point, yet despite my interest in the media, I’ve no regrets in what I did.
Leaving the media, however, meant that I was no longer duty-bound to public neutrality. Growing up, I had friends who were in politics; many within Labour, with others in Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, the Greens, the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, the short-lived NI21, and even Denmark’s Socialdemokratiet. No party felt like a perfect fit for me, but I knew that my political views (or rather, the ones I would consider) would be somewhat centre-left. Looking back, I see now that while no party tempted me enough to become a member, my own political views hadn’t matured enough to commit to a party. My reasons for voting for someone ranged from whoever made genuine improvements to the community, to who was the Irish-speaking candidate. Not always logical or practical, you might think, but some voters make their choices for worse reasons.
The Greener Grass of Home…?
My stints living in the UK sped up my political awareness and development, without a doubt. Living in Belfast made me realise how alive politics there are, and how they filter into daily life. Living in Nottingham during the Brexit referendum, however, was the final ingredient needed for my political maturity. Waking up on the morning after my partner and I had cast our vote to keep the UK in the EU, was a day I won’t forget. Hearing the news that the majority of Britons had voted to leave was genuinely upsetting. Until then, I had been proud of being British-born, and saw myself as simply an EU citizen living in another EU state. I felt as ‘at home’ in England as I had been in Ireland, because I knew that despite some difference, I enjoyed the same rights as being at home. After the vote, though, I felt that non-British Europeans (not just the Irish) had been betrayed, and I felt even more sorry for my British friends who felt betrayed by their own countrymen and women. Still, it was a decision that made me feel I was no longer as welcome in Britain as before, and it would soon be time to return to Ireland.
When I did, a fragile minority government was scrambling to hold itself, and its various state bodies and departments, accountable to the public. The Public Services Card seems to have more data security problems than a block of Swiss cheese, while it has taken several homeless people to die on our streets within days of each other before the government publicly announced their committment to tackle the housing crisis we face. While water charges are about to be refunded to those who paid them, the Taoiseach sneered in a TV interview at the public who protested them, instead of accepting their concerns and wanting to address them. The country, despite many things going well for it, seems as fractured as ever. The economy might be reported to be doing better recently, but I’m not sure I can say the same for the community.
Finding my place
My personal track record of voting in Ireland has been more issue-based than party based, though I have given Labour and the Green Party a fair amount of chances in the past. Sadly, I feel that both Labour and the Greens were decimated after their respective periods in coalition governments, and I’ve no faith in Brendan Howlin at all, so I can’t see myself voting for Labour anymore. Sinn Féin, in my view, are slowly letting their Troubles-era shackles slip away, and I’ve seen first-hand how they have done good work for people in Belfast and Dublin. Still, they are not yet the reborn phoenix they wish to be, and have a lot of legacy issues to work on before their message will be heard without prejudice.
Having recently moved to Cork, I decided to go along to a public meeting of the Social Democrats a few weeks ago. Maybe it was my love for the third series of Borgen, but I was impressed with the idea of a group of people creating a new space for themselves within Irish politics, breaking away from the traditional Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael divide. I liked that those who attended, both party activists and members of the local community, agreed on a wide range of issues and ideas. I liked that there was a sense that a good economy does not equate to a good country, and that ethics need to return to government. I liked that there was a pride in our community, our abilities, and our country, but that we knew that if things were to improve in Ireland, we can’t leave it constantly to someone else to do the work.
That meeting had a lasting effect on me, so I proceeded to do some research into different political issues. After some reflection, earlier today I decided to become a member of the Social Democrats. I’m willing to put my energy into the belief that Ireland can be a better, stronger, more ethical country, with a little help from those who want to improve it. The areas in which I’m personally most interested – culture, health, foreign policy, and integration – might not always be at the fore of everyone’s minds, but at least I can contribute to those, while others work their talents in other areas, creating the bigger picture for a better Ireland.
Tosnóimís: Let us begin.