Politics is intimidating to teenagers; it is something I have learned over the last couple of years. My exploration of politics did not start out of some noble desire to understand how my nation runs; it was started out of pure boredom during The Lockdowns. Learning about the different processes of government, the diverse ways issues were decided, and the way that the wheels of our nation turn was one of the things that kept me sane during those dark times. So, if you have ever wondered about decisions made by the government, if you have ever questioned everything and anything, then read on and let us begin to make this world of politics un-intimidating together.
If one wishes to understand a battle, they first must study the battleground. These issues are the battlegrounds in which politics are fought. Each fighter trying to impose their ideals upon it, each one garnering for the support of the citizens. But you must always remember to look beyond the issues, to the people beneath.
Healthcare is more than just doctors and nurses; it is a guarantee that if you get sick you can have treatment. For many people in Ireland that guarantee is not there. We are one of the only countries in the E.U which does not offer free public healthcare to all of its citizens. While limited medical cards and limiting of fees are a good practise, many of our EU neighbours have free healthcare for all their citizens. Along with this issue that was already there, the pandemic has made healthcare staff consistently overworked and almost one third of nurses have considered a career change. The current arrangement is not sustainable and needs to be addressed quickly.
The Housing Crisis
Estimates claim that if we were as densely populated as England we could house 35 million people, but we struggle to house the small number of people we have now. There are not enough houses for rent or for sale, and a third of the houses that do go up for sale are bought by big corporations and usually rented out. Any solutions to this issue will have to address all the different sides and try to keep everyone happy.
Education comprises of issues to do with schools, and the problems that face our current Education system. Have you ever sat through a subject that you thought was useless? Or thought a book that you were asked to read had no context in the modern world? Maybe you think that there should be fewer academic subjects and more practical subjects? Well Education is where all these issues reside and where all these battles are fought.
Cost of Living
Maybe you’ve noticed that things like food, water and other basic necessities have been going up in price. It doesn’t seem like loads at the time, maybe a couple of cents. But it happens repeatedly, until the price of things that we need to survive, are through the roof. We need to tackle the problem of inflation head-on, otherwise people will not be able to live in Ireland, and emigration numbers will likely go up as they have before.
Do you feel safe? Wherever you are, whatever you are doing right now, do you feel protected? That is what security is all about. Keeping the population safe, making sure that wrong acts are punished, and the innocent are protected. Despite the noble intentions of the Gardaí Siochana and the other Irish Defence Forces, there have been accusations of corruption, and a toxic culture within these organisations, a culture which must be addressed, especially if they want to increase their dwindling recruitment numbers.
These are the people who seek to fix these issues, the ones who claim to have your best interests at heart, and the people who you will most likely vote for in your first election.
Note: I have tried to portray every party as best I can, but I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
Fianna Fail (Fia • nah • Fall) and Fine Gael (Fi • nuh • Gayl)
These are probably the party your parents vote for, and your grandparents, and even your grandparents before that. I say this because there has not been a period in the last 100 years when one of these parties was not in power. Isn’t that crazy? Because of this, these two parties have become a lot closer in ideology and ideals than when first dreamt up. They were formed out of two opposing sides of the Irish Civil War; Fianna Fail was Anti-Treaty and Fine Gael was Pro-Treaty. Fianna Fail was the working man’s party, the blue-collar fighter, while Fine Gael was more the party of the middle class. Fianna Fail wanted more government oversight, while Fine Gael believed there should be as little government interference as possible. Over the years they have become a lot closer in ideals, they’ve both become the safe option, voters know they will not do anything radical or groundbreaking. Voting for them is like voting for the status quo, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sinn Fein (Shin • Fayn)
Sinn Fein are a party whose roots rest in the Irish Republican Army and who played a key role in The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Despite this, I suggest you judge them for what they are today, and not what they came from. Today, Sinn Fein claims to be the party of change. They are a socialist party, wanting to raise taxes on the corporations and the wealthy, while increasing social benefits. They actively campaign for the re-unification of Ireland, and the eradication of the U.K on the island. They are the only major party which operates in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, which means they are probably the party with the highest chance of getting a reunification poll through. If these things sound like ideals that you believe in, then maybe Sinn Fein is the party for you.
The Green Party
Are you concerned about the environment? Do you think that global warming is the biggest issue on the horizon of humanity? Do you feel that Ireland should be focused more on green power and sustainability? Then the Green Party might best represent you. Founded in the early 80s, they have championed the issues of Global Warming and Sustainable living, long before every other party copy and pasted that into their mission statements. Today they continue to fight the good fight, with their big dreams being focused on cheaper green power, and more sustainable planning for the future.
Have you ever wondered why the world is divided into the have and have-nots? Well Labour intends to fix that. They are the party of the unions, and the party of the workers. Formed in 1912 by famous revolutionary James Connelly, they represented the trade unions in the Dail Eireann for several years. Today they represent all the workers of Ireland and want to build “an Ireland that works for all.” What this means in a practical sense is that they want to spread the wealth more evenly, make healthcare and childcare free, while more heavily taxing the corporations. This the party for those who feel downtrodden and want to make sure that everybody in Ireland pays their equal share and gets their equal share.
While those five parties make up most of the current Dail and control most political discourse within the country, of course there are some smaller fringe parties, which are usually more focused on single issues. These parties include the Social Democrats, a party which is pro E.U and in favour of a more transparent government.
People Before Profit-Solidarity, a left leaning party which has ties to Labour but tends to be more hardline in its beliefs and Aóntu, a Conservative Christian party which fights for a united Ireland, just to name a few. I highly encourage you to research all parties in your area and find out which one suits you and your beliefs.
The majority of candidates in Ireland run with the aid of a party. The party helps fund their run, and if they get into the Dail, they will have a faction with which they can work with. But some candidates run free of any party, and we refer to these people as Independents. Independents are harder to define than parties because by the merit of their very existence they do not align themselves along any particular ideological lines. Despite this, sometimes Independents form coalitions, like The Rural Independents, who work together to protect the interests and livelihoods of those who live in rural parts of Ireland, or The Regional Independents, a group who rally together to give independents in the Dail more time to talk. Research the independent candidates in your constituency and find out what they stand for.
The issues and the parties are the starting point for all politics. The most important thing to remember when learning about this is that the goal of all these parties (and all politics) should be to craft the best future for all the citizens of Ireland, and to solve the issues in the most mutually beneficial way for all.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you will come back next time when I break down the way voting actually works, and how the Dail decides on issues and solutions.