A Young Persons guide to Politics: The Right to Vote – by Luca A. O’Connor from New Ross No Name Club.

“Every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of eighteen years who is not disqualified by law and complies with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann.”
-The Fourth Amendment of the Irish Constitution

The right to vote is something that every Irish citizen holds. The right to decide on the future of its country, the people who lead it, and on the nation they will leave behind for future generations might be the most important right held by the Irish citizen, or any citizen for that matter. Voting is the key to building the nation you want, protecting the people you love, and staving off the dark forces that loom. In the right hands, a vote is a valuable weapon; a catapult used to launch the person you place your faith in, to victory. But how does it work? What is it worth? Is it actually meaningless? Well let’s start at the start…

The marble city of Athens is where democracy sprang forth from the minds of great thinkers. They chose their leaders from the people’s will, and that tradition slowly spread across the world. So when Ireland was birth anew as a free nation, there was no question as to how our leaders should be chosen.

The process of voting is fairly simple, when you turn 18 you head over to www.checktheregister.ie and key in a few of your important details. Everyone is eligible, as long as you’re of age and spend enough time in Ireland each year. You don’t even have to have a permanent address. The point is, the government wants you to vote. They’ve tried to make it easy as they can, because they acknowledge that voting is an extremely important thing for all parties involved.

Now you might be wondering what you’re actually going to vote for? To broadly generalise, you’ll either be voting for somebody to represent you, or on an issue which would require changing of the constitution.

Voting for the Voters

Have you ever thought about how the bigwigs in the government are called Civil Servants? Well that’s because really they serve us, the citizens. Every 5 years, or whenever a larger issue appears and the current Government can’t find an appropriate solution, something called a General Election is held. As you can imagine, it’s usually the latter and not the former that causes an election. Basically, a general election is to decide who is in government. The country of Ireland is divided into 39 different areas, and each of these areas gets to elect between three and five Teachtai Dála (TDs). These TDs are supposed to represent all the people in that area. They do this in Leinster House (Dail Eireann), a big fancy, quite old building in Dublin.

Now you’re probably thinking, how are such a small group of representatives supposed to cater to the needs of so many people? Well don’t worry, the Irish Constitution has pre-empted your thoughts and thus, we all have County and City councils. Every five years, you can vote for Councilors to represent you on County Councils and on City Councils. These councilors are there to deal with issues of more concern to the local people, and things that might get overlooked by TDs.

We’ve also got the European elections, which are like elections to the Dáil except to the European Union Parliament, and the Presidential Elections, in which we choose our President, the figurehead of our nation. Finally, we also have referendums, which are usually held on big issues, like abortion or LGBT marriage equality.

The Process

Let’s quickly walk through the actual process of voting. You’re going to walk in, and they’ll make sure you’re on the register. They’ll hand you a slip of paper, which looks very much like the one below. They’ll send you into a little booth, with a pen and then you simply follow the instructions on the card.

You first put a “1” beside the candidate you like the most, a “2” beside your second choice, and just continue down your list of preferences. The whole process of counting these votes is the basis of a system called Proportional Representation and involves several different elimination rounds until eventually the winners are chosen. But you, as the voter, don’t need to worry about that. Once you’ve selected your preferred candidate, your part in the election is done, and you can be content in the knowledge that you’ve contributed to your nation, and your vote will be represented in Dáil Eireann.

That’s really all there is to voting in Ireland. Make sure to get registered, and make sure to do some research before the actual election. You don’t want to go into the booth with no knowledge of what you’re voting for!

But stay reading, because today I also have an exclusive interview with the Ceann Comhairle, a very important man, especially within the Daíl.

Interview with Séan O Fearghaíl, The Ceann Comhairle

Q: Could you briefly explain to my readers what your job actually is within the Dáil?

A: Well really I’m like the referee of a football match, I’m there to keep order and make sure everyone plays fair. I’m like any other chairman, making sure the meetings run smoothly and fairly. I make sure everyone gets an equal say, and everyone gets a chance to speak. Along with this I’m also involved with several different committees within Leinster House, relating to different issues.

Q: Have you always wanted to be involved with politics?

A: Not at all, when I was 16 I wanted to be a vet. I started to get involved with a community organisation around that age, and started to help planning festivals and other events within my community. I kind of got the bug then. I was invited to join Sinn Fein when I was 21, and first ran for office when I was 27. I didn’t win, but ran again, and again. I kept running and gradually getting more votes and votes, but I didn’t enter Leinster House until I was 40, and as a Seanad and not as a TD!

But when you really want to do something you have to have the guts to stick with it. No matter what you believe in, you need to dedicate yourself and stick with it. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need to have the wisdom to see that something just isn’t for you. All of it takes courage.

Q: What music genre or artist do you listen to most?

A: I have quite an eclectic approach to music. I love some of the modern stuff that my kids listen to, I think it’s really great. But then I also love some older artists like Leonard Cohen. I’m really holding back the river here but there’s so many that I love. Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, even Beyoncé are just some of my favourites.

Q: And if you could see one of them in concert?

A: I’ve already seen so many of them, but at this point I would love to see Beyoncé. I just think she’s amazing!

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Ireland during your life?

A: I’ve seen Ireland transform from this poor, traditionalist, monoculture nation to joining the E.U and flourishing. The entire country is enormously enriched by the people who are coming to join it from the E.U. This immigration to our country is great, and Ireland has a rich history of its own emigration. There’s 500,000 descendants of Irish immigrants in Argentina, 30 million in the U.S, and almost 72 Million worldwide.

Our society is becoming stronger. Now there are some issues. Modern Ireland can be a harsher place, more brutal. Urban areas have become more dangerous, and we seem to have placed a reduced value on human life.

Q: There are some who would say that Old Ireland was better, what would you say to that?

A: I would say that’s a load of old rubbish. Some things are not better, but nearly everything has improved. Better education, Better Healthcare, Higher employment, Our population is growing! I’m enormously proud of where we are as a nation.

Q: If you could direct all the young people of today towards an issue what would it be?

A: I don’t think me or you or anyone can direct young people to do anything, but I think climate change and world hunger is what I think they should be looking at. Little children shouldn’t be starving, no matter the reason. I think the value and importance of human life is also something that we should all value deeply.

Massive thanks to the Ceann Comhairle Mr. O Fearghaíl and his office for accommodating our request for a discussion, and delivering a great interview.