Politics is a minority sport in some ways. Less than 2% of Irish people are members of a political party. I’m one of those wonks, paying my membership dues to the Irish Green Party for the last 9 years.
I blame my wife for joining. It was the day after the election in 2007, and as the early tallies were coming in, it was clear that Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fail had won a spectacular electoral comeback. The Greens, who we’d voted for, had a disappointing election, retaining its representation of 6 Dáil seats. We were disgusted that populist politics had won out once again. “Right, that’s it”, I was told as my wife stormed in the door. “We’re doing something about this. We’re joining the Greens”.
I remember the first few meetings we went to in Dublin, before we moved to Limerick. What struck me about my fellow members was the ways they were so different from each other: I remember solicitors discussing the intricacies of public transport routes with chefs: youth workers arguing about primary health care with software developers. Despite their differences I could see a huge amount in common: the commitment to evidence-based policies; the strong sense that every political change should decrease inequality; a desire to do the right thing in the long-term, even if it wasn’t popular in the short.
I stated earlier that politics is a minority sport, I also think that sometimes we treat politics too much like a sport. Far too often media covers politics in the manner of which ‘team’ is doing better than another; partisans flood social media with reasons why their side is better than the other shower; soundbites from leaders dominate the discourse.
Yet politics can and should be about something else: the ideas which will shape the future of our society; the collective priorities we want to emphasise; the rewarding of work and the protection of those who cannot.
And the big one: climate change – the one area where I fear the Irish political system’s tendency to short-termism and populism will lead to significant hardship for future generations.
Between local and national campaigns, next month’s general election will be my fourth time knocking on doors for Green candidates, this time for the fantastic candidate we have running in Limerick City, James Gaffney. James represents everything I joined the Green Party for: thoughtful, respectful, not afraid to campaign on unpopular issues if they represent the right long-term vision for our country. I know there are many who are pessimistic about the power of politics to change things, but I’ll be knocking on the doors of the voters in Limerick City over the next two months with the firm belief that the Green Party offers a long term vision for a sustainable future.