November 19, 2015
Politics and clichés tend to go hand in hand so usually when people involved at the end of a campaign claim “we made history” it is rightly interpreted as a huge exaggeration by the party or individual involved. However something very different happened on May 22nd last, on that date we really did make history when Ireland became the first country to introduce marriage equality by a popular vote and as a result the first same sex marriages happened in Ireland this week. My own involvement with this campaign dated back to the previous February when I was approached by the committee of Yes Equality Cork to get involved due to my past experience working on campaigns including referendums, agreeing to this was in all honesty one of the best decisions I ever made as I got to see from the inside something new and special in Irish politics that had never been seen before and may never be seen again.
From early days I knew I had signed up for something special. I had the honour of working with an amazing committee who unlike many committees were willing to walk the walk not just talk the talk. The mix of passion and experience they brought to the table was invaluable ranging from veteran campaigners like Arthur Leahy to others who despite having never been involved in a political campaign before were clearly naturals in the role.
However the real stars of this show were the volunteers, in Cork alone we had over 800 volunteers involved, most candidates running for president of Ireland wouldn’t have a fraction of that many volunteers nationally! They were all genders, they were from inside and outside the community and they were representative of the mix of cultures that is modern Ireland. They were also all ages – we had a 14 year old making badges and an 80 year old out canvassing, that said they were primarily young to the extent, 40 year old me felt very old for the first time in a political campaign (a pattern continued now that I’m a SocDems candidate)!
These volunteers had a number of traits in common including enthusiasm, energy, a real belief in their cause, a desire to bring about a better Ireland and a willingness to learn from those of us with experience. On the latter point as someone who conducts a significant amount of training both political and non-political it was amazing seeing people who’d never canvassed before attend training and then put into practice exactly what they have been told to the extent they came across on the doors as not just experienced canvassers but the most polite and professional canvassers you are ever likely to meet!
Thinking back on it now what we achieved here in Cork (mirrored nationally) was truly remarkable we regularly had over 100 canvassers out both in the city and in our various hubs around the county culminating in our leaflet drop the day before polling where we successfully delivered with the help of 250 volunteers 90,000 leaflets to every home in Cork city and suburbs, a feat no political party has ever has or would even consider attempting! This was one of the real highlights of the campaign for me others that stood included on the weekend before polling we handed a special leaflet out outside churches (despite the conventional wisdom being we were mad doing this) and a group of us spent that final Sunday at the famous Bandon Show meeting first hand those from rural Ireland that the experts were telling us would vote no, but we believed otherwise , something the results and tallies proved – in the entire of rural Cork just ten boxes had a no majority meaning not just the five constituencies voted yes both so did every parish and townland in effect!
Much has already been written and no doubt much more will be written about how we’ll this campaign worked both offline and online. It was probably the best use of social media we have seen in an Irish political campaign both for engagement with the electorate and crucially as a fundraising tool.
This campaign has achieved something Irish political parties, the state and youth organisations had been trying to do for decades but consistently failed, it has got a whole generation of young people interested in politics. This newly enthused group will not alone use their vote in future; they want to help shape their country and now they’ve seen first-hand how they can do this. They have the enthusiasm, they have the energy and they have the skill set, this is a lethal political combination that could have a real impact on future elections and referendums. As a member of the Social Democrats I’m delighted to be part of a party that is tapping into the energy of that group. Most of our candidates played lead roles in Yes Equality throughout the country including Niall O’Tuathail in Galway and Cian O’Callaghan in Dublin Bay North. On top of this many of those who caught the campaigning bug with Yes Equality are continuing their battle for equality in this country and a new type of politics by playing an active role in Social Democrats both locally and nationally.
Ken Curtin is the Social Democrats Candidate for Cork East