Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are the political equivalent of a major phone company. We’re frustrated with the service they’re providing. We rant and moan that they clearly don’t care about us. Yet somehow, when we reach the end of the contract, we continue to give them our money (okay, votes).
As a country, we just can’t bring ourselves to switch.
They hold our loyalty in the same way that phone companies do: with comprehensive coverage across the whole country.
As of now, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are the only two parties with active branches and campaign machines in all 40 constituencies. The roots of these branches stretch back to the Civil War, giving the two parties unparalleled coverage and brand recognition, regardless of their policies or performance in government.
This coverage and brand recognition can’t be faked. Hence why other parties have found it so hard to establish themselves in the hearts and minds of people the country over. But it can be done, as demonstrated by Together for Yes during the referendum on the 8th amendment.
Together for Yes
Together for Yes ran an exceptional campaign, led by exceptional people. Yet although strategy and message were agreed upon at national level, tactics and hard graft at grassroots level were key. Branches were established across the country, many built on the pre-existing groups – and they delivered.
Granted, Together For Yes was a single-issue campaign. But in mobilising thousands of people – many of whom had never campaigned in their life – in all 40 constituencies, they have forever transformed Irish society.
So what’s the lesson here, for those of us who are frustrated with the service being provided by Ireland’s two largest political parties? Like Together for Yes, smaller parties need active branches across the country if they are to make real change.
And that’s where you can help. Here’s how:
- Find a party that speaks to you. I joined the Social Democrats, but the Greens, Labour, Sinn Féin and others would welcome new members with open arms.
- Find your local branch. If you can’t find one, found one. Contact the party and ask if there are members in your area. Somebody has to make that first step!
- Find some time to volunteer – even an hour or two per month. Attend or arrange a small meeting with likeminded people, drop leaflets in doors or help to organise a fundraiser. You have no idea how much difference an hour of your time could make.
It really is that straightforward. There is this idea floating around – neatly summed up by Síle in a recent Soapbox article – that political volunteering is for certain kinds of people or requires hours upon hours of your time at a minimum. It doesn’t.
Look at what Together for Yes has done – powered by people from all walks of life, marching under one banner, for one purpose. Some gave up months of their lives to campaigning. Others gave a couple of evenings.
It is these people – people just like you – who will transform this country.
In fact: they’ve already started.
Pádraig Lohan is a primary school teacher and member of the Social Democrats in Limerick County. Follow him or get in touch on his Twitter.