Why you should vote for what matters to you

Fergal talks about the importance of having your voice heard in the General Election 2020 and how voting in Ireland works

Written by Fergal Maher


Share why you’re voting on twitter and instagram with the hashtag #whyimvoting

The government has announced that a general election will take place on Saturday the 8th of February. TDs will have to campaign in their communities for your vote in order to gain a seat, keep their seat, or risk losing it to a rival. As the last general election took place almost four years ago, for many young people in Ireland it will be their first meaningful say in how the country is run for the foreseeable future. The houses of the Oireachtas (Dáil and Seanad together) can sit for the next five years at most and so votes cast on election day will have a lasting effect on how we as a country will deal with the most pressing issues of our age, such as climate change, Brexit and the housing crisis.

Why voting matters

In 2016, of those eligible to vote, 65.2% voted in the general election. This leaves a considerable portion of the population who did not vote. For some maybe they are not that interested or engaged with politics in this country. If I could speak to those people now, I’d like to remind them that by not voting, they are letting their future be decided by others. If you have opinions on any of the current crises we are dealing with in Ireland, be they personal to you or not, voting is your chance to tell your politicians that you care about these issues and want them to care on your behalf. 

You wouldn’t let someone pick your clothes out for you, or give you their music to listen to, so why should it be any different with how the country is run? Some may see the world of politics as too daunting and complicated for them to understand, and feel let down by our system of government and the politicians who serve it. For me, this feeling is probably one of the best reasons to make your voice heard. We must reach out to people who feel disconnected from politics and political decisions in this country. If we can show them there is room for them in our society, that their opinions are shared by others, it will put power back in the homes of this country rather the Houses of the Oireachtas. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This election is a chance to be that change, so let’s not waste it!

What is the role of a TD?

Ahead of the general election it’s important to understand who and what you’re voting for, and how your vote will be counted. The primary job of a TD is to represent the views of their constituents in the Dáil by voting to pass laws or motions. They also participate on committees which focus on specific areas of policy, for example there is a committee on Children and Youth Affairs. However, it is often difficult to know whether your TD will represent how you feel on an issue regardless of what they may have said during a campaign to be elected. A good test for how a TD will vote in and contribute to Dáil debates is if they are a member of a political party. If a party has an official stance on a subject, such as whether the voting age should be lowered, a TD member of that party will almost always vote along party lines despite how their constituents may feel on the issue. You can view how any TD has previously voted by searching for a specific person. 

As for the parties themselves, they provide manifestos where they outline the policies they would implement if they had power in the Dáil. These are released before election day. These manifestos can be long and tedious to read, and so the key points are often summarised for the public. Some TDs enter the election as independents not affiliated to any party and so are only accountable to the people in their constituency. This can have some advantages and disadvantages. They can be better representatives for their constituents as they don’t have to conform to party rules, but they often lack the advantages that comes with the backing of a party behind them.  

How is a government formed?

A government is formed after a general election with the leader of the largest party represented in government taking on the role of Taoiseach. The largest party can then appoint TDs of their own party to be senior government ministers (also known as the Cabinet or Ministers of Government) giving them control of how the country is run. If a TD rises to the position of Minister of a Department of State, they gain additional responsibilities and so are now serving the interests of the entire electorate and not just the people who voted them into office. If a majority is not reached, An Taoiseach must be elected with the support of several different parties or independents.

Make sure to vote on Saturday 8th February

The current Dáil consists of a Fine Gael-led minority government facilitating a confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil and several independent TDs. This means that the independents will support the government in some Dáil votes and in return the government grants them positions in the Cabinet or as junior ministers who assist the senior ministers. As for Fianna Fáil, they’re relationship with government is more complicated, but is outlined in this document. This system ensures that the government will roughly represent the main views of the electorate. When the candidates have appeared on countless TV and radio debates with their faces littering every lamppost in the country, the process of voting in elections in Ireland comes into play. 

Instead of simply voting for your favourite candidate in your constituency with those with the most votes being elected, a method of voting by proportional representation is used, known as the single transferable vote or STV (careful with that one). The way in which the votes are distributed involves a bit of maths which you can read about here. The result is that the opinions of the public are reflected in the elected officials within each constituency. Make sure to check the register of electors to see if you’re registered to vote. The General Election on Saturday 8th February will impact our lives for years to come, so make sure you get out to vote and have your voice heard.

Share why you’re voting on twitter and instagram with the hashtag #whyimvoting

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