I'm generally happy about lots of the general parts of being Irish and of Ireland. By accident of birth, and brilliant parents, it has educated and nourished me in pretty much every way. When I'm away, I still feel proud to say I'm Irish. Though, sidebar, a friend recently commented that I'm living in the one city (London) in the world where being Irish doesn't play to my advantage. What's the opposite of exotic, exciting and rare? We're that here. Anyway, I digress. Last year, as an example of us at our best, Ireland acknowledged all it's citizens in matters of marriage equality. It was unquestionably the right thing and I would have been uncomfortable and embarrassed had it gone any other way. Despite these general 'wins' for citizens I'm still continuously riled by the lack of specifics across Irish politics. I call for a Specific Election.
Looking at the run up to this 2016 General Election campaign, I've been nauseated. Flooded with bad feeling from all sides. Having stomached "leaders" debates, I'm at a total loss. To watch them was to observe pre-pubescent teens in a fight over the remote control; it was a bun fight, a slagging match. Next time around, I suggest that instead of podiums and rhetoric, the "leaders" should face rapid fire questions from sugar fuelled children while hooked up to a polygraph and sitting beneath a bucket of gunge. At least then something will be accomplished. The kids will all get a good laugh. I'm a motivated citizen, but the run up to this election has almost robbed me of my will to vote.
A volunteer and advocate for neurological charities in Ireland and the UK, I can say without doubt, neurological services in Ireland are dire, they are wildly under-resourced and overwhelmed and non condition specific as a result. Ireland is second only to the States in how much it spends on it's health service in relative terms. Just like the States, we are getting it so badly wrong. Hundreds of thousands of people struggle daily with emotional, psychological, financial, social problems owing to neurological conditions. The Neurological Alliance of Ireland has suggested a figure of around 700,000. Our entire population is just under 4.5 million.
Neurological conditions have a wide range; from Stroke, Acquired Brain Injury and migraine to MS, Huntingtons Disease, Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Some of these conditions are genetic, some unexplained, some caused by accidents -- they are indiscriminate in who they affect but those affected are discriminated against in our country. We collectively claim that we're a developed country, a caring country, a charitable country. We'd like that reflected in the services provided to our citizens. We'd like our elected representatives to make that happen. So, what will they do, not say, but do?
In the very short run up to this Friday's election, what they'll say is whatever the hell you want them to, and people seem sated by that. Therein lies our problem. The obligation of the voter continues far beyond casting that vote and that's where I feel we lose momentum. What of the big lobbies, can't they just keep the pressure on? I say no, not in the way that's needed. They can be ignored because, in fact, many of them are so politically fractured and bureaucratic that they run themselves aground. The tenacious constituent, though, occupies a great position for leverage. They may well bump into the person they elected in the supermarket, or at their child's football match. They have a shared community network, they know the same people, so they can praise or condemn their local Politician as they see fit, and locally. In smaller circles, news travels fast so these tenacious holders of votes can and should continue to apply pressure to their local elected representatives until they come good on their pre-election promises and all the way through their term. We must think of ourselves as the baby sitter and them as the wayward teens, needing to be chased to check have they done their homework before Mum and Dad get home so we can get our dues paid.
In the last few weeks, when questioned more broadly on Mental Health policies, our potential leaders shirked responsibility, finger pointed at other's shortcomings but most infuriatingly issued manifestos which skimmed over brain health issues using the vaguest language. They are, if to be believed 'committed to exploring' and 'dedicated to promoting'. What does that MEAN? Nothing, basically. The frustration for me here is that when they're point scoring across a shiny tv studio floor from each other in front of a national audience, they can merrily quote chapter, verse and down to the last cent what one party once squandered. Where is this precision and passion when it comes to committing to the better collective brain health of the citizens that have put them in that makeup, under those studio lights? All so tightly wound from their spin-doctors that I'm surprised they don't spin off. Maybe that's why they hold onto those lecterns?
So, here's how this election is playing out. I would almost be happy if it were a cross party policy. If they had all decided to club together to obscure the issues and confuse us voters with "The Real Housewives of Everywhere" brand of mud slinging, passive aggression and cat fights. I know, though, that that level of coordinated working towards the same end, whatever end that may be, is so far beyond them.
The campaigning has been dogged by unusually aggressive, abusive social media presence. Maybe the three-week run in has been so short that the parties feel they have to squeeze all their bile into a very short timeframe. I'm looking at you here, Labour. I think, I THINK, you're trying to be down with the kids with your "pithy" twitter output. The problem is, it's just been childish. In fact, I'd say, almost schoolyard bullying of opposition on an individual basis. (Wonder what the Labour party line is on bullying?) Don't get me wrong, they've all done it, all parties, but Labour to me is the most remarkable for it's lack of sophistication in landing a sucker punch. Maybe because I expect more from them... it's a race to the bottom across the board.
Low blows and cheap tactics -- the staples of every campaign I've ever witnessed executed with little imagination and less panache. We deserve better. I want something different. I want people to respect other's right to an opinion but more than that I want the candidates to expect the electorate to have a right to an outcome, to positive action. Let democracy be democracy but then let's ensure it plays out once candidates are cozily getting their feet under the table. The whole campaign so far is self defeating and underpinned by our collective, national, deeply-rooted low self esteem, low expectations and fears. We deserve better.
With an election run this way, the questions become lost, the issues become fractured and all sides feasts on the carcass that remains but where does that leave us and our country? We deserve better. Ask for better, generally. Follow up, specifically.