Before coming to Dublin, I had only done a minimal amount of research on Michael Healy-Rae. I knew he was an independent representative from County Kerry and I found a lot of pictures of his late father, Jackie Healy-Rae. My second day at work I learned that he was the only member of the Dáil to vote “no” on the same sex referendum in Ireland that was passed two weeks before my arrival and he is a pro-life activist. While he does not go around preaching these values and arguing with people who have different beliefs, my time canvassing with him and Timothy O, Chief of Staff if you will, down in County Kerry proved to be one of the more difficult things I have done. My patience and anger management was tested unlike any other trial I had yet to meet and I learned a lot from the experience.
It is easy to forget that Michael is one of the most conservative TD’s in Ireland and that we hold very different views simply because he is outstandingly charismatic. In this way it has been extremely easy and pleasant to work with him. His office mostly deals with local constituent issues, as I mentioned in my first blog entry, and therefore I have not had much of a chance to see him rally behind national issues. However, while canvassing in Kerry I was able to see how conservative the county is and heard more people’s opinions on national issues, particularly the referendum.
55% of Kerry residents voted yes for the same sex referendum and 45% voted no. Michael has always prided himself in being an honest TD and refuses to be swayed by popular beliefs. Back on my second day of work when we were discussing the referendum, he told me that it was not that he cared if someone is gay, he voted no because he was not in favor of formalizing that union to include marriage. Although this is not my opinion, I was at least relieved to hear he is somewhat open-minded and acknowledges that it is okay for people to be gay, something that a lot of people still do not accept.
While we were canvassing, his “no” vote was referenced more often than I expected, usually with praise, by many of the residents in County Kerry. I knew Kerry was conservative so this did not surprise me. What made me reflect on the responsibility of a TD or Senator or any representative was when he explained that he was the only TD to vote no because the others were afraid to vote against the popular support of the referendum in their respective counties; he was the only TD to not only vote no but to also go against the consensus of his county (“it would have been against my personal beliefs”).
I understand not supporting something that you simply do not believe in and I commend people, especially politicians, who stand up against companies, policies, wars, that they fundamentally think are wrong. On the other hand, if the majority of the constituency who chose you to fix your nation believes that same sex marriage should be legalized, is it not your duty to vote yes? Granted, the final voting margin was slim and the yes’s only barely surpassed the no’s in the grand scheme of things but the majority of his constituents were in favor either way you slice it.
On our last night canvassing in Kerry before coming back to Dublin Michael asked if I knew what “TD” actually stood for. I embarrassingly admitted that I actually did not. “Teachta Dála” he responded “it means ‘Messenger of the people'”.