Missoula, Ireland

After living in Ireland for so long, it has gotten easier to forget how far away from Montana I really am and Dublin has felt like home to me for a while now. I think a large factor in that is the similarities Ireland shares with Montana. Everyone only shares one degree of separation with any given stranger they might meet while grocery shopping and several small towns hold small populations of tight-knit communities. This is particularly apparent when you start traversing the country with someone as popular (or at least well-known) as Michael Healy-Rae.

It may be this “small town similarity” that forces politics to go about the election game in such a different way than what we are use to being subjected to in the United States. Rather than candidates making their presence known on TV, the radio, and social media, they literally and almost exclusively rely on going door to door and personally asking people for votes. Simple, effective, and honest. I am going to miss this.

My relatives have been asking me if this internship has helped me decide what I would like to do with the rest of my life and my answer is always “no”. Irish politics are incomparable to what we do in the states and I could not decide my future career off of the work I have done here in Ireland, despite the similarities between Montana and Ireland. I did however, learn a tremendous amount about leadership from my time here in Ireland and how to be a proper politician. I also learned that I do not have the patience to listen to people complain about their neighbors to me all day so at least we can rule city council woman out of the picture.

Ireland taught me more than I could have imagined in the two months I was here and I am very thankful to have had this opportunity. I will be back some day.

Messenger of the People

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'”.

The Machine

Michael Healy-Rae’s phone never stops ringing. It is quite literally a part of him; if he is not calling someone then someone is calling him. More often than not, these calls are from people in his constituency, Kerry County, asking him for help. Here, a TD working in the Dáil in Dublin, Ireland, being called about matters four hours away; pot holes that need filling, fences that need building, hedges that need trimming, works 20-hours days. These problems keep him from sleeping and often cause him to skip meals. He is quite literally a machine. I do not want to discredit the needs of the Kerry people, they also call asking for medical and legal help and sometimes seek business advice. As Michael explained to me on my first day of work, “imagine what it would be like if 100,000 people had your personal cell phone number in their phones. That is my life”.

He is arguably one of the most outgoing and charismatic people I have ever met in my life and I would bet that most of the people he has met in his lifetime would agree with me. However, there are those few fellows who I come across around Ireland and, after I explain why a Montanan wound up in Ireland, they say that what Michael is doing is down right corrupt. “Favors for votes!” they say. “That’s all he does”.

I won’t go through extensive detail about the Healy-Rae family except to say that he belongs to a bloodline of prominent and charismatic politicians, his late father being the most outstanding of them all. It is known that he and his brothers get jobs done, which is why everyone in Kerry calls them day and night. When I heard people regarding him as a “corrupt politician” I was personally offended. I did not understand how someone could accuse a man who is genuinely and sincerely devoted to helping people corrupt.

In the United States, we elect officials to help us. We want them to fix all of our problems and whoever promises to carry out this impossible task is who we vote for. The difference is that, in America, if I wanted to expand my driveway and did not know the proper form to fill out to do so, my governor, representative, senator, whomever, wouldn’t care one bit about my insignificant parking problem, that is assuming I could even contact this person directly to begin with. In this way, Irish politics astound me. Although I have observed Michael the most, I think it is generally fair to say that most TDs are genuinely concerned with the well-being of their constituents and so personally involved in all of their lives that dealing with seemingly insignificant matters is extremely important to them. I truly admire this and think we lack this in America. Can we classify this as “vote-buying” when this is what the people of his constituency elected Michael Healy-Rae to do? Isn’t his job to help them? Either way it is very refreshing to watch a politician find a tangible solution to a problem.