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You could become a TD at the next election... and here's how

Here is what you need to do if you’re thinking about taking a crack at the next Dáil.

POLITICS CD Independent TD pictured with his daughter Cliodhna in 2005 Source: Julien Behal/PA

WITH THE COUNTRY due an election at some point before April next year, representatives around the country are gearing up to defend their seats.

While political parties will still be expecting to take home the majority of the vote, the share of the electorate stating their preference for independents has increased dramatically since the last general election.

In an opinion poll earlier this month, support for independents was seen to be running at 28%, up from a 15.4% in 2011.

Michael Healy Rae Michael Healy-Rae TD Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Although far from easy, Joe Public has a better chance of getting elected from a standing start in Ireland than in a lot of other places.

Just over 10% of the Dáil is made up of independent candidates. In the British House of Commons, elected with the first-past-the-post system, only one of its 650 MPs is an independent. In the United States’ system, there is not a single independent representative in Congress, and only two in the Senate.

So if you fancy trying your hand at high-level representative politics, how do you go about it?

To find out, TheJournal.ie spoke to Michael Healy-Rae TD, Maureen O’Sullivan TD, and Finian McGrath TD about the process.

Getting your name on the ballot 

The first hurdle to getting elected is form filling, something Michael Healy-Rae, TD for Kerry South, describes as “reasonably straight-forward”.

Broadly speaking, everyone in Ireland over the age of 21 is eligible to stand for election.

There are a few exceptions.

If you’re currently serving a prison sentence of more than six months, you’re out. Persons said to be of “unsound mind” are also unable to stand.

A few professions are excluded. You may have noticed that no TDs are currently double-jobbing as judges or members of the gardaí, and that is in part because there is a rule against it.

Once you’ve made sure you don’t fall foul of any of these criteria, the next step is registering as a candidate with the returning officer.

There are two ways to do this.

The first way involves getting 30 voters from your constituency to register their support for you.

Getting 30 people to voluntarily do paper work during their lunch break can be tricky.

Alternatively (and more conveniently) it is also possible to place a €500 deposit with the returning officer.

maureen o'sullivan Maureen O'Sullivan TD Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

One particular rule that has to be watched out for is the name that goes down on the ballot.

The rules around a candidate’s name states that an objection can be raised if…

… it is not the name by which the candidate is commonly known, is misleading and likely to cause confusion, is unnecessarily long or contains a political reference.

So, while Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher might be completely acceptable, David ‘The Tyrannosaurus’ Davis or Patrick ‘Donkey Kong’ McLaughlin might struggle.

Once on the ballot, independents run under the moniker of ‘non-party’, a term Dublin Central TD Maureen O’Sullivan describes as “horrible”, with a preference for the ballot to just state ‘independent’.

Candidates also have to nominate an election agent to look after their campaign’s finances. The rules do say that a candidate can nominate themselves for this position.

While an intimidating process, getting onto the ticket is easier for independents than those with party affiliations, as O’Sullivan explains:

I know from my colleagues, people I know in political parties, and they say that the hardest part of the election is being selected at the conventions. Now I don’t know having never having been in a political party. The thing is say, on the gender quotas, is that any women can stand as an independent.

Once you’ve jumped through all the bureaucratic loopholes, you are entitled to send one election letter to every voter in the constituency, with the tax payer picking up the bill.

The tricky bit… getting people to vote for you 

While form filling certainly isn’t easy, building a voter base is where it really gets difficult.

Michael Healy-Rae has held office in Kerry South since the last election and is well-known in his constituency.

“You’re up against the might and the money of the political parties when you are running as an independent. That of course brings its own difficulties, and it is of course easier for people who are running as members of a political party because of a number of different reasons,” he said.

Most important is having a good network of friends and supporters who help you. Don’t look too long at a candidate, look at the people who are around the candidate.

For O’Sullivan, work in her community over 50 years has helped cement her voter base.

My own involvement has been voluntary work in the inner-city and East Wall where I live, and that’s going back to the late 1960s, so I would have been known in certain areas within the constituency.

O’Sullivan’s experience typifies the hard-slog that comes with building voter confidence as an independent.

“You can be lucky and be flavour of the month and be a big star,” Finian McGrath, TD for Dublin North-Central explains, “but for the average independent that is involved in community politics, it is tough going.”

finian mcgrath Finian McGrath TD Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Once a voter base has been established there is still the small matter of fighting an election.

And beyond knocking on doors and meeting constituents, it is not a process that comes cheaply.

Finian Mcgrath spent €24,000 as part of his 2011 election run in the three-seater constituency of Dublin North-Central. O’Sullivan spent around €10,000 in the four-seat constituency of Dublin Central. In Kerry South, also a three-seater constituency, Healy-Rae had election expenses in the region of €15,000.

Is it worth it?

Once you’ve gone through all of that and find yourself sauntering through the corridors of power, will you actually be able to have any impact?

“What I see backbench TDs do,” explains Healy Rae, “in the majority of cases, is that I see them continuously voting for their political parties and their policies and in many cases forgetting about the people in their constituencies while at the same time delivering nothing to those constituencies.”

I would certainly rather be an independent and speak my own mind, and speak up for the people that I represent and not be a ‘yes man’ for a political party.

On the influence of independents O’Sullivan says, “I think that independents have always shown that they can make an impact.

“I mean right from the very beginning. Tony [Gregory] was the longest serving independent TD in the Dáil and I think he was a kind of trailblazer as it were. And I think other independents have been the same. And I think in this Dáil independents have been a very strong voice.”

For McGrath, independents could be set to benefit from a change in perception from the public at the next election.

“The politics has changed over the last five or six years dramatically, and there is a lot of the public that has spotted that, and they are now very sympathetic to independents,” he said.

Advice for potential candidates?

On advice to someone thinking of taking a run at the next Dáil, Healy-Rae said, “You know all I’d say is, ‘the very best of good luck to them’.”

O’Sullivan encouraged anyone thinking about taking a run to put some serious thought into it:

It is a difficult process, it does take some courage putting yourself out there. You just never know what is going to be thrown at you. But you really need to want it and you do need a strong base.

Speaking pragmatically, McGrath explains that anyone thinking of running for election would need to get their skates on.

“The first thing they have to do is get a good group of people,” he explains, “I’d say 20 to 25 people around them. With this we’re talking about friends, neighbours and supporters. What you do is get out there and start organising a core base, and then aim to have a kind of introductory leaflet before the end of September.”

Then get out there and get knocking on doors. The game is on.

Read: Could we be about to get ANOTHER new political group?

Also: What if we could accurately predict the election result in all 40 Dáil constituencies?

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