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'I'm a first time voter and I got to see democracy unfold in front of my eyes at the RDS'

Ruby Hughes was let loose in the RDS count centre and loved it.

Scenes from the RDS count centre Paschal Donohoe TD, Fine Gael Dublin Central celebrating with his supporters at the RDS .
Scenes from the RDS count centre Paschal Donohoe TD, Fine Gael Dublin Central celebrating with his supporters at the RDS .
Image: Sam Boal

AFTER AN ENDLESS, self-doubt evoking week of Leaving Cert mocks, Friday couldn’t have held out her remedial hand quickly enough.

Considering the time and surprising amount of emotional investment I put into the weeks leading up to this particular Friday night, you can only imagine my excitement leaving mi casa, ID in hand, ready to wreak a little havoc… positive havoc, for a change.

Because on this particular Friday: I voted for the first time.

Putting pencil to paper 

I took my small but not insignificant voice down to my sister’s national school. Putting blunt lead pencil to paper, I made sure not to forget the chronology of my 1, 2, 3.

In a dinky little voting corner, the weight of 4.595 million people was on my shoulders. I voted, and my God did I vote, trying to accept that no matter how much I tried, I alone couldn’t fix everybody’s problems, something that was difficult to accept.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Scenes from the RDS count centre Paschal Donohoe TD, Fine Gael Dublin Central celebrating with his supporters at the RDS . Source: Sam Boal

Having dipped my toe into talking about politics, I know I am no debater – not totally composed in my emotions and not particularly good at vocally holding my own. I’m not a pushover though, rest assured there was a silent revolution on my ballot paper. Viva la lead pencil.

A certain amount of strategy went into my final decision. There was no need for a whiteboard and diagrams though – I had twelve candidates to chose from, huh. I’m not going to disclose too much of my personal opinion as I am in no mood for the dog’s abuse that can follow from making political preferences public.

Underwhelmed by the ballot paper 

However, I voted in Dún Laoghaire, traditionally an interesting constituency, so I regret to say I was slightly underwhelmed by the choices on my ballot paper.

I felt no personal connection to any of them. As a first time voter, I didn’t particularly hear any voice for the early 20-somethings, a wonky period in life to say the least. Will I be valued after I finally get my degree? Will our jobs and homes be secure in fifteen years time if we work hard? Will this be a society we want to start families in?

And for the love of God, will somebody please get the pitchforks out over those extra 25 points awarded to higher level maths students?!

The RDS count centre at 9am the following day was nothing short of a spectacle.

From my experience it had the air of exam hall jitters and the concentration felt in the PaddyPower betting hut at Leopardstown on St. Stephen’s race day. I loved it.

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27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Source: Sam Boal

Pandora’s boxes were opened and spilled out their contents: hundreds upon hundreds of other paper revolutions, and with breathless tension, the tallying began. After explaining my reason for being at the count to many journalists, media gurus and the odd hopeful candidate, I was told “well, no better place to see democracy in action”.

Seeing democracy in action

That’s what it was, democracy in action, and without a doubt, the best type of democracy.

A full blown identity crisis if you will, Ireland reestablishing herself and her personality. Roaming the hall, trying to catch a glimpse of the evolving tally sheets (tricky when I stand at a mere 5”5) became a slight obsession. It was social studies, geography and politics unfolding right before my eyes, amazing.

After a half hour of this espionage carry-on, I felt I was walking a few paces in the shoes of the voters from all ends of Dublin. Thousands upon thousands of people’s plea for a better system, manifested in every which way you could think of, individual revolutions gaining support from one another, small voices growing together, now hollering choirs.

My morning spent in the RDS was a morning well spent, and something I will absolutely force upon my brother and sister when they’re of voting age. I am far from good with numbers, or economic policy, and I do not have the solution for ensuring every man, woman and child has a roof over their head.

But I’m listening all the time, and remain fascinated with society and how Ireland figures out her identity crises’ time and again. I was given a legal voice in this country less than 100 years ago, well, not at 18, that came later… but with it I promise I will continue to do what I feel is best for Ireland. I would urge young voters to find their voice and know that it really really does count. I’ve seen thousands of individual voices speaking out, each one of them making a difference.

First-time voter Ruby Hughes (18) is a Leaving Cert student at St Andrew’s College in Dublin. Having been thoroughly bitten by the politics bug, she plans to pursue the hopey-changey thing during life after school.

The low-downs: The 10 candidates who secured the least votes this election>

Read: Public speaking can be nerve-wracking. Here’s some tips on how to do it well>


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