Friday, February 25, 2011

Grandmothers and Racehorses - The Irish General Election

Today I voted in the Irish General Election.

In the last twelve months, the Irish have sought a bail-out from the IMF to prop up the economy that successive governments destroyed through mis-management and corruption. We've endured ridiculous tax hikes - since the last Budget in December, I am taking home over €100 less every month and I am not a high earner, nor even an average one. I was in college during the boom years so I never benefitted from the high-wages/low-tax Celtic Tiger economy. And few graduate jobs were available when I left college, yet here I am, every month, paying for mistakes I didn't make, that were made by people I didn't vote for.

There is a lot of anger in Ireland. We're a young country, and many of us are still idealistic - we collectively flipped when we heard that we may have surrendered some of our economic self-determination to external bodies. We are not good with people we don't like telling us what to do.

Record voter turnout is predicted today. I hope that's right, because the Irish can also be terribly apathetic, prone to rolling their eyes and saying 'Don't vote, the government will only get in,' and consoling ourselves with a few highly-taxed pints, a highly-taxed cigarette or in my case, VAT-free books (readers of the world unite! Escapism without tax!).

***

Both of my grandmothers were born in 1910. Women in Ireland, along with most of Europe, couldn't vote when my grandmothers drew their first breaths. The right to vote was conferred on women over 30, subject to certain educational and property requirements, all over the UK in 1918. Ireland was part of the UK then (nominally - we were seriously working on getting out at that point).

In the following four years, a lot happened, and universal women's suffrage was not very high on Ireland's list of priorities. My grandmothers grew up in a country of upheaval, guerrilla warfare, civil war and unrest. One of my grandmothers lived in West Cork, not far from where Michael Collins was shot, and she remembered her mother cooking for the IRA columns as they moved through the area.

Then, when they were both 12 years old, at opposite ends of this tiny island, the Irish Free State was established, and with it women were granted equal suffrage, six years before their counterparts in the UK.

On the way into the polling station with my mother today, I pointed out to her that when her mother was born, her parents looked down at a child who would live in a country in which she had no voice. And here we were, 101 years later, making our way together to do something that we considered a right, and she no doubt considered a priviledge.

Emily Davison (and not Emmaline Pankhurst, as many people think) died under the feet of the King's Horse in 1913 so I could vote (as my country was ruled by hers at the time she did it, I feel I can honestly say she did it for women like me). She hid in the Houses of Parliament on census night in 1911 so she could list it as her residence (Tony Benn erected a plaque in her honour). Many others, men and women, campaigned and protested and made enormous sacrifices so I could get up extra-early today to vote before work.

I try to remember them every time I go into the little booth with my pencil and ballot paper.

And men haven't always enjoyed universal suffrage either. A lot of very brave and passionate people campaigned so that voting wasn't restricted to men of property, wealth, title or status.

If you're in Ireland today, please try to vote. Spoil your vote if there is no candidiate you can support, but in honour of the people who won this right, this priviledge, for us, at least show up and honour the process.

Have a good weekend, guys. Cross your fingers everyone in Ireland votes smart!

9 comments:

  1. Great post.

    Keeping fingers crossed.

    :-)

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  2. Good luck, Ireland! My fingers are crossed.

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  3. ...yet here I am, every month, paying for mistakes I didn't make, that were made by people I didn't vote for.

    It is hard not to get angry isn't it? Hopefully the people of Ireland will get the Government they deserve; one that will get them through this horrendous time.

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  4. Brilliant. I reposted this on my own blog (which is nascent, and not terribly well-written), and forwarded it to my Mum (a much higher honour, of course!). El.
    waitingforsomewords.wordpress.com

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  5. fingers are crossed and positive thoughts flowing!

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  6. Good luck to Ireland!

    Voter apathy... always a problem. Here we've got a schoolyard thug running the country like his own fiefdom. And I say that as a Tory.

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  7. Thanks all. Looks like the crossed fingers worked!

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