Sunday, 23 March 2014

People Fought, Died and Bled for your Right to Vote

On May 23rd we will be able to shape our future by exercising our democratic right to vote in the Local Government and European Elections. Unfortunately a sizable percentage of the Irish electorate either don’t bother coming out to help shape their future or are simply not registered to vote. In the last local elections only 57.7% voted, in the general election in 2011 69.19% of voters exercised their right to vote.

There are many reasons why people don’t engage in the democratic process. I think it’s really unfortunate and disappointing that such a large percentage of the electorate don’t come out and have their say. When we look at images from countries such as South Africa and the thousands of people queuing up, in many cases for hours on end to vote in the Country’s first free election, which was held 27 April 1994. Democracy and the right to vote has been a long tough fight and is only a fairly new concept here in Ireland, unfortunately people take it for granted and don’t see the importance of it and how it effects them on a daily basis.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the suffragette movement fought a campaign to get women the right to vote. Demonstrations included chaining themselves to railings and setting fire to mailbox contents. One woman, Emily Davison, died at the Epsom Derby when she was run down by the King's horse. Many suffragettes were imprisoned in Holloway Prison in London, and were force-fed after going on hunger strike. It wasn’t until 1918 that women first cast here were allowed to vote in the general election after winning the right to Universal suffrage in 1918. But their trip to the polls came with certain conditions - they had to be over thirty years of age and land owners. Constance Markievicz who gained 7,835 votes in a Dublin constituency and became the first woman elected MP to the Westminster Parliament. She did not take her seat in Westminster and became Minister for Labour in the First Dáil.

Before the Electoral Act of 1968-9, government elections in Northern Ireland allowed owners of businesses to cast more than one vote. This ensured the Unionists controlled the 6 counties and ultimately led to the Civil Rights campaign and one of the key demands of ‘One man, one Vote’. It was a real case of we are all equal, but some are more equal than others.  African-Americans only won the right to vote through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after a lengthy campaign. The act expanded federal authority over states to ensure black political participation through protection of voter registration and elections.

Unfortunately the right to vote here is taken for granted and some voters have been turned off politics by previous experiences or interactions with politicians or witnessing how successive governments disregard the electorate once they take power. Democracy in Ireland is for one day every five years, then a select few implement what they think the people want as opposed to doing the job they are elected to do which is represent the people. I believe Sinn Féin and I are different, I believe in a Participatory democracy, were the needs and views of the people are paramount.

More needs to be done to educate and show people the importance of voting and how politics affect most things in your daily life, everything from the price of a pint of milk to the cost of petrol, from the number of children in a class to the type of community you live.  On Friday May 23rd people in Wicklow will have the privilege of voting to elect people to represent them on Wicklow County Council and also in the European Parliament.  By not voting you are ensuring that the status quo remains. That status quo is the system operated by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. A system that have destroyed our economy resulting in high unemployment, emigration, front line services decimated, more taxes and a system with a total lack of accountability or transparency.

Sinn Fein wants to end that system to ensure people and communities in Wicklow come first. We are standing a great team of candidate’s right across the County and we have an excellent European candidate Liadh NÍ Riada. It’s important firstly to ensure you are registered to vote and you can do so by checking or contacting any of the Sinn Féin candidates.
If not registered you have until May 6th to do so by filling out a RFA2 form

Voting will take place on Friday 23 May 2014. Polling will be between the hours of 7am and 10pm on that day.

Please remember the long and hard struggle that was fought to ensure you have the right of a vote, it only takes a few minutes to do so. Remember that if you don’t you have no right to sit at home and criticise the government for making cuts or increasing taxes or the lack of facilities in your community, you have a powerful weapon and that’s your vote, so please use it.

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