I’ve only gone and caught the bug. The last week has been spent in preparation for, and the aftermath of the Northern Ireland 2016 Assembly Election. Having spent a number of weeks on the canvass trail for my local candidate Seán Rogers, I was lucky enough to have been invited to be a part of the team who were present for the election count on Friday 6th May…I’ll not lie, it’s a great way to spend your birthday!
No joke. There is something wonderful about arriving at the count centre rather early in the morning (early for me at least!) and preparing for the ballot boxes to be opened. Having spent the last while walking (what feels like) endless miles, chatting to people on their doorstep about this particular candidate and why you feel that they are the best person to represent the people of your area, having listened to people’s stories of the political system in Northern Ireland either working or not working for them, having done your absolute very best to try and convince people that this is the year that they really do need to get out and vote and then riding a wave of enthusiasm towards the day of the election, I walked into the count centre full of optimism and hopes that my candidate would be returned to Stormont.
As the boxes are opened and we tally the figures to get a rough idea as to how the candidate is doing, we are given opportunity to chat to those from other political parties who are there for the very same purpose. Returns come in from a variety of areas; ones where your candidate has done well and others where they haven’t done well. Suddenly you cannot help but feel elated when you see them (and others in your team) doing well, and saddened when they aren’t doing well. Returns come in from areas where people have come out in huge numbers and voted and areas where people have not come out and voted. I have to say, it is absolutely crushing to see an area where people are simply not voting. It is devastating to know that your team has worked extensively hard for people in the local community and have actually achieved some great things (even though many people claim politicians don’t do anything!) and to know that not that far from home, people are simply not voting. I shall leave a discourse on the merits of abstentionism to others, those who have practiced it for long enough know better than I do. For me though, abstentionism is it’s own reward.
As the day of the count progresses I quickly realised that I have in fact caught the bug; I want to see my candidate do well. I want the hope and optimism that fills my being to be realised. Unfortunately as the day went on it transpired that a return to Stormont for Seán was not going to happen. What hope and optimism filled my being quickly turned to annoyance, irritation and eventually exhaustion. Where did we go wrong? What happened that people didn’t vote? What has occurred that a man who served the people of his constituency diligently and with the utmost integrity has not been returned? He wasn’t involved in any scandals, or controversies…he simply did the best he could for the people of the constituency. He and his team, helped thousands (literally) of people in serious need; never asking “Did you vote for me or not?” I cannot fathom this and it is a fact that will take some time to sink in.
I’m overjoyed that two fresh new SDLP faces are going on to Stormont to represent the people of South Down. It’s a wonderful thing; but I am saddened than Seán Rogers will not be returning to Stormont and I can only wish him well in whatever road he takes now. However, I realise that the bug I have caught is more than just a want for the candidate to do well. The bug is a forward thinking one and I tell myself that next time, whoever the candidate I canvass for, will be different. As the great Edward Kennedy remarked; “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.” Next time will be different.