First Time Candidate

The morning I knew for sure I was contesting the general election I told my children as I woke them for school. At 9am I rang my Dad Tony, living in Dublin but originally from Gleninagh, Ballyvaughan. I wanted him to hear from me. I also rang my aunts Christina and Mary but hadn’t got to Mag before the Clare Champion were on the phone and so began the media frenzy. 

Much to my surprise, instead of coming home from school completely embarrassed to admit I am their mother, my children walked in the door a few inches taller. Apparently your mother contesting an election is something to be proud of. Their teachers had raised the subject of the general election in class and they eventually shared the news. One of them asked me to change my mind and put up posters as he wanted his friends to see physical evidence I was running. It was dawning on me that contesting an election would be a major test of public opinion about me, People Before Profit and political change. 

There was a massive amount of paperwork in the first week and I had to go to Ennis court house to register with the Returning Officer. I walked in the doors of the courthouse straight into 4 members of Sinn Fein who I knew from various campaigns. We chatted for a while and wished each other well on the campaign trail as they went ahead in to register. People Before Profit was new to Clare so I didn’t have a group around me. I was very aware of being alone as I sat on the cold wooden bench in the hallway of the courthouse waiting to put my name down for the ballot paper.

It was January 21st before I had fliers and held a campaign meeting. I had issued an open invite on social media and was blown away by the amazing people who came along at such short notice. Some people were there because they believed in People Before Profit and many were there because they believed in me. I had to sit there blushing while they shared their reasons for supporting me. That was an inspiring realisation. Their belief in me and commitment to letting others know I would make a great TD was very humbling. They participated in the canvass training, took on roles, selected areas to canvass and all left with fliers, full of enthusiasm to get me elected. Suddenly this was serious – I had people putting their faith in me but also their time and energy. Given the short lead in time I had considered not canvassing before this but now I had to be as committed as my team and more.

So began 17 exhausting days. People came out of everywhere to help with my children, feeding us, campaigning, social media, fundraising and doing anything they could to be useful. I was on the road a lot between media commitments and canvassing. 2 weeks is too short a timeframe to visit 65,000 voters. I came down with a severe cold and had to stop canvassing during the last week that I had set aside for North Clare. I had been looking forward to calling to people in my own area and maybe even having tea with them. Canvassing in an election gave me an excuse to do that but now I couldn’t as I didn’t want to pass on my cold. My team kept going however. 

I really appreciated the emails from young people considering who to vote for in their first election. It gives me hope that there is a new type of politics emerging where the electorate do their research and candidates are elected based on their policies, integrity and ability. The school yard, mud slinging, oneupmanship tactics of Irish politics seems to be changing. Until recently the electorate responsible for voting people to run the country has been more like an audience at a gladiator arena than an interview panel. They have voted based on emotional commitments or the best sales person whether they have the ability to run the country or not. Statistics for my website www.theresaod.com show that people were reading my 6 years of feedback and policy work. They were informing themselves ahead of voting. The radio debates and interviews were also an insight into the candidates as was Clare PPNs hustings and the newspaper articles.  

February 8th, polling day, eventually arrived. I cast my vote in Doolin National School and spent some quality time with my children. Due to a mix up in communications we were at the count centre early on Feb 9th. My amazing team were all hands on deck as they had been throughout the campaign. They were learning how to tally and checking for transfers. A lot of people had put me as their second preference. I lasted until the 4th count and went out with over 1,200 votes. Which means that within a little over 2 weeks 1,200 people in Clare trusted me to manage the country. Imagine if we’d had 2 months. Imagine if we’d had as much money and advertising as some of the other candidate. I want to thank my team sincerely for everything they did. They are an amazing bunch of inspirational people.

Back in early January I had spent 48 hours ahead of the People Before Profit selection meeting considering the reasons why I shouldn’t contest the general election. A single parent living in Lisdoonvarna with 3 school going children are all valid reasons it was a bad idea. Yet they are all valid reasons to run. I have been working on local and national policy behind the scenes for over a decade. I was a member of the National Economic and Social Council as well as other national advisory groups representing the environment, community and social justice. I have been a strong, rural, female voice at national decision making tables for years. This was the third time in a decade that I was asked to run in a general election. I am so glad I stepped outside my comfort zone and went for what proved be an exciting, scary and exhausting challenge. Would I do it again? If I can afford to, possibly.

Theresa O’Donohoe

February 28th 2020

This was published in the Clare Champion on Feb 21st.

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4 thoughts on “First Time Candidate

  1. Brave & bold, as always, Theresa.
    Great account.
    As you say, if you can do this in a few weeks, what might you do with a bit longer.
    The chance may come again soon. Be ready.
    We need you in there with a mandate and a platform.
    The climate lens is narrowing all the time.
    Best,
    Phil.

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