Ireland elects its Government by proportional representation meaning you vote 1,2,3,4,5 all the way up 10 in order of who you would like to see in government, unlike the UK who have first past the post, is seen to be the fairest way for all members of society be represented in government. In 2002 the sitting Government decided to introduce electronic voting machines into polling stations. Of course, being Ireland the idea was scrapped just 2 years later and the country went back to the traditional way of counting votes, which is counting each vote manually
14 years later we are not much further on and we are still using this manual system. Last Friday Ireland took to the polls, to elect a new government. After a long, hard five years with a coalition of Fine Geal and Labour in government who introduced austerity into the Country due to a World economic downturn in 2008. It was hard to know who to vote for and even harder for those parties to keep their seats in the Dáil. Last weekend saw GAA hall, School’s, College’s and convention centres turned into counting centres. I was stationed (as part of the Newstalk media team) in the Waterford count centre. From 8am on Saturday morning about 200 people descended on the WIT. Some nervous looking candidates and their families frantically tried to get a snap shot of how they were doing, and if they would have the votes to take one of the four seats up for grabs in that constituency. Being only my second time at an election count (My first being in the RDS, during Bertie’s reign) I was a bit apprehensive about what was to be expected.
Nearly a week on from when we took to the polls, Ireland’s governmental fate hangs in the balance. We have no yet elected a government and some experts have said that the citizens may have to go back to the polls to once again, cast their votes. To many this is an alien concept as there has never before been such political instability in the country.
For myself, and many working in the media. Last weekend one was one the most tiring and physically exerting days of work we will do for the next five years. In my count centre in Waterford everything went very smoothly and the count was finished in 19 hours. Unfortunately many count centres were not so lucky. Although being in a count centre during a count can be one the most interesting and exciting aspects of politics if you plan to go, you should probably go prepared.
Here are some things I have learned working at the count centre.
1) Dress; I looked to Google the day before going to see what to pack, of course, there was nothing. How many people ask that question on Google? Very few, it seems. As a counter or a member of the press, wear something comfortable, you will probably be there until the bitter end, re-counts and all so be sure you layer up, and can remove those layers easily when the centre warms up which it will. The media will usually have some sort of uniform to identify their organisation.
2) Identify a tallyman or woman in each area, suck up to them; let them know you are interested. If they are not as forthcoming with information find another source, in Waterford’s case the man officially counting the votes had a spread sheet open on Google docs and was uploading the information live; something that I only became aware of when talking to people who were keeping score of the counting.
3) Bring plenty of food and water; although many of the count centres around the Country may have catering sorted for during the day, when it hits 9 or 10pm everything in a 5 miles radius may be closed. Pack things that will give you a large amount of energy, as it can be a very long day. Foods like; bananas, peanut butter, chocolate and sweet things will keep your energy up when it begins to lag.
4) Know who is running in the constituency you are going to the count in. Although you can very quickly establish whom those people are. As a journalist/reporter you may want to have some background on them, what their PR people looks like, what their views or policies are. This can be helpful when trying to secure an interview with those candidates, and what questions to ask them.
5) Get to know the security and Gardaí who are working at the count. If you form a relationship with them, they will pass on information like when a particular candidate is expected to arrive, or if any other high profile people will be attending. This goes without saying when working in the media building relationships can be the most important thing to do that these type of events.
6) Don’t let it get to you, yes its a long day/few days, but it will be over soon. Enjoy being there; if you know nothing about politics educate yourself, there is no such thing as knowing too much about something. Bed will be closer if you keep busy.
7) STAY ON SOCIAL MEDIA #ge16; This years election in particular really played out on social media platforms like twitter,and it was great for cross referencing any information secured. I had part reasonability for the Newstalk election twitter account and found that the response to the constant, consistent updates from the count centre really went down well. Also have some fun with it, face-warping candidates for snap chat is harmless and keeps people entertained.
8) Have fun; I will leave you with Cliché, but it is important to enjoy yourself, otherwise you might as well put the pen down and go find another career.
Ireland. If you were at the counts over the weekend leave a comment below and let me know how you got on.