UKIUCEAP’s internship opportunities in the UK and Ireland are a fantastic opportunity for many UC students in terms of marrying work experience and study abroad, and Will Graswich’s Parliament internship in Ireland is a prime example.
A third-year Political Science major from UCSB, Will had the opportunity to go on the campaign trail during general elections and receive first-hand experience of a highly important political event.
I never imagined that my study abroad program would involve sitting in the passenger seat of a rented red Nissan with bright yellow letters on the door that said “Vote Joe McHugh #1” as it barreled across the vast green hills of County Donegal, Ireland. Six weeks ago, I didn’t know names like Donegal and Joe McHugh, but now I am working on the re-election campaign for Minister McHugh, in his home constituency of Donegal, some four hours north of Dublin.
The vote for representatives of the Dáil Éireann, the Irish Parliament, is conducted through proportional representation with a single transferable vote. This means that in the constituencies, there are multiple seats, the number of which is based on population. And when voters vote, they get to list their choices by first, second, third, etc. This reduced wasted votes, but also grants much more power to the individual voter compared to the U.S. system. As a result, elected officials must give more attention to their constituents, often intervening in small matters like passport certification and permitting registration.
This electoral process also forces candidates to canvass their districts, making several public appearances and going door to door asking for the vote. This is how I found myself in County Donegal with Joe McHugh, going from town to town asking people if they would consider giving their No.1 vote to re-elect Minister McHugh, or at least a No.2 or No.3.
McHugh was running for one of five seats in county Donegal. His competitors were of different political parties, all trying to dethrone McHugh’s party from government. Three days before the election, the campaign decided to hold a mass canvas of Letterkenny, one of the larger towns in County Donegal. I was partnered with two other canvassers. DJ Kelly, a young man with ambitions to be a teacher who I had worked with during the week, and Tom Enright. Tom was an old man, who needed my help going door to door in the dark. But once we got to a house, Tom would light up, and interview each potential voter, uncover any complaints they had with the sitting government, and somehow convince them that Joe McHugh was going to solve their problem. He turned people from “no chance” to “I’ll give him a No.3”. It later came as no surprise that Tom had been a politician for over 30 years, and was also Joe McHugh’s father-in-law.
Working on a political campaign in Ireland is an experience I will never forget. Going door to door in pouring rain to ask people if they would entrust their country to a man I had only just met was something I never thought I would do, but it gave me a chance to be a small part of history, as Joe McHugh was re-elected. It further reminds me why I study political science and why I applied to be an intern in Ireland. The experience I take away from this and the friends I’ve made are worth being 5000 miles away from home.