Carrie Twomey had a conversation with a taxi driver about the upcoming general election.
One thing I learned living in Belfast was to keep the chit chat in a taxi to a minimum. I like to think I honed the art of the non-committal non-answer. You never know who you are riding with, what their politics are, or who they are related to. So it was very unlike me earlier today when I got into a taxi and the driver's opening gambit was, "Did you see the debate last night?"
"That Mary Lou livened things up sure. Those two would have been dead boring without her," the driver continued.
At first, I hid behind my children, still thinking to myself showing my political hand was not going to be wise. "My daughter watched some of it with me last night. She thought Mary Lou was very rude."
"Aye she can be blunt true enough, she can be that. But maybe that's what we need now. A bit of change."
Fuck it, I thought to myself. "Change is one thing," I said, "but you'll not get that with them lot. I will never, ever vote them. I lived in Belfast 8 years and I know what they are like. Ernie O'Malley named it On Another Man's Wound and that's all this shower are, using the past and other people's wounds to keep their dirty money rackets going and hide behind populist platitudes to give them the veneer of respectability."
"Ah well you wouldn't know what it's like up there from down here now," he said.
"No, you don't, that is true. But I do know, and I'll tell you what, look at all the people who have resigned and left the party over bullying and intimidation down here - it's in their DNA. Mary Lou can't even answer a straight question about Conor Murphy smearing Paul Quinn because she has to answer to the boys. And it was the boys what done Paul Quinn and it was the boys who bully in the party. No, I'm not going to vote for someone who's going to have some young ones putting the knees out of someone's kid because they looked at one of theirs the wrong way. Whatever about Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and their bad points, that's not one of them, they aren't going to be sending thugs to your home in the middle of the night and denying it on Prime Time later."
"You may have a point, you may have a point, I wouldn't want that to take root here. Or be in the government."
"No, you wouldn't, and the funny thing with them is, as my husband likes to say, given how infiltrated we know the IRA were and are, if you vote SF you'd be putting MI5 in the Dail!"
"You're giving me a lot to think about, I wasn't thinking along these lines before but there's a lot here to mull over."
As the ride was coming to an end, I brought up Brexit. "I know the election has been focusing on important issues like housing and health, but I have been concerned about the lack of discussion about Brexit going forward. It's nowhere near finished and we have yet to feel the impact of whatever disaster the UK engineers in the next round of trade negotiations with the EU. We need to have a real strong hand in there, and I don't think SF will add anything to Ireland's position. They don't have a clue. And this needs to be considered because what is coming down the pike with Brexit is going to have a massive influence on Ireland and our economy."
"You've a very fair point there, I didn't even think about Brexit at all, I wouldn't want SF handling things."
In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, and when we pulled up to the house I concluded with this: "The idea of "change" is real popular right now. Everything must change, the system is broken, raze it to the ground, that sort of thing, it's in the air everywhere. We see it in my home country with Trump. We see it with Brexit in the UK. But just because this nebulous idea of "change" is popular and everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean we have to - especially when what is being sold to us as "change" is putting the knuckleheads of Sinn Fein in the Dail. That's not change, that's dangerous. That's stupid. The one thing in common all these things - Trump, Brexit, Boris Johnson, Sinn Fein - have, is power for power's sake. There's no plan, no thought of what is good for the nation with that kind of "change". It's all about getting those individuals into power, and then keeping them there. That's it. They will say whatever it takes to get them there. They don't mean any of it. That's not the point. That's why they don't have a plan, or can't tell you how they are going to do what they say they are going to do. It's irrelevant. The only thing that matters to them is that they win, and if it takes selling "change" to you to get them to vote for them, they'll slap "change" on themselves and count all the suckers."
I went on, "I look at my country now and I despair. I love living in Ireland. You don't know how lucky you have it, really. It's stable, and safe, and a really, really, good place to live. Yes, it has it's problems, as all places do. And we tend to look at our own problems and think they are the worst and everything is the pits, we get obsessed. But let me tell you, even with all the problems Ireland has, it's nothing. It's a great place. Don't ever take it for granted. We have a small democracy here and it works. I love it."
"It's interesting you say that," the taxi driver said. "I work with a fella from Spain who's living here now and he says the same thing. He loves living here. Says its so peaceful and easy. I never thought of it that way."
The ride was well over by now and I paid my fare. "You've given me a lot of food for thought," the driver said. "I wasn't sure how I was going to vote and I was thinking about Mary Lou but you make really good points and I think I've made my decision. I don't think they'll be getting my vote, that's for sure. Thank you, it was good to discuss this. I learned a lot."
"I wasn't sure if I should say anything at the start - you know yourself about politics - but you got me going!"
"If you don't discuss, you don't learn!" says he. And with that, he was off.
Now, I've been here long enough to know Irish people love nothing more than to tell you what they think you want to hear, if only to keep the conversation going smoothly, and he could have taken me for a literal ride as well as the proverbial one. But as I got out of the car and went into the house, I felt like I'd done a good thing, no matter how small an action it actually was.