This toolkit is for members of The Wheel, and the wider community and voluntary sector, who would like to participate in our Election Advocacy and Lobbying Campaign to ensure that community and voluntary sectors issues are foremost in the minds of candidates for upcoming local, European and, possibly, general elections. 

It seems much less likely now that there will be a general election in 2019 and all of the political parties are now focused on 2020 instead. However, they are ready just in case a general election happens by ‘accident’ this year and it is critically important that the community, voluntary and charity sector is equally ready to mobilise once the ‘starting gun’ is fired. In the meantime, there will be local and European elections in May.

The political system in Ireland allows citizens a unique level of access to their elected representatives. Working individually, this access allows groups to shine a light on the specific challenges they face, but working collectively through The Wheel this access can be harnessed to highlight the shared issues facing our sector and find innovative solutions that benefit society.

Irrespective as to whether there is a General Election or not in 2019, there will definitely be Local and European Elections in late May this year.

The key elements of our Election Advocacy and Lobbying Campaign are:

Phase 1: Build interest from, and capacity within, charities community groups around the country to believe in themselves as change-makers in the context of local, European and General elections. 

Phase 2: Roll out the actual Election campaign with the charities-sector in the lead up to local, national and European elections, delivered locally, and coordinated nationally by The Wheel.

The Wheel’s Election Advocacy and Lobbying Campaign has the following elements:

  • Clear, compelling messaging that is useable at a local level and which is about issues affecting all charities, community and voluntary organisations and social enterprises
  • The provision of support by The Wheel to the engaged volunteers identified from the training events in phase 1 with a view to them acting as local ‘charity champions’ for the sector in the lead up to General, local and European elections
  • Further training around communicating key messages – including webinars and/or face-to-face training
  • Providing participants access to a database of candidates for the next General Election and template communications that they can use
  • And thus through the collective efforts of community organisations across the country we can have a significant impact at national level.

Emerging issues for the community and voluntary sector to impress on the political system include:

  • Insecure funding: community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises struggle to plan, because statutory funding is allocated on an annual basis, instead of a multi-annual basis. We need statutory funding to be allocated on a multi- annual basis to provide for the full costs of delivering services.
  • The excessive duplication in compliance and reporting: charities are implementing a growing list of reporting requirements from multiple regulators, funders and state bodies. There is excessive duplication between the various reporting processes, and this is adding to the administrative load on charities. We need Government to streamline compliance requirements and for the costs of compliance to be funded.
  • Recruiting and retaining voluntary trustees: groups of volunteers called trustees govern all charities. However, organisations are finding it difficult recruit and retain suitable volunteers for their boards. We need comprehensive government supports for the governance of charities.
  • Lack of a partnership approach in the decision making process i.e. for decisions that directly impact on people in communities.

To be effective in getting these issues across to policy makers, the sector needs your active involvement and that of your members, family and friends. This toolkit will help you do that job as effectively as possible.

Find out more:

Find your local TD’s contact details here - https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/members/tds/

Keep an eye on who has declared their candidacy for the next General Election here -  https://adriankavanaghelections.org/2017/04/19/candidates-for-the-next-2017-2021-general-election-by-constituency/

You can also find declared candidates for local elections, broken down by political parties – https://adriankavanaghelections.org/

What to Do Now

TDs and Senators very much welcome contact from their constituents – that’s why they have clinics and have public offices in their constituencies. In particular, they like to know what’s happening on the ground, what issues are affecting people – indeed, they know this contact helps them to make better policies.

The best and most effective way to lobby politicians is to talk to them face-to-face by visiting their clinics or their constituency offices – that’s what they are there to do, meet their public.

So what the community and voluntary sector needs you to do now is to:

  • Write to or phone your local Oireachtas members and make an appointment to see them
  • Explain why you’re doing it – you want to talk to them about the community and voluntary sector’s issues – such as funding insecurity, the costs-of-compliance and retaining volunteers. You also want to talk about how your own organisation is affected.
  • If you can’t meet them directly on a personal basis – or are nervous about doing it:
    • Call their office and speak to them by phone
    • Write them a personal letter.

Remember to contact all Oireachtas members and election candidates in your constituency – all parties and Independents – giving them all an equal chance to support The Wheel’s Election Advocacy and Lobbying Campaign.

Remember to thank them for their time and attention – courtesy is a long-term investment.

What to Say

Here are some things that you need to say when you meet, phone or write to your local Oireachtas members and election candidates:

  • Thank them for meeting you or talking to you
  • Explain that you are concerned about the need for Government to implement an effective strategy supporting the community and voluntary sector
  • Set out how your organisation contributes to your local community – and this is mirrored by thousands of other organisations across the country
  • Explain how uncertainties over funding and the costs of compliance is affecting your organisation and its ability to serve its clients – give practical examples here
  • Also point out that there’s a real justice issue here as community and voluntary organisations have picked up a lot of the slack left by funding cuts imposed as a result of the economic crash
  • Be clear on what you want – you want the Government to implement a clear strategy to support the community and voluntary sector and concrete action on funding, volunteer support and help with the compliance burden
  • Ask them directly for that commitment – you want to see action on that in Budget 2020 and in their party’s election manifesto
  • Remind them that you will be back in touch as preparations continue for the Budget and the elections
  • Thank them for their time and for listening.

It’s very important to remember when you’re engaging with politicians not to blind them with too much detail – keep it simple and focus on how real people are affected by the issues affecting your organisation – in particular your service users or clients (not the staff!).

Advance Preparation

Some other things to be aware of as you’re preparing for your encounters with your local representatives:

  • Nobody’s expecting you to be an expert on the economy
  • They are interested in you as one of their constituents
  • Prepare by thinking about how people on the ground are being adversely affected by the issues hitting your organisation – have funding issues led to cuts in services or opening hours?
  • Think practically about how they might benefit from the implementation of a strategy for the sector, as well as the easing of the compliance burden and the restoration of funding

In preparing for your meeting, remember that many politicians may try to evade giving a straight answer – “I’ll do the best I can for you”

So what do you do then?

Repeat that you are looking for a clear commitment for action on your issues

Remind them that you’ll be keeping in touch to see how that commitment is translated into action e.g. in their party’s election manifesto.

Persuade Not Pressure

Remember that the community and voluntary sector is not the only grouping campaigning around the Budget and manifesto preparation processes and so there are multiple demands on the system. We need you to persuade politicians that we’re worth supporting.

In this context, it’s really important to remember that:

  • Imposing pressure may seem appealing – but pressure is not nearly as effective as persuasion
  • Exerting pressure is a very high risk approach – most politicians respond badly to being pressured
  • As a result, they may not support us now or in the future
  • We have a strong case so let us use it!

Getting Your Members Active

We also need to get your members active – even if it is only a small handful of them! Here are some simple asks for them:

  • They can write a letter to their Oireachtas members;
  • Get them to raise the sector’s issues with canvassers – namely funding restoration, easing the compliance burden and help with recruiting and retaining volunteers.

Where canvassing is taking place ahead of local, European or general elections, the community and voluntary sector can use this process to its advantage by ensuring that as many members as possible raise the need for fair play for the sector and those it serves by:

  • Asking canvassers if their party and candidate will commit to supporting the sector’s demands in their election manifestos;
  • Get them to raise the sector’s issues with canvassers – namely funding restoration, easing the compliance burden and help with recruiting and retaining volunteers.

All ensuing letters and emails should be forwarded to:

The Wheel
48 Fleet Street
Dublin 2
D02 T883 



Next Steps:

1. Sign up to The Wheel's Election Advocacy & Lobbying Campaign mailing list to stay informed about campaign messaging and related training opportunities / events.

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2. Download this information as a PDF