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Irish Americans and Politics: An Interview with Deirdre Woodbyrne

St. Patrick’s work in Ireland was primarily that of missionary, of one spreading the Christian message but it was also, arguably, about building community. The network of monasteries and structures of power to continue his work are perhaps a more important legacy. So it is today with any organization that wishes to build meaningful relationships with their constituents.

Deirdre Woodbyrne has spent most of her career in one way or another building communities and helping people to communicate their message better. As a political strategist and consultant in media and government relations she has seen, first-hand, the message needs to be backed up with structures in order to perpetuate and grow. She recently served as Executive Director of Irish Network USA which works to bolster economic and cultural cooperation for the Irish community across America and acts as a touchpoint for new migrants. Deirdre currently works as a political consultant and strategist with her company Dolmen Strategies.

Her perspective on how business, community and politics intersect to create this thing ‘nation’ are hard won and we were happy to speak with her on Irish America and how it works within the political system.

Q: Irish Americans seem to perform inordinately well in politics, why do you think that is?
A. For generations, the Irish who immigrated to our country understood the importance of building a better life for themselves and their families. They were involved with their communities at every level. Irish America and public service has always been intertwined. When you look at the history of our country, the contributions by Irish Americans is evident at every level, from business to government, arts, culture and sport, etc. Politics and campaigns at every level are about making the personal connections - how do we connect one on one? The Irish are known globally for their ability to connect. There is a common, unspoken understanding that we celebrate our past, our present, and work towards our future - it is evident in every Irish American community across the country.

Q: Building community cooperation and fostering relationships are equally important in politics and community organisations. Are there learnings from community organizing that can be applied to political campaigns?
A. Building community (team) cooperation and fostering relationships are the pillars to the foundation of a grassroots, successful, political campaign. A candidate must have a message that connects directly with voters, and one that inspires people to want to work for that person to get them elected. A successful campaign, like any successful organization, must emphasize the importance of building a strong team - then put the right people in place. It is essential at every level of government, local, county, state and federal - that you are surrounded by a team that can convey your message to the voter. We are truly at an interesting period of time with both political parties, we have the far left and far right moving to the extremes. At the same time, there is a great sense of distrust, anger and dissatisfaction at the way government is being run. There is an overall sense of distrust among the electorate with politicians. This is where we need to remind public servants that they are there to serve the public. I think campaigns need to remember this, especially in an age where social media has made going door to door and phone banking easier for volunteers? The personal connection and retail politicking is still key. People don't want to be bombarded with mountains of campaign literature wasting money and resources, but they want to also know that you have connected with them. I tell every candidate it is important that you earn voters respect, and you ask for their vote. I always say, lawnsigns don't vote, but lawnsigns on registered voters who you know actually vote is an indication of the level of support for a candidate. You must combine a visual presence, with your actual campaign presence.

Q. How is the Irish American community dovetailing with conservative organisations this year?
A. This year is such a different year for the GOP. You have someone leading the race to be the Republican nominee who never voted in a Republican primary. I've been vocally against supporting Donald Trump and believe that he is destroying the party of Lincoln. I think Irish Americans are picking their candidates rather than listening to organizations. This is one Irish American who looks to my strong Irish upbringing to know - you stand up to bullies, protect the weak, and emphasize kindness, you stand up to for you believe in. I think Trump is wrong for the party and a disaster, completely unfit to lead our country.

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