Highlighting Planning & the IPI through a Seanad Campaign

18/05/2016
Mary Hughes MIPI

When I was asked to run as an IPI nominated candidate in the 25th Seanad elections, I laughed because I thought it was a joke.  But after some gentle persuasion and thoughtful consideration I accepted IPI’s nomination as it was an opportunity to reach out and communicate with those that IPI would not generally have the opportunity to communicate with on a national basis.  The people I am referring to were essentially my electorate including existing TD’s, County Councillors and outgoing Senators.  

I had two main objectives: (i) to promote the planning profession and system; and (ii) to promote the IPI.  To say I didn’t know what I was getting myself into was an understatement and it was only when my nomination was accepted did I fully realise the commitment, time and financial outlay that it would entail.  I had the commitment and I put some money towards the campaign but what I was lacking was the time as I juggled the campaign with running a business.  I set about emailing, phoning and meeting with my electorate but soon I realised that I really was lacking time as many other nominees on the Industrial and Commercial panel had started their campaign many weeks previous. 

My campaign focused on the housing crisis, developing the capacity of elected representatives and having a voice to influence planning legislation relating to matters such as the Planning Regulator, Climate Change and the forthcoming National Planning Framework.  Housing was a topical issue and I have to say that my priorities were in general well received although I have to admit that I did encounter the usual rant on the deficiencies of the planning system and professional planners.  A campaign leaflet was posted, a dedicated website was launched, two press releases were issued and published in local newspapers, emails were sent, the phone bill sky rocketed and the mileage clock in the car experienced an upsurge. But all was in vain as I was knocked out in the fifth count.

Was I surprised? – Not really, given that an independent candidate had not won a Seanad vocational panel seat in the 43 years prior to these Seanad elections. Also, when I saw tweets from other candidates saying that they drove over 12,000km in four weeks, visiting County & City Councils throughout the country, I knew I hadn’t done enough.  It’s all about “pressing the flesh” and as a County Councillor at the National Planning Conference in Athlone said to me “it really comes down to do you like and get on with the person”.  

Was it worth it? – I hope it was.  The planning message was certainly delivered and the IPI was promoted.  But there are lessons to be learnt from this first time endeavour.  IPI has a national network of members including a number of regional branches and this network should be mobilised in any future campaign as the nominated candidate quite simply cannot do it alone. A campaign needs to be properly managed and to be effective it will need “donations” of monetary or service value which would necessitate IPI registering as a Corporate Donor. Whether such future investment by the IPI would be of value to its members will need to be explored.  Perhaps, it could be the case that our members might be better served by seeking additional appearances before the Oireachtas Environment Committee on important planning matters.  

To conclude, I do believe that IPI should maintain its position as a Nominating Body on the Industrial and Commercial Panel. If it is decided not to nominate a professional planner as an Independent Candidate in the future, then IPI should support a suitable “political” candidate that will commit to actively promoting planning and planners on our behalf.

Maybe there might be hope for me yet – the Taoiseach still has to nominate 11 persons to the 26th Seanad!

The views expressed in this blog are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the IPI nor are they intended to reflect IPI policy.

Mary Hughes MIPI
Past President