If you have a personal interest in any of the policy issues which concern Atheist Ireland, and you can spare 30 minutes occasionally, then you’ve already got the most basic qualities needed to help make a difference – commitment and time.

Much of the advice in this note will strike you as blindingly obvious – but lobbying is not a particularly mysterious or complex process. What this note is designed to do is to give you a few very basic guidelines which you can use as a quick reminder each time you lobby on behalf of Atheist Ireland.

It would also be enormously helpful if, when you contact a politician in your role as an Atheist Ireland member/supporter, you could send copies of all your correspondence to them and the replies you receive back to me.

Thanks for all your support. Over the next few months, you will see Atheist Ireland stepping up its lobbying activities, and the active involvement of as many members as possible will be crucial in that.

Conor McGrath
Former AI Lobbying Officer

The aim of lobbying

The aim of lobbying is to educate and inform key decision-makers and opinion-formers in the political/administrative arena about an organisation’s policies and concerns, and to seek assistance from them in furthering those corporate objectives.

People often seem to view lobbying as being about trying to make politicians do something that they don’t want to do. That rarely works, and only then for groups which are big or important enough to exercise some kind of sanction over government. We’re not in that position. Instead, think of lobbying much more in terms of providing information to TDs/Senators/civil servants. Information is the key currency in lobbying – and your opinion is an important piece of information for politicians.

Re-election is the number one priority for most politicians, and an active and mobilised section of their constituents can demand attention. At the most basic level, TDs and Senators receive relatively little post, and therefore a number of letters to an Irish legislator on the same issue can have a disproportionate effect in galvanizing him or her into action.

What is important is that all communications demonstrate the individual constituent’s genuine views, and as much as possible relate those views to the constituent’s experiences or situation. If you can write to a TD or Senator in a way which both communicates Atheist Ireland’s key message and describes why that issue is so important to you personally, your letter will certainly receive attention.

Where to write to Irish politicians

You can write to all TDs and Senators at: Leinster House, Dublin 2. Alternatively go to http://www.oireachtas.ie , then click on ‘Members’ and then click on ‘Members Database’. You can then access some information on every current TD, usually including a constituency address. Also on the Oireachtas website, you can click on ‘Members’ and then on ‘Members’ Websites’ – almost all TDs and most Senators have a personal website which has more detailed contact information.

If you are contacting a Minister in their role as Minister rather than as a TD, you should write to them at their Department. You can access each Department’s website at http://www.irlgov.ie/en/sites/departments/

You can also find email addresses for TDs and Senators by going to http://www.oireachtas.ie/ , then click on ‘Members’ and then click on ‘eMails and addresses’. Please – don’t be tempted to send an email to multiple TDs or Senators. Each of them will regard it as junk mail. If you want to email more than one person, email each of them separately and individually.

How to communicate with policy makers

However you communicate with a policy maker, first research the facts and be sure that nothing you are planning to say is misleading. Always identify yourself (including the fact that you an AI member or supporter) and give your contact details so that you can be responded to in whichever way the policy maker prefers. Be highly specific in your opinion and your request. And don’t abuse those individuals or groups who disagree with AI, indeed accept that most of them are perfectly reasonable people. The more emotional heat you bring into a lobbying exercise, the less productive it’s likely to be.

When you write to a politician, it is important that you indicate (eg, by giving your address) that you are a constituent of theirs. If you’re not, you need to establish very early in the letter why you are contacting them in particular. In any case, you should within the first paragraph make clear that you are writing to them personally (perhaps you know of their previous views on the issue, or because they’re a member of a specific committee) so they know it’s not just junk mail going to all TDs/Senators.

Keep the letter to no more than 2 pages. Give all your contact details – and ask them to reply to the specific points you raise. Discuss the policy issue plainly, and go on to explain why it’s important to you. Deliver AI’s core messages, but do it in your own words. That makes it much more likely to receive serious attention and a response. Stick to one key topic per letter.

Arranging a meeting with a politician

Depending on your location, you may want to meet a TD or Senator either in Dublin or in their local constituency – it makes no difference at all in terms of delivering your message and developing a relationship with that person. In either case, it may be some weeks between contacting them to ask for the meeting and it actually taking place – this is normal. If meeting in Dublin, it is possible that the legislator will have to cut things short to attend to more urgent parliamentary business such as a vote or a debate. When requesting the meeting, be sure to identify yourself as a constituent, and give an indication of what you’d like to discuss.

Be on time for the meeting – if you are going to be late, ring to say so. Prepare and rehearse what you want to say during the meeting. If necessary, be able to deliver a persuasive message in no more than 5 minutes, but also be able to expand on that if time permits.

Don’t use the whole time allocated for the meeting by talking – make sure to give the legislator a chance to respond to you. Listen carefully to what they say. Have you asked for specific action, and are they agreeing to do that? Be certain to thank the TD/Senator at the end, and say that you’d appreciate them keeping in touch with you as the issue and their position on it develops.

Always ask for a specific outcome

It is often tempting to write to a politician to tell them what you think about something – but that rarely produces results in itself. Rather, it is necessary to go beyond that to the next step – asking them very precisely to do something specific. It may be to vote for or against a Bill, to ask a parliamentary question, to attend a meeting, to speak in a debate, to write to their colleagues urging action of some sort – or just to let you know what their views about the issue are.

So, in meetings with politicians – and when reading their letters to you – ask yourself whether they have made any definite commitment. What precisely have they said they will do? Have they stated a clear policy position?

After your contact with a politician

After every lobbying contact you have with a politician – and regardless of the outcome – take another couple of minutes to drop them a quick note thanking them for meeting/talking/writing to you.

Good luck!

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