A few days ago, during the General Election, I tweeted this:
Topping the polls:
The Healy Reas.
This is why we can't have nice things.#GE16
— Colm Ryan (@colm_ryan) February 27, 2016
It got a lot of retweets because the politicians I mentioned represent the extreme cases of those who are less interested in national Politics than they are about pandering to the needs of their own local community. They are caricatures, easily lampooned and despised. To them, it’s all about Kerry and Tipperary, and the rest of the country can take a running jump.
But, honestly, I’m somewhat conflicted about all this. While I despise the gombeen image, I think the local nature of politics in this country serves us very well.
It’s important, I think, that we know the people we are voting for. If someone is effective on a local level, then we get to see through the slogans. We get an insight into the people themselves. We derive something about their character. The voting process can winnow the best of these from the less able. In the main, good people are sent to Leinster House.
Another thing to celebrate is that our political process is rooted in the life and history of our country. We are never more than 10 feet away from a local politician here. This helps to mitigate the sense of disenfranchisement so keenly felt across the Western world. In Knocknaheeney, a deprived suburb of Cork I drive through almost every day, there was a palpable sense of energy in the run-up to the election. The next Dáil will contain many people who will represent the voices of the deprived, and this is a good thing.
The system can result in narrow-minded councillors topping the polls, but what’s amazing is that, more often than not, it delivers quite good people too. Michael Lowry, Mattie McGrath and the Healy-Raes represent the extreme of our Local System, but that doesn’t mean that the system in general is dreadfully wrong. It might actually be the best thing to come from 1916 – something that makes us who we are: democrats by instinct and nature.
Even though the next government is still uncertain, I am quite optimistic about the outcome. Ireland is not built for grand overthrows but evolutionary change is quite possible. Our local system of politics, with its abundant compromises and contact with the struggles of real people, makes such change possible.