Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Bog rights and boundary changes show how everything will always remain localAugust 29, 2012 - 8:00am
As a child, I had a habit of making sure that Santa or any other sentient being, roaming around in space, didn’t confuse me with some other Harry McGee in a different galaxy.
My address was: 45 Glenard Crescent, Salthill, Galway, Co Galway, Connacht, Ireland, Europe, the World, The Universe, The Galaxy.
It was important for me to pinpoint not only who I was but where I was from – and with great exactitude.
Where you are from is the first cardinal rule of Irish politics. Sure, Tipp O’Neill’s phrase that all politics is local has been flayed to death, but it remains a truism.
The 166 national legislators in Dáil Éireann may debate on national issues and draft laws nationally but make no mistake about it, they are first and foremost representing a community and a region. This is quite unlike Britain, where prospective MPs are parachuted into far-flung constituencies with inbuilt Tory or Labour majorities – places with which they have no connection and where they visit as rarely as possible. In Ireland, such an arrangement would be unimaginable. You shun your own constituency and you quickly find that your own constituency shuns you.
And so you will find these paradoxes cropping up all the time – TDs going through the hobs of hell to protect something in their constituency, though it seems to contradict everything else they stand for nationally.
Ergo, while the euro may be staring into an abyss and the future prospects for the economy still look dodgy, the two issues that generated verbal thunder and lightning this week were turbary rights on a bog near Portumna and Phil Hogan’s big plan to register and inspect septic tanks.
That localism, or backyardism, is often criticised by commentators who argue for the Irish politics to embrace some form of a list system - where voters would vote for a particular party rather than a candidate; and some of the TDs would be selected from a list supplied by the parties or by independent groups.
The argument goes that this would widen the skill set of our political pool and bring clever well-balanced people (academics, business people, people from the world of arts and culture) into parliament that would otherwise not be there. It would also help eliminate the cult of clientelism and localism that they think bedevils Irish politics, they argue.
It is true that Irish politics does tend to be dominated by people who come from particular backgrounds – teachers and former trade union officials do tend to predominate. But you find that what marks most politicians out is their innate political nature.
People who argue for us to go out and beg Michael O’Leary and Diarmuid Ferriter and Miriam O’Callaghan to run the country fail to take one thing into account. They may be the best in their political fields, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t end up being lousy politicians.
To be a politician you need to be political in nature. And a lot of people aren’t. I don’t want to be too generalist but there are qualities that you recognise in most politicians.
The first is that they are usually outgoing and extrovert (that doesn’t mean they have to be pleasant and you do still get the odd recluse).
The second is that they have to have vast stores of patience and stamina to endure endless conversations and meetings and to field the most trivial complaints as if they were the most important piece of news that they have ever heard.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.