Who Should Fix The Road?

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From top: Bumps in the road in North Kildare; Anne Marie McNally

We have a vestige of local government rather than a proper functioning arm of our democracy.

Anne Marie McNally writes:

It’s rumoured to have been first uttered during Tip O’Neill’s 1935 Cambridge City Council campaign but if there’s any truth to that old (infuriating) adage that ‘all politics is local’ then it’s high time we turned it on its head and started acting like responsible citizens who respect the differentiation between a local councillor and a national legislator.

At a family gathering the other evening everybody, of course, wanted to talk politics with me. One woman from the Wicklow constituency, following a really good conversation about the Social Democrats and Social Democracy in general, told me that she hadn’t voted for Stephen Donnelly despite really admiring him and everything the party represents.

When I queried why she told me it was because he ‘is from East Wicklow and I live in West Wicklow and we needed somebody who will deal with our issues over here’.

When I asked what type of issues she was referring to she mentioned the local roads and ‘trying to get the dip in the road just before the bridge sorted’.

I asked who she voted for and nearly fell off my chair when she said [fomer Fine Gael TD now Renua deputy leader and pro-life activist] Billy Timmons. ‘But aren’t you in favour of repealing the 8th?’ I asked, having had previous conversations which had left me with the impression that she was fairly liberal and progressive.

She proceeded to tell me that yes she is indeed in favour of repealing the 8th and while she knows that Timmons is absolutely opposed to it that doesn’t really matter because ‘he always takes a call about local issues’ and he’s reliable on those things.

That led me down the rabbit-hole conversation about the purpose of local councillors. It didn’t matter it seemed because the local councillors ‘weren’t great’ while Billy would ‘always take a call.’

How do we, as responsible citizens, change that narrative? Surely we can all recognise the need for there to be a fundamental difference between the people we elect to draft and pass national legislation and the people we elect to deal with our potholes.

At the same time though you cannot blame people for electing those they feel will take their calls and resolve the issues affecting their day to day lives at a local level. S

o how do we get to a space where the distinction comes naturally? We completely reform local government structures – that’s how. We need to build a local government structure to which central power is devolved in a meaningful way.

Right now we have a system of local government that simply doesn’t work. Councils have very little power in relation to local policy formation and the elected Councillors have even less.

Check out the Facebook/Twitter posts of many local Councillors following Council meetings and you will routinely see posts regarding the unwillingness of the Council Executive body to provide information or pursue the requests of sitting Councillors. We have a vestige of local government rather than a proper functioning arm of our democracy.

You may argue that even if local Councillors were effective and in a position to deal with issues that citizens may still gravitate towards their elected TDs. In the short-term that may well be the case but if you institute proper reform with very clear structures and a mechanism that allows elected Councillors to perform effectively you will, with the correct political will, eventually change the popular culture.

With a culture shift that clearly delineates the local from the national, citizens will see that the most expeditious and efficient way of dealing with local issues is to approach their Councillors while the best way of ensuring good legislative oversight and passage is to elect parliamentarians who prioritise the national interest rather than the local pothole.

Anne Marie McNally is a founding member of the Social Democrats. Follow Anne Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally

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34 thoughts on “Who Should Fix The Road?

  1. DubLoony

    Because people can’t relate to national issues, only their local ones.

    Take the whole Right2Water thing – its largely an urban protest movement by people who have no idea where their water comes from, who have never had to pay for it in their lives.
    they have no solidarity with people living in boil water notices, who have local group schemes or poisoned wells with e.coli from badly maintained septic tanks.

  2. Eoin

    Vote for the local gombeen man TD who owns a construction company with his gombeen man TD brother. They’ll fix it.

  3. Anne

    “it’s high time we turned it on its head and started acting like responsible citizens who respect the differentiation between a local councillor and a national legislator.”

    On the ball Anne-Marie.. I don’t think people are voting FF or FG because they believe in their policies or have any right wing tendencies, but it seems more so to do with what the local FF or FG candidate is doing for them in terms of representation on local/personal issues. Be it getting the road fixed, putting in a word for any applications for any allowances/medical card.. that type of thing.

    1. Neilo

      @Anne: Must be said that SF are excellent on such local issues as well – there’s a reason they won 2 seats in Louth – even if I’m not the party’s greatest admirer.

  4. Westside yall

    I cannot speak for the country as a whole but as a west wicklower there is an issue regarding our representation. While personally I vote on national issues, many in West Wicklow do indeed vote for Billy based on geography alone.

    Billy is the only candidate in the area and like it or not people want to feel like they are represented.
    (other parties should cop on to this)

    At local council level we are geographically closer to Naas in Kildare or Tallaght in south Dublin than we are to Wicklow town. This give us a sense that our local vote is kinda meaningless as the local services schools/hospitals/gardai we use are in other jurisdictions. This could explain the big vote for billy.

    Though things must be changing as this time he lost his seat.

    #westside4life
    #mountains
    #sheepsrule

  5. Jimmee

    “I asked who she voted for and nearly fell off my chair when she said [fomer Fine Gael TD now Renua deputy leader and in favour of stuff activist] Billy Timmons. ‘But aren’t you in favour of repealing the 8th?’ I asked, having had previous conversations which had left me with the impression that she was fairly liberal and progressive.

    She proceeded to tell me that yes she is indeed in favour of repealing the 8th and while she knows that Timmons is absolutely opposed to it that doesn’t really matter because ‘he always takes a call about local issues’ and he’s reliable on those things.”

    Someone needs to explain to Anne-Marie that voters have priorities and that repealing the 8th, even if in favour of it, doesn’t mean it has to be a top priority for voters. The economy, local services, health and education, for most will trump the issue of repealing the 8th.

    1. ahjayzis

      There are priorities and there are irrelevancies though.

      I can see myself voting for someone who I don’t agree with on Policy A because they’re so passionate about Policy B which I agree with, that’s a trade-off.

      But I won’t vote for someone who doesn’t agree wtih Policy A because he attended a loved-ones funeral, loves dogs or is a fellow Rupaul’s Drag Race fan – because those are irrelevant to the work of a backbench TD.
      Fixing the road is irrelevant to the work of a backbench opposition TD.

      1. Jimmee

        “Fixing the road is irrelevant to the work of a backbench opposition TD.”

        And that’s your opinion, other voters wouldn’t necessarily share that.

        1. bob

          Haha… How about as a statement of fact:
          Fixing the roads SHOULD BE irrelevant to the work of a TD

          1. Cup of tea anyone?

            For every road a TD fixes there will be a road that needs to be fixed but isn’t.

        2. ahjayzis

          And that is their right.

          Just like it’s my right to hire an electrician to cut the grass.

    2. stephen

      This kind of is the point she is making as I would see it. Yes fixing the road is a priority issue for the electorate but it should not be under the remit of TD’s. TD’s should be dealing with national issues such as the 8th while councillors should be dealing with fixing the roads.

      One solution I would see is larger constituencies with less TDs, make them to large for local issues to be a thing. I accept there are disadvantages to this but something needs to be done to help reform the parish pump politics we have

  6. donal

    I am and always have been politically aware and recently became involved in canvassing for the first time (for the soc dems as it happens) and I may continue with that involvement. People who know me sometimes ask if I would ever dream of running for election in some fashion.
    I am not totally opposed to the idea of putting myself forward for election, but my answe to the question has always been no for the following reasons.
    I have no interest in being a local councillor with pretty much zero power.
    I have no interest in being a national politician with a need to spend lots of time on local issues.

    I would love to see genuine reform and I hope we get it. The country needs it.

  7. Carol

    On the phone to my Aunty Margaret in North Tipp 2 weeks ago.
    Me: how are things? chasing away canvassers?
    AM: they don’t come down this far.
    Me: well you’d better not vote for Michael Lowry now.
    AM: Oh I certainly will vote for him. He got your mum’s medical card and I’ll never forget that. He gets everything done around here, he’s very popular, I don’t care what they say in Dublin.
    Me: …


    Well you’d better not vote for that gombeen Alan Kelly.
    AM: Oh no I wouldn’t vote for him he’s not a bit popular. They say he’s a bully.

    My mother, who lived in Dublin South, died 20 years ago this April. My brother and I were discussing it, and we reckon it was actually Michael Smith FF who got her the medical card. It really doesn’t matter either way, since she had a right to it and should have had it long before she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Then again, my friend who just completed chemo, and who has headed an institutional funding division for a large NGO, says it’s easier to get €1,000,000 out of the EU than a medical card. So maybe we do need our national politicians on that…

    1. classter

      This is exactly the short-sighted part.

      Lowry (or Smithy) may have helped sort out the medical card but having a Dail full of these sorts of characters is the reason we need to pester TDs for access to medical care in the first place.

  8. Panty Christ

    The author should respect the choices people make when voting, last week was a similar attack on the electorate.

    1. bob

      That’s BS… she’s questioning/attacking the system that means people feel the need to vote for local representation to do local work, when their work should be as national legislators. It’s the system, not the voter that’s being questioned.

  9. jack johnson

    Local representatives for local elections and a list system for national ones … parish pump politics are the ruination of this so called republic – people always vote for the Billy types TD who got that yellow box put in so they can turn right of a mornin’ , never minding that it’s not his job to be putting yellow boxes anywhere – but if Billy goes off to the big smoke and focuses on the national issues that he is actually paid for, Billy can F^&* off when he comes looking for a vote in future… This really is a kip !!

  10. Disasta

    Seriously this massive road network costs too much.

    We should adopt a European style living arrangement where houses are in clusters and there isn’t miles of road going to one house. Its cheaper for services and better for socialising and everything in between.

    1. classter

      We absolutely should.

      But there is a very hardcore (and almost completely unchallenged) portion of the electorate who will fight tooth and nail against any real moves in that direction.

      1. Disasta

        I know! Its unsustainable. People spout things like “its a cultural thing”. It’s bullsh!t.

  11. nellyb

    Solid summary. If people don’t vote for parties, WHAT do we need parties FOR? State governance is and has been performed by public servants. Why not to replace parties with professional guilds?
    North Wicklow can appoint a road construction guild, DBN – sea defense guild, etc
    Billy lobbying one road would mean another road repair will be postponed. But shur, fupp them, I don’t travel x-counties anyway.
    I’ve explained “Billy-election” mentality to my junior prior to GE16. He thought it was ret***ed. He voted anyway, but he might not bother again. Because what’s the fupping point? :-)

  12. 15 cents

    some of what happened in localalities served as a microcosm for the country .. eg. in naas an FG guy called anthony lawler had a leafelt sayin all the things hes done for the area previously. and he listed creating 150 jobs in kilcock in a brewery. he was on the radio and the brewer rang in, and said not only did he work his behind off to get the brewery to grow and then take on new employees, but he had never even spoken to lawler. yet there he was, claiming to have created these new jobs. and that’s what FG do when they claim to have created 100k jobs, they just added up the amount of jobs that came about, whether they had anything to do with it or not. they say they created the environment for those jobs to become available, but thats more rubbish. if anything they’ve made conidtions more difficult. but anyway, yea, people voting for their local lad, and then that party is in charge of the country, its a stupid model. look at the hack of some of the whooers liftin up Lowry and the Healy raes after they were elected, some of them shouldnt be allowed near cutlery yet alone have a hand in who runs the country. although i dont think anyone has run the country yet, theyve just sold it off and used whatever remains for themselves, theyre an obstacle for the people actually out there trying to ‘get the country working’ as FG say. we really really need reform.

    1. classter

      ‘that’s what FG do when they claim to have created 100k jobs, they just added up the amount of jobs that came about, whether they had anything to do with it or not’

      That is true but it’s not completely unreasonable.

      If that many jobs were net lost, you can be sure the govt would be blamed. So why is it unreasonable in the opposite direction?

  13. rotide

    This seems like a shockingly naive piece for Amo to be writing.

    Surely she knew all this before she started? SF gained the foothold they have by using the system and getting a huge grassroots support which turned into TDs.

    Next time , pander to this Anne Marie and get elected. Then you can treat us to articles about how it’s difficult to get anything done as a TD and how the system needs changing.

    1. classter

      So long as we ‘pander to this’, there is a large slice of potentially excellent candidates excluded – those who will not or cannot do so.

      1. rotide

        I largely agree with the sentiments Anne Marie is talking about but the problem is that local government is largely useless but more importantly completely invisible.

        Because of this people are always going to be ‘voting local’ until the above changes. Any candidate wishing to change this needs to pander to actually get elected to make the changes needed.

        Like so many of the issues here, it’s all very well wishing you had a yacht, you have to realise the practical real world limitations.

  14. Peter Dempsey

    I’m pro-life but that doesn’t sway me when voting in elections. I look at the whole picture and try to work out each candidate’s strengths, policies etc. I don’t believe in dismissing people because of their views on one particular issue.

    I have my #1 and #2 to pro-choice candidates. The main pro-life one got #3.

    Pity some of the pro-choice voters don’t do likewise.

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