Dan Boyle is to run in Cork City South Central at the local elections in May
I was 28 years old when I was elected in my first election. I was the second youngest person elected to the City Council, the youngest being the son of a then TD. There were a number of others elected who were in or around my age; Micheál Martin (two years older than me) had already served six years on the Council.
Most councillors were 15 to 20 years older than me, which led to a fair amount of condescension being directed towards me in my early years as a councillor. Being the first Green elected had slightly fractured the comfortable template of local politics. I neither spoke their language nor understood their thinking. I imagine the feeling was mutual.
I have been thinking of my original experiences as a councillor while listening to a radio piece on the number of young, first time councillors who are not seeking re-election, which played on the RTÉ This Week programme.
The combination of factors mentioned were understandable and logical. The economic reasons were most cited. Many first time councillors were surprised at the scale of the work involved, and how doing public work compromised their ability to engage in other, better paid work, that would help in securing housing and in raising a family.
Few of these now departing first time councillors seemed to gain any sense of real job satisfaction. When a large number of those you are meant to work with, and for, identify you only in negative terms, those negative reactions tend to get under your skin more.
Some departing first time councillors also found life within political party structures to be somewhat confining, with some political parties being more regimented than others.
I was sorry but not surprised that young political activists have experienced this. A vibrant democracy depends on a regular throughput of new people and ideas. Any attempt to bring about an actual reform of local government in Ireland would be worthless if these negative experiences were not adequately responded to.
I would hope that these prematurely retiring councillors may, sometime in the future, return to the public sphere, being then able to put their experience to a more positive use.
I suggest this to highlight a mirror image problem that also afflicts Irish politics, those who continue in public office but whose continuity has become far too lengthy.
We should begin to embrace the idea of term limits. Contribute to public life but leave space to experience life as it is, outside of the goldfish bowl that it is Irish politics.
Make a better, and more informed, contribution by returning to public life after leaving its often narrow, inwardness and insularity behind.
This was a choice that was made for me. After dealing with the personal disappointment, I’m kind of glad that choice was made. Being outside hasn’t made me any less committed, but it has allowed me the space to look from the outside at the system and its many flaws.
This year it will be seventeen years since I last was a member of a local authority. I was first elected half a lifetime ago. I spent a further ten years in frontline national politics.
The last eight years as Citizen Boyle has given me a far better perspective on life.
I have regrets and many frustrations. The changes I would make would be personal, would be social. There is little I would try to change politically, at least not in terms of my personal beliefs.
I’m putting myself forward again seeking to become part of a system of government I know isn’t working. I want to help this system to work to its potential, to work differently, to work better.
To those stepping aside now I say come back again soon. Together let’s fail some more. Let’s fail better.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Pic : Denis Minihane/UCC