Can Hildegarde Naughton take a new approach to the role of mayor?

Hildegarde Naughton — Photo: Mike Patterson

Hildegarde Naughton — Photo: Mike Patterson

I am sure Stephen Patrick Morrissey would not approve of what Insider is about to do, and as a self respecting Smiths fan I know it is sacrilegious, but here goes: “Hilda take a/Hilda take a bow/boot the grime of this world in the crotch dear/and don’t go home tonight/go out and find the cause that you love.”

What, might you ask, is that about? Well it’s the chorus from ‘Sheila Take A Bow’ adapted to reflect local politics - namely the near certain rise of Fine Gael councillor Hildegarde Naughton to the position of mayor of Galway city next month, and Insider’s hopes for her year in office.

And do not forget that Cllr Naughton is ‘The Singing Councillor’ so a musical slant on this week’s Grassroots is entirely appropriate.

Take a bow

So why “Hilda take a/Hilda take a bow”? Cllr Naughton is about to become the city’s ‘First Citizen’ and this marks the culmination in the first chapter of her political career thus far.

Remember she came from nowhere in the 2009 Local Elections, in the highly competitive Galway City West ward - home of heavy hitters like Donal Lyons, Catherine Connolly - and took a seat with a walloping 1,061 first preference votes.

This rose to a combined vote of 1,466 and in the process ousted John Mulholland - one of the best know businessmen, councillors, and former mayors in the city - thereby taking his seat. As opening acts go, it was fairly impressive.

Then in this year’s General Election, she polled a solid 3,606 first preferences - beating the tallies of a senator (Niall Ó Brolcháin ), the current Mayor (Michael J Crowe ), and a TD of 30 years standing (Frank Fahey ). Although she was not in the running for a Dáil seat, the general verdict was that she had laid down a marker for the future.

So next step, the mayoralty? It has a kind of logic to it.

Now Insider knows what you are thinking, the office of mayor is nothing to get excited about - it’s basically a year on a junket of openings, wince receptions, and a holiday to somewhere or other on St Patrick’s Day. Provided you are sociable and enjoy free meals, you should have no problem in handling the task.

Yet in another sense the mayoralty can be important. As the chair of Galway City Council meetings the Mayor has, not just the responsibility, but also the duty, to keep the councillors in line and get them to progress efficiently through the meeting’s agenda, and get the business of the city done - a difficult task, yes, given that s/he is dealing with 15 windbags, all with egos the size of Jupiter!

Which leads Insider back to: “Boot the grime of this world in the crotch dear.”

As Mayor, Cllr Naughton will have to do quite a lot of booting in sensitive places (metaphorically I hasten to add ) given some of the characters she will have to deal with.

Galway City Council meeting’s are a place where, if I may borrow from The Smiths again, it is ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, ‘Stop me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, and ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ - in other words, grandstanding, waffle, pointless and self-indulgent wrangling over obscure procedural rules, walkouts, postponements, and disrespecting the chair. Some may argue that it is not as bad as it used to be, but Insider thinks that’s putting far too optimistic a slant on things.

However Cllr Naughton is a schoolteacher and well used to dealing with noisy and boisterous individuals and a room full of voices all competing for the limelight (except the pupils don’t share the councillor’s need to repeat whatever the previous speaker has said in the vainglorious attempt to get a headline or quote ).

Cllr Naughton, who teaches in St Patrick’s Primary School, is a highly popular teacher. However as chair of the council meetings she might have to become a stern disciplinarian with the more extreme and unruly councillors.

Insider hopes she will show no hesitation in refusing to take any of their nonsense. Remember completing the business of the city is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than massaging councillor’s egos, their waffle, or letting them hold up a meeting when they throw a tantrum.

Insider is not sure if, in such circumstances, Cllr Naughton will go as far as Morrissey in ‘Frankly, Mr Shankly’: “Frankly, Mr Shankly, since you ask/You are a flatulent pain in the ass/I do not mean to be so rude/Still, I must speak frankly, Mr Shankly.”

Nonetheless Insider would advise her to get that boot ready and make sure it is steel capped.

A different slant?

So now, what about my paraphrased line: “Go out and find the cause that you love.”

The Mayor is seen as the representative of Galway and someone who has the responsibility of ‘selling the city’ abroad - in other words, promoting Galway as a tourist destination, a city of culture, and as a place to do business, all vital in these economically dire times.

Insider has no doubt that Cllr Naughton will do that to the best of her ability. However Insider also believes that there is a third, often, indeed nearly always, underused aspect of the mayoral role, yet one which is possibly more important given the kind of socio-economic circumstances we are in - the Mayor as the conscience of the city.

By this Insider means that Cllr Naughton could use her position to articulate values and a vision for where the city needs to go - socially, economically, infrastructurally, culturally - over the next number of years, and to do this above narrow political or commercial interests.

Insider hopes that Cllr Naughton can be this kind of mayor. She certainly showed that in the drafting of the Galway City Development Plan she has the ability to take such a stance, when she voted against a series of re-zoning proposals.

A centre-right politician going against the age-old practice of centre-right politicians always voting for re-zoning and in developers’ favour stunned her Fine Gael colleagues, outraged and horrified Fianna Fáil, and won the respect of Labour councillors.

Her reasons? She felt there was not sufficient information to warrant her support; she took heed of the concerns of council officials and planners on the issue; and she felt that for too long bad planning and vested interests had been allowed dictate the development of the city.

In this she felt a stance was necessary, and she took it without fear and did not back down even when Fianna Fáil wanted her kicked out of the FG/FF/ex-PD pact in City Hall.

Ireland is at a point where it needs a new vision and needs one badly. Change only and ever happens from the ground up so if Cllr Naughton can continue to take the no-nonsense and ethical/principled stance she has shown so far, she could play a role in helping shape new thinking, for Galway city anyway, and prove a very worthy mayor in the process.

It remains to be seen, but Insider would encourage her to take the chance to say to herself the same as Morrissey does in that great song: “So, if there’s something you’d like to try/If there’s something you’d like to try/Ask me - I won’t say ‘No’ - how could I?”

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