An inside look at local politics – from the pens of the politicians themselves

Who’s side are you on?

Cllr O Brolchain will get flak on the doorsteps because of his party’s alliance with FF.

Cllr O Brolchain will get flak on the doorsteps because of his party’s alliance with FF.

While Insider is consumed by politics - it is my raison d’être - music is also a great passions, particularly politically charged music.

Just the other day Insider was listening to ‘Major General Despair’ by the 1980s English anarchist-punk band Crass, and the song’s closing lines set off a train of thought about what the electorate might have to say to some of the politicians on the doorsteps during the run up to the locals.

As the song reaches its climax, Crass vocalist Steve Ignorant roars: “Whose side you on? Whose side you on? Major general despair, major general despair. Whose side you on? GET IN LINE!!!”

So what has a radical punk song got to do with Galway politics?

Given the ill-judged Budget 09, the absence of leadership over the recession, and Cowen & co’s inability to see the downturn coming (and disparaging of anyone who dared to say it was ), the Government parties are - quite deservedly - deeply unpopular.

This is a time when it is good to be an Opposition politician or Independent but it could also be a dangerous time as people will want to know exactly where you stand on certain issues and they will also want to know just what other parties you will support after the elections are over.

Think of that song again: “Major general despair, major general despair.” ‘Major general despair’ reminded Insider of the fear and worry there is over the future. People want to know that their jobs and investments are safe and that money will be used wisely by the Government.

There is little city councillors can do about that (previous FF administrations have rendered councillors little more that rubber stamp merchants ) but it is a reality they will have to acknowledge on the doorsteps and one that will influence how people vote.

“Whose side you on? Whose side you on?...GET IN LINE!!!” is even more pertinent for the candidates looking to keep/win/regain seats. Who will they support once the full council is elected? No party will have the majority of eight, so parties and Independents will have to band with someone to control the council.

The next council is (like now ) probably going to be run by Labour-Fine Gael, but if Labour return with four and FG three as is likely, they need at least one more person to give them the eight needed to have the mayoralty and impose their vision (in as much as it is possible ) on 2009.

There is a real possibility that Fianna Fáil could return with four seats and thus be in a strong position to form a working group to control City Hall. All they would need is for the three former PDs and Green Cllr Niall Ó Brolcháin to be returned.

The question of ‘Whose side you on?’ then becomes very relevant to voters and it will focus most intensely on Cllr Ó Brolcháin and Independent councillors. Let’s look at each in turn.

Catherine Connolly is a former Labour councillor, and despite the bitterness that still exists between her and that party, she still votes with them in council and there is no fear of her going anywhere near Fianna Fáil.

As such she is clean and would only consent to any alliance that would be FF free and incorporate elements of her vision.

By virtue of being a Green, Cllr Ó Brolcháin is inextricably linked to Fianna Fáil because his party are in coalition in Government. He will take a lot of anti-Government flak at the doorsteps - despite the fact that he supports Labour and FG in City Hall.

He is certainly going to face questions of ‘Whose side you on?’ and it will take all his smooth talking and commitment to rational argument to get him over this hurdle.

The PDs face a similarly tough questioning of their future intentions but that party always had the ability to get around such minefields and it looks as if they will continue to be able to do that as Independents.

After the demise of the PDs, Cllr Donal Lyons went Independent. In the past he voted as part of FF/PD bloc and so many may suspect him of continuing to do so in the future.

However Cllr Lyons has a number of advantages. He was courted by Fine Gael for some time and recently told the Galway Advertiser that as an Independent he is “not be tied to any party whip and in any situation that arises I can make my own choice. I can take my own stance.”

He is committed to the vast Knocknacarra region and voters there will be happy to see him back in council chambers battling on their behalf and getting concessions for the area, regardless of who runs City Hall.

His former PD colleague Cllr Terry O’Flaherty is in a somewhat similar position. She was also courted by Fine Gael and was willing to tell anyone who would listen of her family connections with that party - no harm in the current climate.

She will face questions over having voted with FF in the past, but like Lyons her focus is now on the Galway City East area and not on party politics. This should help her to some extent as might her having resigned from the party as a symbolic protest against Mary Harney’s handling of the health services.

Cllr O’Flaherty’s Galway City East colleague, Cllr Declan McDonnell, may not have it so easy. Along with Dep Noel Grealish and Cllr Jim Cuddy, he was seen as someone who was on course to join Fianna Fáil.

He ultimately went Independent but voters may still fear he will ‘fall into line’ when it comes to voting in City Hall by siding with Fianna Fáil every time. However this is to underestimate Cllr McDonnell. He has a canny political sense and an ability to engage in cross party work.

He is a close friend of Fine Gael Cllr Brian Walsh and the two have worked together on numerous projects over the years. That association may become closer the longer Fianna Fáil remain persona non grata with the public. Cllr McDonnell’s ability to work with others will stand him in good stead with voters and in the council chamber after the elections.

So when that councillor comes to your door, don’t be afraid to ask them: ‘Whose side you on?’

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