During the local elections, I spoke to the partner of a politician, offering congratulations on the success and opining that at least now, everything would get back to normal in the political household; that the grass would be cut once again, the flowerbeds weeded, the hinges fixed on the ratchety door, and the kids getting to know the one parent who had been missing for three months or so.
“But no,” I was told. “Now is the worst time of all, because now the tension really starts.” The week or two after an election is when all the wheeling and dealing is done, when the crankiness is at its zenith; when the divvying up of roles in the new adminstration is carried out behind closed doors at secret meetings. It is the time when all forces come into play; party hacks and former councillors pulling the strings away from the glare of publicity. Playing new naive councillors, avoiding experienced old councillors.
It is a time when the handing out of places on committees is the new currency — but the best gigs are kept for the most revered in the grouping. It is as if you were getting tickets for the Arts Festival, but instead of getting Robert Plant or Burt Bacharach, you get two for the Latvian puppeteer who will struggle to command a crowd. It is like when you are offered Galway Races tickets and you are handed one for the Saturday.
It is a bit like that. And the Hander Outer in the party is the negotiator who calls the shots and determines the pecking order.
Tomorrow Friday, Galway City Council sit down for its first post-election meeting at City Hall; so too does the County Council at County Hall; across the border in Mayo, the same happens. The midnight oil will have been burned and the roles will have been handed out.
The allocation of places on committees can determine not just the number of zeros on your expenses cheque, but also the type of political circles you will travel in. It is an immediate reminder of your status on the council. And for those who miss out, it can be a long five years.
Back in the day, there used to be a great rush for the Prison Visiting Committee — Galway didn’t have any prisons and this was before Castlerea, so if you got this, you were well set up with monthly expenses, subsistence fees and a grand long journey to the far end of the country.
In the County Council there used to be a Sheep Dipping Committee and for some strange reasons, there was great demand for this as well. If you have rural TD ambitions, then this was the one to cut your teeth in.
The allocation of roles is key. It helps build a new generation of politicos.
So you can see why control of the Council is so important. You can see why there will be so much tension tomorrow because the chalice has seemingly been grabbed from the power of the two big parties on Galway City Council. And there is still no guarantee that they will not sup success after tomorrow’s meeting.
They say politics is a bloodsport, but the wheeling and dealing that has gone on this week is akin to a brawl after the final whistle has blown. These first meetings of the new councils will be fascinating and will determine a lot. Bring it on.