Free speech - not something our councillors seem to believe in

The only Gay in the village, or the presidential 
race anyway. 

Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

The only Gay in the village, or the presidential race anyway. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny used the words dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and narcissism in describing the culture dominating the Vatican with regard to the cover-ups of clerical sex abuse in Ireland, and rightly so.

The same description would not be out of context in describing the recent anti-democratic voting patterns of the ruling parties of the Galway City Council. This would include his own Fine Gael party in City Hall with respect to the denial of Senator David Norris his democratic right to address the council.

It seems that here in the west, “where the swish of the soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of the thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world”, things have not changed, particularly among the ruling elite of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the ex-Progressive Democrats in the council chamber.

Insider is reminded of the lyrics from the bard of the people Christy Moore in his song ‘Viva la Quince Brigada: “And the Bishops blessed the Blueshirts down in Galway, as they sailed under the Swastika to Spain”.

Blessed Hildegarde, now that has a nice tone to it. How could such a young woman be so out of touch with her people? Now a political career lies in tatters because her mind was as lathair on the night. Or was it?

Cllr Naughton certainly needs to go back to the chorus line and start singing from the same song sheet as they will tell her where it’s at. The public reaction to her incompetence, and the narrow mindedness of former mayor Michael Crowe has been amazingly critical.

Is it any wonder that politicians have never been popular and have been lampooned throughout the ages? Their motives and behaviour have always been questioned. They have been seen as and are seen as devious, factional and self-interested, pursuing sectional interests rather than the interest of the common good.

They are seen as corrupt and selfish as well as figures of fun. Shakespeare referred to “scurvy politicians” in King Lear; Swift used his satire on them, while in more recent times the lampooning continued with Spitting Image in the eighties along with the home-grown Halls Pictorial Weekly, Scrap Saturday, and the biting legendary political cartoons of Martyn Turner of The Irish Times.

Is it any wonder then that central Government is reluctant to devolve power to local government, relegating local politicians to a secondary, almost rubber-stamping role while conferring the general powers of local government to civil servants?

Local government must prove that it is capable of handling power and currently it does not do so, especially when it comes to overall planning, and also, as recent events have shown, with the issue of free speech.

It must adopt a maturity in the implementation of the democratic system that it has been entrusted with. The controversial issues of the last month have proven that the majority of members on the Galway City Council are nowhere near reaching that level of maturity. Serious reflection is needed before any devolved powers accrue to them.

“Politicians are a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men. I say this with the greatest freedom because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.”

The speaker was a young Illinois lawyer politician. No, not Barack Obama, but that master politician, Abraham Lincoln, in 1837.

Insider is not expecting our local representatives to equal the standard of master politicians but the least that can be expected is democracy and free speech from democratically elected members of a so called Republic.

We have reached what Insider would venture to call a watershed and a time of crisis with our current local representatives. The leading lights who have denied free speech to Sen Norris - Crowe and Naughton - are on the defensive, as reflected in their immediate response to the press, but surely the remainder of the nay sayers have also to be questioned as to their views on free speech.

Cllr Declan McDonnell abstained on the night of the vote. As a former mayor on a number of occasions and one of the longest serving councillors he showed neither leadership nor maturity by sitting on the fence.

As a former “progressive democrat” he was two long steps removed and displayed neither quality. He certainly has a chance to redeem himself and should reflect on his abstention. If he became the ninth councillor to support the mayor’s U-turn the way would be paved for Senator Norris to address the council.

There is a serious principle at stake here in Galway and that is freedom of speech. We should reflect on the words of Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg who in the aftermath of the grotesque killings of his people by a far right lunatic said, “MORE FREEDOM, MORE DEMOCRACY”. Now that is political courage.

Insider will be taking a break for the month of August but will return in September for more inside stories, frank analysis, and ruffling of feathers. Until then, enjoy the summer.

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