Reading the Runes: Local elections

Local Elections, like those coming up on May 23, are curious creatures. While they are undoubtedly local in the way that even a cursory glance at the different candidates election literature will immediately confirm – active in community initiatives, members of community councils, chairs of things like the Tidy Towns Committee, and, at least in the country, the GAA - local elections also have traditionally been seen, and used by voters, as a way of robustly telling the mainstream parties how they are seen from the groundlings point of view, and so providing either comfort or a harsh wake-up call, a two-fingered salute which is anything but comforting.

In a recent round-up of pre-election polls, a sort of ‘poll of polls’, the results strongly suggest the two-fingered salute is the most immediate response to the blizzard of cheery election posters, with their crushingly banal slogans (“Enough is Enough!” ). The end of April Irish Independent-Millward Brown poll showed Fine Gael 25 per cent (down four per cent ), Fianna Fail 23 per cent (up one per cent ), Sinn Fein 21 per cent (up one per cent ), Labour Party six per cent (NC ), the Green Party, Independents and Others 25 per cent (up two per cent ). If this is clearly bad news for both coalition parties, as well as Fianna Fail (a one per cent increase has the voter consistency of a sneeze ), Independents of various hues can certainly draw comfort from the polls. As for Sinn Fein, the enigmatic Cinderella of Irish politics, the fact this poll shows them trouncing the venerable Labour Party, and nipping closely at the heels of the two largest parties in the Irish state, is matter for much serious consideration for voters of all hues.

Of course it must always be remembered that polls are a notoriously slippery way to predict election outcomes. A poll of polls of polls, particularly in the aftermath of the elections, often shows that voters are far cannier, or ‘cuter’, than the pollsters suppose. Anyone who has ever taken part in a poll knows the almost irresistible desire to send these self-appointed readers of the country’s entrails on a wild-goose chase. Nonetheless, polls are particularly interesting in times such as the present, when there does seem to be good grounds for thinking that many, many voters are collectively saying, “A plague on all your houses!”

There are some 28 candidates running as Independents in Galway East, as well as two for the Green Party, and one for the People Before Profit Party. (A clever name, that. For who would brazenly declare himself to be for profits before people? ) ‘Independent’ has a nice ring to it. It carries an aura of probity, of incorruptibility, and immediately makes a claim for that most desirable of political pole positions, the moral high ground. At the same time, however, it could be argued that, while a loose collection of Independents is a useful way to shake the complacency of the established parties, it is not a very effective way to run a country, a county, or a city.

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