Study claims most parties treat local election with derision

LOCAL elections are treated “with derision” by most political parties because of the lack of power at city, county and town council level, a new study has found.

The bulk of influence continues to rest at national level with the Government, because of failure to devolve real decision-making powers to local authorities. As a result, local elections tend to be treated contemptuously by parties, according to two academics who have produced a new study of the issue.

“Since local government has remained comparatively weak in the modern history of the Irish state, local elections have often been treated with scorn or derision by the political parties,” write Dr Liam Weeks and Dr Aodh Quinlivan of UCC in their book, All Politics is Local: A Guide to Local Elections in Ireland.

“Local elections have been used for blatant political purposes, postponed either to prevent the Government getting a hammering at the polls, for example, or to avoid giving the opposition an opportunity to mobilise for a general election.”

They cite as an example a decision by the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition in 1994. “There was little doubt that the latter was the intention of the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition government when in 1994 it postponed the 1996 set of county and borough elections until 1998, the year after the next expected Dáil election.

“In this way, a potential new breed of councillors for the opposition parties would not have an impact at the national level until at least the following decade,” the authors write.

The ability of various governments to postpone local elections was ended in 1999 when a referendum was passed declaring that they must be held every five years.

This is bad news for Fianna Fáil, as they have no way of avoiding a backlash at the forthcoming local elections on June 5, the authors believe.

“Brian Cowen needs these local elections like a hole in the head. Unfortunately for him, he is denied a tactic so beloved of ruling despots in Africa: postponement of the elections,” the authors write in an analysis on local elections for this paper today.

“It may come as a surprise to many that before this tactic was outlawed by referendum in 1999, local elections were postponed here on 15 occasions over the previous 76 years.”

Fianna Fáil’s performance is weaker in local elections than in general elections, and June 5 will be no exception, the authors believe.

“A large proportion of voters, perhaps the largest amount ever, if recent polls are anything to go by, will reject Fianna Fáil. An eclectic array of independent candidates will be elected. Previous voting types included ‘Pothole man’ and ‘Nimby (not in my back yard) man’. Expect more ‘save our jobs, rescue the economy and punish the bankers’ varieties this time.”


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