Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Local Government Elections in the Recent Past

With elections to the local Council coming up on the 11th June, I thought it was timely to look back at some past elections and see what previous candidates had to offer.  The 1960 elections were held in June, the same month as I sat my Leaving Certificate examination in the local Christian Brothers Secondary School.  Voting in those days was confined to those over 21 years of age,  so my relative youthfulness probably justified my then lack of interest in the 1960 elections.  However, amongst the bits and pieces which make up the clutter in my study, I have a one page stencilled letter which  the supporters of one major political party pushed through the letterbox of every house in the town.  The eight point programme, perhaps better described as election promises, makes interesting reading. Excluding the non specific commitments such as “promising to work in the best interests of all the people without regard to party membership”, one is left with a mish mash of promises which were designed to touch the hearts of the electorate of 44 years ago and by so doing garnish their votes on election day.

The electorate of 1960 were presumably stirred by the party’s commitment to the provision of playing parks for Athy West Urban and the provision of a swimming pool, a public library and a new Fire Brigade Station for the town.  Achieving three out of the four even after 44 years is not too bad but whatever happened the party candidates plans to initiate schemes for public walks, boating and fishing “and  attracting tourists to Athy”. Little has been achieved on any of these fronts in the intervening years, but perhaps these promises can be taken out and polished up again for the forthcoming election. 

At a time when new house building projects in the town are today measured in terms of hundred’s of houses, how strange to see the remaining specific election promise of the 1960 election manifesto referring to the development of a site for private housing on the Carlow Road.  This was a major housing initiative 44 years ago which gave us Chanterlands with its 20 or so houses.

Local elections always throw up an interesting lot of independent candidates whose enthusiasm for the life of a local politician is not always matched by an understanding of what the job entails.  One such candidate in the 1979 election based his election manifesto on the desire to retain car tax within this area to be used for building local roads with any surplus monies devoted to the building of houses.  The candidate clearly thought he was bidding for the Dail rather than the local Town Council and the voters probably felt he had lost the plot as they failed to give him sufficient support to get elected.

No such misconceptions surrounded an independent candidate in the 1985 election who identified the pressing local issues of the time as lack of Council housing, lack of recreational areas and the abolition of charges for certain services provided by the Council.  The negative emphasis in that candidates manifesto was copper fastened with his declared opposition to the building of “luxurious municipal offices”.   He too fell by the wayside unable to muster sufficient support to stop the building of the “Taj Mahal” which now adorns Rathstewart.

My favourite Independent candidate however, is the one who in the lead up to the 1979 local election promised, if elected, not to do what he claimed the Town  Councillors spent their time doing ---- “talking nonsense”.  He ventured the belief that some of the Town Councillors “didn’t seem to have enough intelligence to know how to go about doing anything”.  His parting shot to one outgoing member of the Town Council who was not seeking re-election was decidedly unkind “after taking up valuable space in the Council Chamber for the past 34 years, it was welcome news to many that he was standing down”.  The appeal of this candidate strangely struck a chord with the electorate and he was elected.

Not so lucky (or maybe he was) was another Independent candidate who amongst his election promises expressed himself “opposed to pig units in urban areas”. I still cannot see the relevance of this in the context of an election to Athy Town Council and obviously the electorate were similarly puzzled as the candidate’s campaign lead nowhere.

Another hopeful independent candidate who stood for election ten years ago paraphrasing President Kennedy’s famous presidential acceptance speech, urged the Athy electors to “think not what Athy can do for you, but what you can do for Athy”.  The electorate probably did not give sufficient thought to what was asked of them, for they promptly turned around and elected some of the other candidates. 

Promises, especially election promises are almost always looked upon as likely to be as dependable as perished elastic.  We take the commitments, the promises and the eagerly proffered undertakings with the ingratitude of a man who has seen it all before while still expecting the candidates to polish our egos and our sense of self importance.  How else could we ever justify the electoral circus which travels from door to door every few years during local election campaigns..

I finish with the claims of a another candidate who wrote rather scathingly of the body to which he sought to be elected.  “If one was to sit down and assess the track record of the outgoing Council, to be kind, one could only say its performance over the past five years was mediocre at best.  Viewing the achievements or lack of them in that time, the evidence would give very little hint of any intelligent life form having been extant in the Town Council during its last tenure of office”.  That clearly was a brave candidate who surprisingly survived the election campaign and got himself elected to the Council, where I’m told he felt very much at home.

Independents and party candidates will be calling to our doorsteps over the next few weeks.  Here’s hoping that they enjoy the experience as much as we the electorate will.

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