Sunday, May 12, 2019

Local Election material of the past

With candidates for the forthcoming County Council elections and their supporters calling to homes throughout the county it is a good time to cast an eye over election material of the past. The earliest election material I have issued to the electors of Athy on 13th January, 1899. The candidate offered himself as a person promised to ‘do all in my power for the general welfare of the community, by advocating such measures of reform as may be necessary, while at the same time endeavouring to safeguard the interest of the rate payers.’ He continued, ‘I am in favour of providing proper sanitary dwellings for the labourers of the town who in this respect are so much worse off than the agricultural labourers.’ In the 1960 local elections the issues identified by one particular party were ‘playing parks for children in the west urban, a swimming pool, a suitable public library premises for Athy and a suitable headquarters for Athy’s Fire Brigade.’ The candidates promised to ensure that ‘by diligent attention to duty the ratepayers will get the best possible return for their money.’ A subsequent election prompted an independent candidate to claim ‘local politics should be about local people and local services, not party politicians. It is important that your voice is heard through a strong independent councillor with the experience, policies and ability to get things done.’ In 1979 another independent candidate was calling for ‘the banning of all gambling machines in local cafes and pubs.’ That same year a major political party identified local issues as Athy’s need for a community centre, night patrols by Gardai, better facilities for Athy’s youth and a bypass of the town. An independent candidate was to shake up the local political scene with the issue of an election news sheet in 1979 in which he lambasted many of the outgoing councillors. One such councillor who was not seeking re-election after many years on the Council was referenced as ‘taking up valuable space in the Council Chamber.’ At the same time the candidate suggested that the local people should not endorse the poor performance of Athy Urban District Council ‘by casually voting for some of those who received our votes in the last election and have shown themselves unworthy of our support.’ He then proceeded to record his assessment of each of the other candidates. The candidate himself and two others receiving very good ratings, while three other candidates were rated fair. The remaining eight did not meet the lowest assessment rating. 1985 saw the return of the election news sheet but this time its more prosaic offerings were more in line with the traditional political leaflet than its predecessor. It was another candidate standing in opposition to water charges who claimed, ‘the charges have been introduced by an almost bankrupt local Council because of the massive cuts in grants from central funds.’ This he claimed was ‘due to the craven and cowardly failure of the conservative political parties to tax their friends and backers. The wealthy ranchers, landlords, bankers, lawyers, etc. are getting away with murder in this regard.’ One independent candidate in 1985 paraphrased a well-recognised saying when he called upon the electorate to ‘think not what Athy can do for you, but what you can do for Athy’. That year one political party claimed credit for community development projects in the Woodstock and Clonmullin areas, for establishing the Tidy Town Committee and promoting the selection of Athy as a Heritage Town. They promised ‘to make the services provided by Athy UDC more consumer friendly and more responsive to the needs of the people.’ Five years later one candidate was claiming to have used his experience and knowledge in local government ‘to secure necessary services and infrastructure to improve the wellbeing of the people of the Athy electoral area.’ The Inner Relief Road was a major issue in that election year and one party striving for a majority on the Urban Council promised ‘to uphold the people’s right to a plebiscite’ on the merits of an Inner Relief Road or an Outer Relief Road. The last election for members of Athy Town Council was held in 2004 and again the independent candidates offered the most interesting suggestions to be dealt with by the incoming Council. The return of the Town Council to the Town Hall was one such proposal, while another candidate sought support from those who had enough of ‘corruption, tribunals, lies and empty promises.’ Promises still emerged however and several candidates included on their priority lists ‘a full Arrow service between Athy and Dublin’ and the ‘further development of St. Vincent’s Hospital.’ Standing alone was the candidate who expressed the need for a Council ‘which is not afraid of new ideas and which listens to people.’ The candidate seeking re-election who criticised the outgoing Council for privatising bin collection and for closing the Sunday market at Barrowford also claimed that ‘a strong local Council with radical views is very important’. No matter what is said or what is promised anyone putting themselves forward for election deserves our gratitude, even if they do not always get our votes.

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