Ask The Tough Questions

4 February 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

And so it begins…
The starting pistol for the General Election campaign fired by Brian Cowen on the last day of the 30th Dáil on Tuesday was a parting shot as redundant as much of the noise which emanated from the Taoiseach and his parliamentary colleagues during the course of the valedictory proceedings that brought the curtain down on a regime of government that everyone in the country seems glad to see the back of.
Across the land the prospective occupants of the Leinster House benches when they are reallocated on March 9 were already long out of the starting blocks. Even at this early stage no household will have escaped the first fusillades in the coming cascade of election literature, or the early tentative rat-a-tat-tats on their doors of campaigning candidates, all smiles and promises.
Much debate, and political capital, has already been mined from the question of how the television debates involving the party leaders should be structured. Assuredly the very powerful medium of television will exert some degree of influence on voting intentions.
But the public are much more sophisticated consumers of that medium than political campaign gurus tend to give them credit for. They can spot attempted manipulation a mile off and by now are shrewd to the cosmetics of such occasions. Consequently, the ‘spin’ applied is as likely as not to head in a direction counter-clockwise to that intended.
The Irish people will watch The Great Debates in great numbers, for they fuel their own debates about politics and are not devoid of entertainment value. But what they see on their screens will more likely confirm them in their opinions and their prejudices rather than change their minds.
Even in the modern age, when the burgeoning social media has broadened the politician’s means of attempting to convey their message from a safely remote distance, it is our editorial view that the doorstep remains the crucible through which the real worth of election candidates are tested, where opinions change, and where most elections remain to be won and lost.
It is here that the individual voter can examine unmediated the calibre of the people who desire to enter into their employment for the next five years. For, when you strip it down to its essentials, that’s the basis on which representative politics operates: we as voters make a choice from a short-list of candidates of the person each of us feels is the best qualified for a very important job that is in our gift to give.
While no single one of us gets to say who is best, we all make an equally important contribution towards the final decision. Thus does democracy apportion power – but it apportions responsibility likewise. We stand to gain, distinctly if varyingly, if our choices prove wise ones and, as every citizen of the country is experiencing at the present time, stand to lose, sometimes disproportionately, if we err in our selections.
Our responsibility as voters ends at the ballot box, but it surely begins, in this above all of recent General Elections, at the doorstep. Many of us will have things we really want to say to politicians, things we have been saving up over month after frustrated month of the country’s unprecedented economic decline. But if we choose to do nothing more in our doorstep exchanges than give the candidates a piece of our minds, we are letting slip an important opportunity.
Cavan/Monaghan has currently 12 candidates bidding for the constituency’s five seats. Each of them, in making the decision to put themselves forward to be adjudicated upon by an electorate angry and disillusioned with the very fabric of politics, deserves to be commended. But, equally, each of them, in aspiring to enter into our employment for the next five years, deserves to be asked some very tough and searching questions.
For many, the big questions will be about jobs. Many in our constituency have lost employment; many more face an uncertain future. The great majority of us have seen incomes significantly drop, imperilling productivity and workplace morale and pushing back the prospects of sustainable economic recovery in the short term. All the candidates will have job creation ideas, but how workable and costed are they? Will they stem the rising tide of youth emigration, emerging again as a significant malaise in many rural areas of Monaghan and Cavan?
We are hearing a lot about growth in the export sector, and about jobs in the smart economy – how are the people of Monaghan and Cavan going to benefit from these good news stories that have emerged from the sea of bad? There can be no job creation without enterprise, and entrepreneurs can’t set up new businesses if they can’t access investment capital. How are we going to get the banks lending again?
And what about the banks? Can we mitigate the massive commitment the country is making to the guarantee scheme? Is it feasible to set up a new State institution that would channel funding into the banks to enable them to release credit? Is it time to let some of the ‘bad’ banks fall by the wayside, and herald in a more streamlined, more publicly accountable model of lending institution?
Candidates must respond to voters’ questions on the EU/IMF bailout with clarity and candour. Is it really possible, as some are saying, that we can walk away from it? Where would we get the money to run the country if we did? If we can’t opt out, can the deal be meaningfully renegotiated – some of the Opposition parties say it can, the parties who were part of the Government that agreed it say it can’t. They can’t both be right, so who is?
Candidates must be asked to come clean about Monaghan General Hospital. They’ll all make commitments about it, but what do those commitments mean? Is it in any way practical to believe that the acute services taken away from the hospital can be fully restored, as some have promised? An honest ‘No’ would be more appreciated by the people of this county rather than a disingenuous ‘Yes’ or a vague ‘Maybe’.
These are some of the more important questions that candidates need to furnish straight answers to. Our readers from the perspective of their own concerns will have many more to hand.
We encourage you to ask those questions of all those who come to your doorstep looking for your support, make your own judgement of the answers, and vote accordingly.
History will adjudicate upon whether this is, as some commentators are urging upon us, the most important General Election this country has ever experienced. In light of the gravity of the country’s economic difficulties, it is without question, however, the most significant that has arisen in the lifetimes of the majority of the current electorate. The future of the country does seem to hang on the outcome – accordingly, the responsibility on us as voters is an onerous one.
Who will represent Cavan/Monaghan in the 31st Dáil? We don’t yet know, but undoubtedly the best answer will be arrived at by asking the tough questions of all those aspiring to seats in this constituency.

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