30 May 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

If elections are thermometers that take the temperature of the times, the outcome of Friday’s local government and European Parliament polls could be seen to diagnose an Irish population close to boiling point with the incumbent practitioners of politics.

The trouble with such clinical findings is that they are often over-elaborately read by the media medicos – what might be a mild cold brought on by the chill of austerity has provoked some baleful prognosis that the symptoms herald a raging fever that is set to ravage the political establishment and greatly change the landscape of future governance.

This, as the countryman might say, is all to be told – but what is clear from the elections’ outcome is the people’s agitated impatience with the rate of progress of our current Government’s economic recovery programme.

Portents for the future that reflect negatively on the connect between the people and the way they are governed might be more accurately discerned from the decision made by almost half the eligible electorate not to exercise their right to vote at all.

Those who did participate were, we feel, less concerned with the shape of governments to come than with the exigent present day realities of reduced incomes and scant evidence around them that things are getting any better.

People, as we have remarked editorially before, have grown sick of austerity, and most of them struggle to see what they are being told about recovery reflected in the mirror of their daily experience.

A government that boasts of creating more than 1,000 jobs per week yet sees the latest jobs figures reveal only a modest improvement in employment has an obvious credibility problem.

What constitutes a job has become an issue – schemes that wear this cloak while those on them receive scant additional remuneration or are exploited obviously don’t count statistically, and don’t count in the eyes of the people, which is perhaps why the government party wearing the Labour appellation received such particularly harsh treatment at the polls.

A party so designated would be expected to exercise an ameliorating influence in favour of the working population as a junior partner in coalition even in such straitened times as these – and Labour’s failure in this regard has brought severe consequences for their support that would be catastrophic for the future if replicated in a general election.

The Government have of course another couple of years, and another couple of Budgets, to respond to the public’s impatience. Its members would have embarked on the difficult course that faced them knowing that they would have to frontload the majority of the pain in the early years of their term in the hope that they would have the latitude to give back to the people a little of what they had taken away as the next election got closer.

Undoubtedly they will now have to redraft their gameplan – the giving hand will have to get more liberal, and more meaningful, rein than the one that taketh away in the Budgets that remain if they are to change the public mood in their favour: the taxation vice will have to be loosened to create more disposable income, and there will have to be harder evidence of job creation and economic growth that is clearly visible in local communities, not just in publicity exercises and aspirational announcements.

In ordinary circumstances this task would be challenging but manageable – it has undoubtedly been complicated by the pending change of leadership in the Labour Party.

The successor to the unfortunate Mr Gilmore must imprint their party’s identity more meaningfully on the coalition arrangement and manage the resultant tensions in the relationship with Fine Gael such that this increasingly uneasy marriage lasts to its fifth anniversary – for surely, no matter how principled a departure from government a more assertive Labour could now execute, its reward in the current climate would be near-extinction at the polls.

Politics, once termed the art of the possible, is often also the craft of the improbable – and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the apparently destabilising circumstances created by those who voted last Friday might result in a mode of government over the next two years that is more responsive to the public mood.

The people might get a little bit more of what they think is good for them rather than what the Government thinks is best for them.

Beyond that the future is a cloudy vista.

It must be acknowledged that the support given by the voters to Sinn Féin and Independent candidates across the country is not merely a reaction against the political establishment.

SF have been performing to a high standard in local government in this country over the last couple of decades and non-party candidates have for much longer been an integral part of the composition of the council chamber, so it is no surprise that voters have opted to place a significant share of the responsibility for implementing the new local authority structures and arrangements in their well-proven care.

Nationally SF now seem to hold undisputed claim to offering a party alternative to the centrist political establishment, the multi-coloured mosaic created by independent livery not withstanding – the next general election will prove whether their ascendant support coalesces into an endorsement as a potential player in government.

The steady emergence from political purgatory of Fianna Fáil should be more advanced by then – sufficient to see a circling of the centrist FF and FG wagons to keep a place in government away from SF or sundry small parties and mavericks, perhaps?

A hardening of the centre rather than a shift to the left may be the direction of our national politics in the future – it seems certain to be the path chosen by the embattled European Parliament establishment to mitigate the influence of the many representatives of extremist opinion, some of it fundamentally opposed to the whole European project, that have joined their ranks.

It is a fascinating and challenging landscape for Co Monaghan’s Matt Carthy to make his debut as a Sinn Féin MEP. His historic success, which should remain uninfluenced by the current recounting exercise in the Midlands North-West constituency, merits congratulations, as does the endorsement received by all those so far chosen by the people of Co Monaghan to represent their political interests in the future.

Our MEPs and councillors have been both honoured and burdened by the trust of the people – let us hope they can discharge their responsibilities in a manner that alleviates the prevailing impatience and leads to a more connected relationship between the people and the processes that govern them.

In selecting their representatives on the new Monaghan Co Council our electorate have so far chosen in the main to reward experience, a wise instinct perhaps given the fundamental nature of the changes taking place in local administration.

It seems prudent to forego detailed analysis of the local election results in our county – not merely because the Ballybay/Clones Municipal District outcome remains to be decided, but because of the profoundly sad circumstances giving rise to its deferral.

The passing of such an able, admirable local politician as Owen Bannigan puts the sound and fury of elections in their perspective.
One could choose no better role model for an aspiring public representative: his measured contributions at Co Council meetings were informed by patently deep research and a degree of thought and prior consideration that seemed equally profound.

His devotion to the interests of his constituents was always obvious in the Council chamber, where he could be a formidable opponent in debate in defence of his people and his principles.

But the tide of his pugnacity was always becalmed by an innate sense of justice and equity – “fair play”, a phrase that rose often to his lips, denoted him.

Whatever the ultimate composition of the new Monaghan Co Council, its ranks will be immeasurably the poorer without having the wisdom, experience and humanity of Colr Owen Bannigan to call upon.

May he rest in peace.

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