Wednesday 18 September 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'Thumbs up for our local democracy'

'Local elections matters as much as any, but they're the ones most of us care least about.' Stock photo
'Local elections matters as much as any, but they're the ones most of us care least about.' Stock photo
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

I settled into a counter seat facing the main street with my newspaper, coffee and a chocolate croissant. Three of my five a day right there.

The sun was shining and I had thieved a half hour out of a lovely morning which had a busy schedule for me. Nothing to distract me other than that faint jabber from gossipy tables, the hiss of the coffee machine and the jumbling of cutlery.

Then he walked in, locked his eyes on me and sat down. Right there. The nearest stool.

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He's a local councillor, standing for re-election next month and eager to press flesh. Mine and anybody else's.

But that's not really why he cosied up. A decent man, he just likes the natter and whenever we pass on the street we engage in a gossipy two-way of no real consequence. The difference is that he knows everything and everybody and I know very little and very few.

It's always engaging and for me - an innocent abroad in the combative and competitive arena of local politics - educational and instructive.

We wouldn't see eye to eye on very many of the going concerns of the day. My Ireland would be cheese to his chalk. But he's shrewd enough to be curious about what I think. I'm a voter too.

So I quickly set aside my newspaper, sipped my coffee and gave myself over to a master class in local politics and, in particular, the art of the incidental canvass.

Having secured my vote (though I didn't promise him which one), he then used his vantage point, sitting in full view of a busy shopping street, to engage with his public.

With a series of waves, mimed howyas, thumbs-ups and winks he worked his ward like a JFK without ever having to leave his perch.

Occasionally, a potential voter would stick a curious head around the door and ask about some irksome issue or other. Satisfied, he'd move on. A first preference most probably secured.

As a nation we have made dissing politicians, local and national alike, something of a treasured pastime. It's a wonder it's not enshrined in the Constitution.

They are, according to this lazy wisdom, self-serving incompetents who serially screw up this wonderful little paradise of ours.

You'd never guess that we elect them, then re-elect them at regular intervals. The fact they are us as much as we are them is something we have never bothered to work out.

Local elections matters as much as any, but they're the ones most of us care least about. Many of us regard having to vote in them a needless chore.

But they're about town, street and community. The stuff that matters most in our everyday lives.

So if you glimpse your local candidate frantically waving at you from a coffee shop, smile and give the thumbs up. He or she deserves that much at least.

I am older, wiser and (probably) more learned

It's the sentence that chills me to the marrow: "You can turn over your paper now and begin writing."

That's easy for him to say, standing up there today in the vastness of Simmonscourt without a bother on him.

I'm the one who has to scratch my busy Bic across countless pages for three daunting hours, hoping that what leaks out is vaguely comprehensible and readable.

After 60 hours of lectures and tutorials, endless essays, response papers and assignments for this exam alone I should muddle through.

On the iffy assumption that I will, two more papers should see my third year as a history mature done and dusted.

Trinners, you haven't rumbled this old spoofer yet.

Irish Independent

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