Tuesday 24 September 2019

Jody Corcoran: 'Why the place of politics is always close to home'

Poll reveals that politicians should focus on local concerns first to achieve long-term success, writes Jody Corcoran

Willie O’Dea, consumately local but comfortable at national level
Willie O’Dea, consumately local but comfortable at national level
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

'All politics is local," the former US Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill is reputed to have said by way of linking a politician's success to his or her ability to understand and influence the issues of constituents.

There has been some evidence in more recent years, if not to disprove, then at least to raise, a question over the infallibility of that theory - the 2011 General Election here, for example - but undoubtedly there remains to it more than a grain of truth.

When we think of local politicians on the national stage, we tend to think of the Healy-Rae brothers in Kerry, or Michael Lowry in Tipperary, or Michael Ring in Mayo, or any number of political dynasties - the Cowens in Offaly spring to mind, or the Sherlock family in Cork, who, no matter what the setback, always seem to win their seat. Willie O'Dea in Limerick is another outstanding politician of that genre, consummately local, yet comfortable at a national level.

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There have been many through the decades, although a few were almost wiped out in 2011 - the Lenihans, Andrews and Hanafins. And what will become of Enda Kenny's family seat in Mayo at the next election?

Basically, these are politicians who are regarded to have a "safe" seat, making it difficult for anybody new or less well-established or trusted to make the breakthrough to national politics.

There are many who tend to sneer at such politicians, as though the Healy-Raes' concern about, say, pot-holes in Kerry is so far less important than, say, Ireland's position on a particular motion before the United Nations as to bring some form of embarrassment to the country.

But, of course, such "safe seat'' local-national-international politicians, who exist in every western democracy, are the envy of all career or wannabe career politicians everywhere and, truth be told, envy is no match for modesty, decency and hard work.

Today's opinion poll sheds some light on why politicians who, first and foremost, focus on the local tend to be so successful in the long run on a national stage.

When asked about the primary role of TDs - to solve local or national issues - more than a third (34pc) said local issues, just over a quarter (27pc) said national, and 35pc said both, while 4pc did not know. In other words, 69pc believe a TD should not exclusively focus on national issues. Remarkably, both men and women were precisely at one on the question.

The finding will be sobering for many, not least those who tend to look down their nose at your typical local-national politician, whom, I should add, is the kind I greatly respect.

A breakdown of the finding, when taken with other results from the poll, shows that the more rural the politician, the greater the emphasis seems to be on the local issues.

For example, around 40pc of farming, Munster and, unsurprisingly, Independent voters believe a TD's role is primarily to focus on local rather than national issues, which similarly applies to the working class and older voters.

We also asked whether those polled felt the economic recovery was becoming less or more regionally balanced: more than half (55pc) said less so, while a third (32pc) said more so.

Again, unsurprisingly I suppose, it was rural voters (60pc), rising to 72pc of Connacht/Ulster voters, who felt the recovery was less regionally balanced, and, interestingly with an eye to the next election, 62 per cent of Fine Gael voters and 61pc of Fianna Fail voters, mostly from rural areas, were of that view.

And who is benefiting from this imbalance, according to the poll? Well, overall, 84pc believe Dublin is benefiting most, while 41pc think Connacht (27pc)/Ulster (13pc) is benefiting least followed by Munster (20pc) and Leinster (10pc). These findings may be instructive come the local elections in May, but particularly for the European elections.

Do not be surprised if there are a few upsets among those who are returned in Brussels. By the way, in the same poll, overall support for Independents was up five points, from 8pc to 13pc.

The poll may also be insightful for the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as he prepares for a general election in a year's time, bestriding, as he does, the international, or at least the European stage, looking the part.

This Christmas Leo might like to consider a speech to mark the 1918 General Election Commemoration made last weekend by the man upon whom he sometimes seems to model himself - Bertie Ahern, who like Tip O'Neill, was the ultimate ward boss on an international stage.

Among many other things, this is what Bertie had to say: "As a political leader, I used to tell my party colleagues that a general election was a series of local elections and the personalities, the demographics and issues in local constituencies can submerge a national trend."

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