The decision by Phil Hogan to put a bizarre obstacle in front of a referendum for Dublin Mayor shows us that Fine Gael and Labour are no longer the second-class masters of the political side-step. It’s a savvy move, which will allow Hogan to pretend to be in favour of reform having made sure to stall it. This type of carry-on is becoming very much the motif of the two coalition parties: big talk on reform of politics, the Seanad, local government, followed by inaction or, in this case, actual sabotage. Tonight there are good people in both parties looking at the creature they helped elect, and like the farm animals in Orwell’s novel, looking in the window of the house and not sure what they can see anymore.
Hogan will say that it was the democratic decision of a local authority. He may even oil the hypocrisy with a little brass neck lubricant, and claim that he personally would have voted in favour of a referendum. But the reality is the reality: like Seanad reform, he made sure that the actual decision was denied ordinary voters, who may well have voted against the position but at least would have been offered a chance to vote on it.
Some years ago, I would have been livid at this decision. Today, I’m not that bothered because I never really thought it would happen, the same way I never thought a No vote in the Seanad referendum would lead to radical reform.
I mean, how can you not feel cynical after reading this, from 2010:
“FG to oppose Gormley’s half-baked Dublin Lord Mayor plan: Undeveloped mayoral plan a smokescreen to hide complete absence of local govt reform.
Dublin needs a directly-elected Mayor but the role must have clearly defined, ‘real’ responsibilities and be part of an overall reform of Local Government, Fine Gael Environment & Local Government Spokesman Phil Hogan said today.
Deputy Hogan made his comments as he announced that Fine Gael will oppose John Gormley’s ill-thought out, half-baked plan to hold a mayoral election in the New Year.
“Minister Gormley’s plan is just providing another layer of local government bureaucracy and perceived authority at a time when the country can ill afford it. We have enough organisations and quangos established over the years by Fianna Fail which need to abolished rather than establishing another super-bureaucratic political layer as a vanity project for Minister Gormley.
“I want Dublin to have a Lord Mayor with real responsibilities, a real agenda and a real budget. Instead of giving Dublin this, John Gormley has put forward proposals for a Dublin Lord Mayor that are little more than half-baked and will fail miserably as:
The Mayor will have no clearly defined responsibilities and questions about which decisions lie with the Mayor, which lie with the Council and which lie with the Central Government are still up in the air;
Holding the election in 2010, out of line with the regular local and European elections, makes absolutely no sense. The election for the Mayor should coincide with local elections, to do otherwise is farcical and will, at the very least, only depress turnout;
The Minister still has not outlined any reform of Local Government. His determination to plough on with his ill-thought out plan for a Dublin Mayor must be viewed as a smokescreen to hide his complete absence of action in this area.
“Meanwhile the people of Dublin still suffer from a lack of services from Local Government. In contrast to John Gormley’s spin, Fine Gael set out a comprehensive reform package for Local Government in our document, ‘Power to the People’, that included plans for a directly-elected Dublin Mayor with real powers from 2014. Between now and then, it needs to be planned out which powers reside with the Mayor, which with the Council and which with the Dáil.
“Fine Gael will oppose Minister Gormley’s ridiculous attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes and demand that Dublin gets what it needs – a mayor with real power and responsibility.”
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”