Previously published in The Irish Independent.
I was watching that fine Wizard of Oz performance last week that is Dublin City Council debating its Local Property Tax rate, and as ever, it never fails to both illuminate and entertain. You’ve got to love the the showmanship, as parties of the self-declared left fall over themselves to avoid doing that central kernel of the left, transferring wealth openly from the Haves to the Would Like To Haves.
I get Fianna Fail and Fine Gael opposing tax rises. That’s what they’re for.
But Sinn Fein and the Alphabet Left are taking the mickey. Credit to Labour and the Greens who put their money where their proverbial mouths are, although it should be remembered that Labour refused to push through radical local government reform in government (actually blocking it) and the Greens in government have agreed to a possible endless delaying of meaningful local government reform.
We can’t really be surprised. Sinn Fein operates, both north and south, on the argument that someone else will always pay for things. In the north it’s the Brits: in the south it’s more subtle. They tell every county that every other county should pay for their stuff, but not this county. In the county next door, Sinn Fein are telling those good people the exact same except pointing at the other county. Same in the one beside it.
The wizard behind the curtain will pay for everything.
The Alphabet Left aren’t even that subtle. They just claim that everything will be paid by evil wax moustachioed silk-lined cloak-wearing wealthsters (I’m thinking The Hooded Claw from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop) once they can be caught and pried away from deflowering the virginal young Rosa Luxembourgs of the working class, the rotters.
Then, two months from now, the council will meet to draw up the 2021 budget and how they voted not to increase council revenues will be dismissed as they launch into a Shakespearen defence of every increase in public spending ever yearned for by even the most casual of passing advocates. The finger will point at FF, FG and the Greens as the keepers of the national couch and what yokes they are not to reach down the back and pull out a few quid for the hungry children.
Every bloody year we go through this nonsense, and you have to ask yourself why. The answer is very simple: most of our councillors (and variations of this time wasting happens in most councils) are not that interested in changing this.
Some are the real deal, but they’re at best a modest minority. Most councillors see the council as a pre-Dail vote winning proving ground with a chance of getting a year wearing a chain like the pampered poodle of some divorced Manhattan socialite and with similar levels of responsibility and cholesterol.
It’s political theatre: we have councils that don’t have identifiable political leadership and so are never held to account. Nobody knows who to blame because nobody elected is in charge, and more importantly, nobody wants to be. A political shell game.
Looking at this system, you realise that the British missed a trick in Ireland. If they’d brought in home rule but kept the executive power in the hands of the appointed Chief Secretary, we’d probably still be in the UK today, with Irish politicians puffing out their chests and denouncing the administration and never having to be on the unpopular side of an argument by making decisions.
This is pretty much how we run all our counties.
It’s the weirdness at the heart of Irish politics: so many people who seek elected office in Ireland merely want to win elections and hold office with curious little desire to shape the future of the place they represent.
Sure, they’ll read this and get indignant and say different, but most councillors are members of parties that have actually governed or are governing the country in the last ten years, so if they’d wanted to reform the system, they could have.
Did they? No. If anything, they blocked change. We’ve the only political class that effectively campaigns on the slogan “What do we want? Less power!” “When do we want it? Now’s fine, if it’s no trouble?”
The current FF/FG/Green programme for government promises an citizen assembly on an elected mayor for Dublin for next year. Remember the assembly on the Local Property Tax? Or Water Charges? No. Apparently we didn’t need them. This is a delaying tactic, to push back the decision on elected mayors. Wait and see: the assembly will probably be delayed, then eventually produce a report too late to implement for the next local elections in 2024, so that’s the elected mayor pushed back again, possibly to 2029. You know when we first put an elected
mayor in Irish legislation (and took it out again at the request of councillors)? 1999. Does this sound to you like an issue our political leaders are pursuing with urgency?
I voted to abolish the Seanad in the October 2013 referendum (Three Taoisigh ago) because I believed meaningful wide-scale reform of the Seanad would be perennially blocked by politicians. I’ve yet to be proven wrong. If you asked me to vote now to abolish the elected councils and just have the local authorities as branches of the Department of the Environment, I’d struggle to find a reason to vote No. Dublin City Council did nothing last week to convince me otherwise.