There’s a tiresome pattern to Irish politics. Opposition yah-boos government on everything it does, and protests that “if only they had power”. Opposition wins election. New opposition yah-boos government and protests that “if only it had power”, etc.
What I can never fathom about this carry-on is that modern Irish governments, with the rare exception of Bertie Ahern, are invariably voted out by the punters through a mixture of disappointment and swathe of opposition promises, promises which are never tested because the government keeps all power to itself, and allows the opposition to play the “if only we had power” card. Brian Cowen, through a mixture of ultra conservatism and ineffectualness, let the opposition build up a head of steam and a rake of bright young candidates in local government by giving them a responsibility free run. If Cowen, possibly the worst leader FF has ever had, had instead devolved massive power to the FG/Labour run local authorities he could at least have deprived them of the ability to make consequence free promises.
Compare this with the US, where the Republicans, in control of the House of Representatives, have to actually play a role in the nation’s business.
The next five years are going to be political hell, as the cutbacks and new taxes turn bloody. The next local elections will be, if not a bloodbath, a vicious kicking for the government parties. But why not turn them on their head? If the government were to create elected mayors with tax raising powers, it would not only be doing the country some good, but politically could do itself a favour.
Consider it: Imagine 25-30 full time elected mayors. Most would be from the opposition parties, elected to full five year terms with real power including having to make unpopular tax and spend decisions locally. Most would be the shining stars of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Independents and the United Left, tainted by contact with the reality of power. Now, supposing sitting mayors were barred from contesting Dail elections, in other words, they’d have to resign their seats to contest the general election. Imagine how many of them, looking at another three years as mayor, or the possibility of not winning a Dail seat, would decide to not contest the election.
Overnight FG and Labour take out a whole tranche of strong opposition candidates. And we get a good local government system into the bargain.