In the 2002 general election the late Jim Mitchell TD was dismissed by the voters of Dublin Central. Mitchell had been first elected in 1977, and had gained a reputation as a solid constituency work, winning working class votes for a party more openly identified as middle class. In the run-up to the 2002 election, Mitchell had moved constituency and lost a lot of his base in a boundary change. It was also true that the election was a disaster for Fine Gael, being their worst electoral result since 1948.
But what was particularly noticeable was that Mitchell had been one of the most high profile politicians in the country as a result of chairing a very visible parliamentary investigation into tax evasion in the banks, which resulted in one bank making a settlement of €90 million with the Revenue.
Following his defeat, Mitchell blamed his own poor health (which took his life later in the year) as a factor in his inability to campaign as hard as he felt was necessary to keep his seat, where he got just over 11% of the first preference vote.
Yet here was a man who had spent the previous two years working in parliament (and therefore not in his constituency) to recover millions in unpaid taxes, money which could then be spent on public services in Dublin Central and elsewhere. Wouldn’t you think that at least 15%-20% of Dublin Central voters could have rewarded him with their first preference votes for that alone?
Indeed, Irish voters have a history of not only not rewarding politicians who openly challenge corruption (Pat O’Malley, Trevor Sargent) but lavishing votes on openly corrupt ones. We all know of deputies and cllrs who have been caught thieving who were then re-elected.
Which begs the question: is there a vote for a pol who openly pledges to spend their time engaged in parliamentary scrutiny, rather than being a bionic county councillor? The history says no. But on the other hand, has any credible well-known candidate actually run on that platform in recent years?
We have a multi-seat constituency electoral system. It’s not beyond the bounds of the possible that 15-25% of voters in a constituency may not actually want a serious person in the Dail alongside the other super social workers?