There has been much mention of the term “parish-pump politics” or parochialism in the last week since the publication of the Moriarty report. I wrote on my opinion on this report earlier this week. PoliticsDairy.com give a very plain description: “local politics concerning only minor or local issues”. However the popular (critical) definition refers to the type of politician who gets elected on to the national government on a record of achievement in local issues. It’s the type of politician who you go to when you need the streetlights outside your house fixed, when you’ve been on the waiting list for the local hospital for ages, the guys who gets a grant for the local school etc. Basically he’s the “go-to guy” in your constituency if you need anything done.
However this style of politics is coming under an increasing amount of criticism. Most of this has come recently after the release of the finding of judge Moriarty alleging that Deputy Michael Lowry was guilty of corruption while being minister of communications while the 2nd Irish mobile phone license was awarded. Now this is *not* parish-pump politics, it’s corruption plain and simple. Where parish-pump politics come into play is by the tolerance of Lowry’s action by a core of local supporters who basically state that he’s a great guy because of all the things he has done for his constituents. Never mind that he might have enriched himself a bit along the way. All this is causing huge amounts of anger and emotion at both sides of the divide and is followed by the usual knee-jerk reactions. I’ll try to create some clarity by breaking my position down in a few points:
- If the national government and all its departments & services were working correctly and to their full capacity there would be no need for someone fast-track the repairs for your road, your surgery at the hospital, your planning application and whatnot. By creating or maintaining an unequal or faulty system of government and services the Irish government has created an environment where this type of backroom favouritism can flourish. It allows people to achieve Godfather like status in their community by “getting things done”. Fix the system and you will eradicate the corruptness.
- In an equitable & functioning system of government there is a place for the healthy form of parish-pump politics. The presence of a “person of power” in your community who will “kick ass” when things are not being done the way they should is a welcome thing. We should not eradicate parish-pump politics we just need to fix it.
- “Parish-pump politics should stay in the parish” ; we should stop rewarding people for their achievements at a local (constituency) level by giving them a place in the national government. There are very distinct differences between politics at a local level and politics at a national & international level. The former is very much an operational affair. It’s about getting things done, finances and services. National & International politics operate on a much higher level. It’s about making laws, economic and financial planning, it’s about the county’s place in the world and more of that “abstract thinking stuff”. Sending really efficient & competent local politicians to the Leinster house is wrong for two reasons. Firstly it presents them with a list of task and requires a level of thinking that they are unused and/or unqualified for. Secondly it gives them less time to do what they’re good at: dealing with local matters. Would you send a really good brain-surgeon to run a hospital? Probably not. He/she might not be very qualified at the various (non-medical) tasks required to run the hospital efficiently and secondly you would need to find another shit-hot brain-surgeon to replace the one that you just promoted.
So how do we fix the current system that is clearly faulty and creating an environment primed for corruption. We need a two-tier government. Create a level of local government at county or constituency level and let that be run by the kings & queens of parish-pump politics and parochialism. Make them directly elected so that the most efficient of them gets elected. A local government with more powers will also place more responsibility at local level and will allow the people of their country to hold an elected representative directly responsible.
Next get rid of the current mickey mouse electoral system for national elections, introduce a proper list system and make the party whip illegal. That way we ensure that the houses of government are full of the smartest people with no other agenda than what is the best for the country. And that’s irrespective of what side of the political divide they are from. Removing the party whip will also allow for discourse and internal criticism within the parties making sure that party leaders are constantly kept in check.
Really it’s time for grown up politics in Ireland….