Dispelling the Myth of Parish Pumpism/Localism

Fr. Hank Tree

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A common charge levelled at the Irish political system in debate these days is that there is too much localism/parish pumpism in Irish politics, meaning that not enough attention has been given to national issues.

This suggests that the Irish electorate is, by and large, more concerned with local issues than national issues.

But if we think about this we find that this is actually a myth. As Fintan O'Toole has pointed out in his new book, many Irish voters tend to vote in national elections on the basis of local issues because local government is so weak. Thus, they have no choice but to take up local issues at national level.

So, the problem in Ireland isn't localism but centralisation. Indeed, Ireland is one of the most centralised states in Europe. Over the past 30 years it has become progressively more centralised, with local government becoming weaker and weaker. The abolition of domestic rates in the late 70s significantly undermined the autonomy of local government in Ireland by curbing its revenue raising powers.

This point is very important. If the problem is localism, it implies that there is something wrong with Irish voters and that they cannot be trusted with power. This provides a perfect pretext for more centralisation of power, which ironically is what causes many Irish people to vote on the basis of local issues in the first place.

But, if the problem is centralisation, that is a completely different kettle of fish. It means that there is too much power in Ireland concentrated in small pockets. The solution to this is decentralisation of power. It means having trust in the ordinary people of Ireland, instead of despising them.

And when I say decentralisation, I don't mean in the McCreevy sense, i.e. moving government departments around the country. I mean in the true sense, giving power back to ordinary people.
 


Icemancometh

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I tend to agree, but that doesn't dispel the myth of parish pump politics, it reinforces it. You are right though, a key element of any political reform in this country must include proper local government, with power and financial autonomy from central government.
 
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galteeman

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If you transfer power to local councils then will you have to transfer the power to collect taxes to them as well? Or how will money be allocated to them?
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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The problem is localism. The cause of the problem is (arguably) centralisation.
No localism is a symptom of the problem. The problem is centralisation. The cause is the post-colonial free state mindset summed up by this Ernest Blythe quote:

''...the first step towards progress is a clear recognition of the fact that, instead of being a race of super-idealists whose misfortunes are due entirely to the crimes of outside enemies, we are an untrained and undisciplined people with practically everything to learn of the difficult business of organising national life...''
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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If you transfer power to local councils then will you have to transfer the power to collect taxes to them as well? Or how will money be allocated to them?
Absolutely, you cannot have proper local government without conferring revenue raising powers.
 

galteeman

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some areas are a lot better off than others so will there have to be transfers of money from the rich areas to the poor areas?
 

patrickofarrell

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Farelyboy
A common charge levelled at the Irish political system in debate these days is that there is too much localism/parish pumpism in Irish politics, meaning that not enough attention has been given to national issues.

This suggests that the Irish electorate is, by and large, more concerned with local issues than national issues.

But if we think about this we find that this is actually a myth. As Fintan O'Toole has pointed out in his new book, many Irish voters tend to vote in national elections on the basis of local issues because local government is so weak. Thus, they have no choice but to take up local issues at national level.

So, the problem in Ireland isn't localism but centralisation. Indeed, Ireland is one of the most centralised states in Europe. Over the past 30 years it has become progressively more centralised, with local government becoming weaker and weaker. The abolition of domestic rates in the late 70s significantly undermined the autonomy of local government in Ireland by curbing its revenue raising powers.

This point is very important. If the problem is localism, it implies that there is something wrong with Irish voters and that they cannot be trusted with power. This provides a perfect pretext for more centralisation of power, which ironically is what causes many Irish people to vote on the basis of local issues in the first place.

But, if the problem is centralisation, that is a completely different kettle of fish. It means that there is too much power in Ireland concentrated in small pockets. The solution to this is decentralisation of power. It means having trust in the ordinary people of Ireland, instead of despising them.

And when I say decentralisation, I don't mean in the McCreevy sense, i.e. moving government departments around the country. I mean in the true sense, giving power back to ordinary people.
excellent opinion piece and right at so many levels.one thing about local government is that it is the breeding ground of the nepotism that is rampant at all levels of irish politics. political power being kept within family dynasties resulting in the same people or clones of them constantly in power.the example are too many to mention but our Taoiisech,tanaiste and minister for fianance are prime examples.also look to link of nepotism in labour party in wicklow and fine gael in cork south central and many other.places.many politicians have siblings or off spring in local government and many of them inherit their parent or siblings seat. this has been the case in ireland since its foundation. to refer to another thread i read recently why is there no qualification criteria to become a politician?the role just moves from generation to generation with very few outsiders ie the general public and ordinary politicised people get to break into the mould and those that do tend to be swallowed out by the system and mechanism of both national and local government, regards etc
 

Panopticon

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I don't agree with the case in the OP. It's still a problem that Irish voters prioritise local questions over national questions when they vote, because national questions are more important. If local institutions are too weak, they should campaign to fix the local institutions. However, they tend to reject the fiscal measures that would fix local institutions, e.g. the anti-austerity movement's rejection of new, broad taxes on water or property.

Therefore, I believe that at least one of the following is true: people claim to want the benefits of local government yet reject any of the costs; people actually prefer to use national elections to vote on questions of local "allocations". In either case, people exhibit low political consciousness that extends only to voting for measures that benefit themselves and their immediate family over a very short period in the future.

I found that video quite worrying.

It tries to pin the blame on Irish voters and makes no allowances for the rotten system in which they are forced to operate.

Also, notice the strong anti-rural, anti-traditional bias. The first independent TD to sell his Dáil votes for goodies in his own constituency was from central Dublin FFS. But here you'd swear it was a rural thing. We're given the image of a medieval mucksavage peasant race who cannot be trusted with power. With some of this elitism, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was still the 19th century sometimes.
Nobody "forced" voters to abolish local rates. They chose it. It ruined the country, but people were happy about it for a year or two. Also, you can't deny that gormless independents who seek local rents from national government are an overwhelmingly rural phenomenon, viz. every general election since 1997.
 

devnull

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... As Fintan O'Toole has pointed out in his new book, many Irish voters tend to vote in national elections on the basis of local issues because local government is so weak. Thus, they have no choice but to take up local issues at national level. ...
I disagree - it's a cultural thing.
Irish-American politicians in the US are renowned for their localism - it was Tip O'Neill who said 'All politics are local'. England's system of local government isn't (outside of London and Scilly) much stronger than ours, France's system of government used to be famously centralised and, aside from healthcare, Austrian local government is quite weak. None of these places have had problems with clientelism to anywhere like the same extent as us.
Also, clientelism is of different importance in different parts of the country. Dublin South used to elect a TD who never even held clinics (Prof. John M. Kelly), whereas in other constituencies clientelism seems to be the electorate's sole way of choosing between candidates of the same party (and for many voters the main way of choosing between parties).

Because our system of government is so centralised, voters do need to take local issues into account when voting, but they do have the choice of how to weight a candidate's abilities at local and national level. Their relative weightings can be judged from the fact that over the last 13 years the pot-holes were filled and the state was driven into bankruptcy.

Every system of government and electoral system has trade-offs and we need to prioritise minimising the harmful effect of our cultural propensity to clientelism.
Taking as many local issues out of national-level control as possible would be useful, but there would be considerable expense involved - centralised systems of government are cheaper to run. Whereas, electoral reform is almost zero-cost.

The two solutions aren't mutually incompatible, they're just different approaches to reducing the worst effects of an underlying cause there probably isn't a real solution to.
 

Nermal

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And when I say decentralisation, I don't mean in the McCreevy sense, i.e. moving government departments around the country. I mean in the true sense, giving power back to ordinary people.
Have you seen the calibre of people we elect to councils? They make the Dail look like Harvard.
 

florin

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If you transfer power to local councils then will you have to transfer the power to collect taxes to them as well? Or how will money be allocated to them?
In proportion to how many FF TDs they elect, of course, as it always is.
 

Luigi Vampa

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Have you seen the calibre of people we elect to councils? They make the Dail look like Harvard.
Exactly. Anyone who has actually dealt with them or seen them in action would realise that. If you think the quality of TD's is poor, councillors are ten times worse. As much "power" as possible should be kept away from the gombeens that are county "councillors".

Better solution :

1. Bar TD's from having to make representations on parish matters such as potholes, hedge cutting, medical cards, etc., and make it that only Councillor level can deal with these matters. TD's are supposed to be national legislators, and its time they started representing their entire counties, not their parish.


2. Why do we have public servants in departments such as the HSE reporting to Civil servants in the department of Health ? - This multi layer messy and deep system needs to be altered. Likewise local authority public servants reporting to yet another layer in the department of the environment. One layer is enough, e.g. the dept. of education dealing directly with teachers.
 

shiel

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It was not he parish pump but the boards of banks that bankrupt the country.
 

Odyessus

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Parish-Pump Myth

A common charge levelled at the Irish political system in debate these days is that there is too much localism/parish pumpism in Irish politics, meaning that not enough attention has been given to national issues.

This suggests that the Irish electorate is, by and large, more concerned with local issues than national issues.

But if we think about this we find that this is actually a myth. As Fintan O'Toole has pointed out in his new book, many Irish voters tend to vote in national elections on the basis of local issues because local government is so weak. Thus, they have no choice but to take up local issues at national level.

So, the problem in Ireland isn't localism but centralisation. Indeed, Ireland is one of the most centralised states in Europe. Over the past 30 years it has become progressively more centralised, with local government becoming weaker and weaker. The abolition of domestic rates in the late 70s significantly undermined the autonomy of local government in Ireland by curbing its revenue raising powers.

This point is very important. If the problem is localism, it implies that there is something wrong with Irish voters and that they cannot be trusted with power. This provides a perfect pretext for more centralisation of power, which ironically is what causes many Irish people to vote on the basis of local issues in the first place.

But, if the problem is centralisation, that is a completely different kettle of fish. It means that there is too much power in Ireland concentrated in small pockets. The solution to this is decentralisation of power. It means having trust in the ordinary people of Ireland, instead of despising them.

And when I say decentralisation, I don't mean in the McCreevy sense, i.e. moving government departments around the country. I mean in the true sense, giving power back to ordinary people.
I too believe there is much exaggeration in the media about so called "parish-pump" politics.

The last General Election, like every General Election ever held in the state, was won and lost on national issues.

If people really based their votes on parish-pump issues, why would national parties see their government policies equally popular or unpopular throughout the country at the polls?


P.S. I agree with you about over-centralisation.
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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It's still a problem that Irish voters prioritise local questions over national questions when they vote, because national questions are more important. If local institutions are too weak, they should campaign to fix the local institutions. However, they tend to reject the fiscal measures that would fix local institutions, e.g. the anti-austerity movement's rejection of new, broad taxes on water or property.
Yes it is a problem but that is not the fault of the voters. They've been left with a crummy choice. In such circumstances, they shouldn't have to do anything. The only people who should do something are the Sir Humphreys who leave them with this choice. As for rejecting taxes, maybe voters are not so much rejecting the idea of local taxes as they are rejecting the idea of more taxes.
Therefore, I believe that at least one of the following is true: people claim to want the benefits of local government yet reject any of the costs;
No, people may just want existing revenue powers transferred to local level. That is not an extra cost. Indeed, the whole thrust of what i am saying is that central government has assumed control of local powers and this needs to be handed back.
people actually prefer to use national elections to vote on questions of local "allocations".
They don't have the luxury of voting on a national issue; that's the point. It's not a matter of preference.
In either case, people exhibit low political consciousness that extends only to voting for measures that benefit themselves and their immediate family over a very short period in the future.
As neither is the case, your conclusion is wrong.
 
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Con Gallagher

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''...the first step towards progress is a clear recognition of the fact that, instead of being a race of super-idealists whose misfortunes are due entirely to the crimes of outside enemies, we are an untrained and undisciplined people with practically everything to learn of the difficult business of organising national life...''
Interesting insight from a man who was in finance after the civil war - given the amount of revenue that was being spent on defence, army pensions/compensation and rebuilding, it is hardly surprising he was against relinquishing control of expenditure. But what is the evidence that he was wrong? (or post Celtic tiger that discipline and training are sacrosanct?)

The best grass roots organisations of the last 90 years, would be the GAA, credit unions, Irish country women's association and the farming organisations. The two other monoliths, which had the strong ties with every parish was the Catholic Church and Fianna Fail, have since collapsed in popular support due to the hypocrisy, arrogance and poor judgement of their central command.

In theory, I would like to see local authorities have tax raising powers and far more democratic input, but if you follow most council meetings you would not give them control of a sweet shop. The pro-forma speeches, the failure to read briefs and an sole interest in self-promotion. The dept of finance has it flaws, but at least it is trained and disciplined in managing the affairs of the nation - even if it is subject to being overruled by untrained and undisciplined politicians.
 


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