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We must protect local democracy

June 2nd, 2024 10:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WITH just under a week to go to the local and European elections – and the election of a mayor for Clonakilty town – things are heating up.

Candidates are making the most of the longer evenings to pound the pavements and the rural roads in order to ‘press the flesh’ of as many potential voters as they can meet.

There’s a heightened sense of tension in the air, as the final days could be the difference between winning a seat, or losing out.

And winning a seat in a local election could be the stepping stone to a lifelong career in politics for many first-time councillors, while sitting councillors will be keen to keep the local career alive by retaining their hard-fought seats.

When it comes to Europe – the winning of a seat at the Parliament is seen as a huge achievement for any candidate, given both the size of the massive constituencies and the range of options available to voters looking at the packed ballot papers next Friday.

Elections have always been an exciting time for political observers – everyone from the passionate party faithful, to the non-politicised but curious voters, who are just interested in seeing who will be next to represent them, be it locally, or further afield in Brussels.

With the not-insignificant recompense available to those successful candidates – just under €30,000 annually for councillors and a generous €120,000 for MEPs – it’s no wonder the roles are keenly contested.

And not everyone is in it for the money, of course. Because being in politics today means being always ‘on’ and available 24/7 to constituents to deal with their problems, queries and general gripes.

It’s not a role that will suit everyone – a hard outer shell and a determined and resilient personality are just some of the requirements for the job.

But there is an increasingly sinister element creeping into the campaigns recently, which, as time goes by, will see more and more people needing to reinforce that hard outer shell – and many may even start reconsidering their decision to run.

The ‘element’ is the emergence of a ‘trend’ which sees disgruntled or simply angry members of society confronting the candidates in ways that can only be described as harassment.

We have never seen so many instances of this type of behaviour as we have during this election – with candidates being violently confronted, and sometimes even attacked, when erecting posters, or meeting the public, at various locations around the country.

And sometimes, as in the case being reported in this paper this week, the candidates – often women – are simply going about their normal lives, and not seeking attention, but still finding the ability to carry out even those little tasks being challenged.

It is a very ugly and disappointing development, especially when it concerns hyper-local politics – where candidates and councillors are so readily accessible to the public.

Indeed, this was always the attraction of local democracy – that it was a way of allowing the public very close access to people in local power.

Now, while the level of that power may have dwindled in recent decades, there is still a very legitimate job to be done by our local politicians – who are the ‘middle’ men and women – between our local authorities and the local people.

Therefore, it is very important that those roles be filled, and are filled by the best candidates possible.

But if this type of behaviour is allowed to continue un-challenged, or – worse – become normalised, then each time an election arises, there will be fewer genuine candidates seeking election.

And that will result in a diluted democracy for everyone.

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