GRATITUDE is not a normal feature of Irish political life – a self-evident truth to judge by the reaction of the distinguished Fianna Fáil councillor, Seán Lynch, to the loss of his seat on Limerick City and County Council.
In common parlance, on observing his constituents’ lack of appreciation for the great work he had done on their behalf, the good man almost blew a gasket. This was an understandable physiological reaction that is shared by fellow-politicos everywhere when the voters tuft them out on their earhole. They too go through similar torture, pain and suffering.
Disheartening also was an item in the ‘Limerick Leader’. It reported that the public had given Mr Lynch, who is a respectable ex-detective garda, the ‘the two fingers’ – a hand gesture that expresses anger at someone in a very rude way.
‘It was disgusting,’ Mr Lynch said. ‘This has been a huge disappointment for everybody. We have done so much for the villages of Patrickswell and Clarina, and they didn’t want someone who was decent and a hard worker.’ Namely, himself!
He went on: ‘The GAA failed us. Tidy Villages, who I gave everything for, did not support me. The Community Council, whom I got €50,000 for, did not give me one vote.’
And (presumably) for the benefit of the national media, including De Paper and the Indo-Sindo (which also carried the story), he put forward an intriguing reason as to why his vote collapsed: There was anti-Garda sentiment around the place.
‘Patrickswell has history,’ he explained to De Paper. There is an element there. You must remember what happened to Jerry McCabe. That’s not gone away.
‘There is a big anti-garda audience out there … Limerick City West has failed us. We are decent people, we have never done wrong to anybody.’
Suddenly to anyone in contact with the political world, it was clear that Mr Lynch’s comment was a cri de coeur, an anguished howl of indignation at the way the electorate had treated him.
Indeed, rarely has this commentator witnessed anything so moving. It brought a tear to our right wing eyes and, to tell the truth, if a way existed to restore Mr Lynch to his prominence in Limerick’s political life, we would have supported it.
But then, let’s not forget that Limerick FF voters always have been somewhat unpredictable when electing a leadership cadre. For instance, they’ve kept Willie O’Dea in the Dáil for yonks.
And, strangely, despite the fact that a certain kind of Limerick people label their public representatives as skunks, weasels and good-for-nothings, they do so with a twinkle in their eyes. Behind it all, they admire their politicos.
Nonetheless, so heart-rending was Mr Lynch’s predicament that a case might be made for a return to the electoral practices of the 18th century. Back than the voting rights of the lower orders were extremely limited and Members of Parliament were elected by a tiny fraction of the population.
Importantly, only decent people and those with substantial property or wealth were entitled to vote. The system had its faults, we don’t deny that, but at least there existed in the minds of voters and legislators an understanding of the interaction between allegiance, faithfulness, the common good and political loyalty.
With regard to modern elections, what comes across are horribly expensive dogfights and endless recounts to select people who possess almost identical qualities of character, ideological background and appearance, and whose party differences are as indistinguishable as those between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.
Would a return to the practices of the Georgian period and to ‘rotten boroughs’ produce a better type of politician, and has the time come to seek a different way to express the so-called ‘will of the people’?
Certainly, in the 18th and early 19th century, British (and Irish) political opinion was expressed in a more direct manner. Street ‘agro’ was an important form of political expression for those who didn’t have the right to vote.
The booing of unpopular ministers or throwing large stones at the carriages of leading politicians tended to get the message across and, if not, a full scale riot generally did the trick.
Also, the expression of political sentiments, while not freer, was more outspoken than the current situation in Ireland where comment has become hedged-in by limitless warnings, cautions, admonitions and red flags. So much so that the Defamation Law is the most serious threat facing Irish newsmongers today! Eighty percent of all defamation actions are brought against the media – and we’ve seen none of our political wannabes promising to change that situation.
Oliver Goldsmith’s famous line, ‘This is Liberty Hall, gentlemen; you may do as you like here,’ certainly does not apply to the media in contemporary Ireland.
Instead we have had nondescript, unexceptional politicians plastering the country with mugshots of themselves and endlessly repeating banalities on television in the belief that they were doing enough to extract a vote from those ungrateful bastards of an electorate.
But, to return to the matter of Limerick politico, ex-Cllr Seán Lynch whose misfortunes triggered this rant, we confess to knowing little or nothing about his successes and failures.
What is certain is that his political career ended in a cul de sac when Limerick mischief-makers succeeded in undermining his political support. Which, in fairness, was a tragedy!
Sense of outrage
Lynch, we think, might be described as a sort of functionary-politico, one who shared his aspirations with the punters, and did so by balancing local demands (those of ordinary people, community groups, and small businesses) with those of the council.
Important political activities would have included ‘getting hold’ of the right bureaucratic ‘bigshot’ for sorting out matters relating to planning, refuse, road widening, tree topping, etc. Nothing wrong with that!
However, for reasons about which we neither know nor care, he fell out of favour with the masses. Inevitably, the response of the common people was similar to that used for dealing with politicos who were no longer popular: string ’em up from the nearest lamp-post!
We’re speaking metaphorically, of course, to describe Mr Lynch’s failure to be re-elected. To judge by his sense of outrage, he didn’t deserve such a (metaphorical) fate.
But, Limerick isn’t ‘Deadwood’ and there may be another explanation: Not too long ago, the city had the largest religious confraternity in the world (10,000 enrolled) and it is possible, just possible, that political ingratitude remains a gravely sinful act which, if the person does not repent before death, can lead to eternal damnation.
But … er … perhaps it might be prudent not to go down that road!