With just 12 weeks to go until the Local Elections on Friday 23 May, local people and local candidates will be bracing themselves for the five-yearly pressing of the flesh that seems to irritate and intrigue in equal measure.
Galway is represented by 45 councillors at county and city level, but other than funerals and local elections, local people rarely come face to face with their representatives, save for those few that call on their services in their time of need.
Such times of need recently at city level have included the proposed bus lane through Merlin Woods and the inclusion of the Menlo Park roundabout in the Bothar na dTreabh plan. On both occasions, Galway City Councillors succeeded in representing locals’ views and in getting at least a stay on plans, while it could be argued that locals were merely forcing councillors’ hands back on issues that they had already voted through.
Like it or not, therefore, local people’s perception of Galway City and County Councillors is framed by and large in the media, who report on representatives’ contributions to various meetings or follow up on the deluge of press releases they are sent based on what they deem most news worthy.
Local candidates might not agree with what we choose to cover, how we choose to report on events, or the predictions we make as regards who has the better chances. We are accustomed to such debate and we welcome and encourage the feedback. Like them, we are representing what we perceive to be the public interest.
However, when locals are forced to engage in people power to progress local issues, meetings amount to little more than one councillor’s outrageous sound-bite and local election candidates are seen to either repeat ad nauseam what has already been said at national level or make grandiose calls, the general public begins to wonder of their own accord if it is all hot air and what is it exactly that councillors do.
Meeting reports and press releases don’t invite debate, unless people engage with the Letters to the Editor page of their local newspaper to take candidates to task, but those on the other side of the door-step should be in a better position to engage more freely.
Local candidates therefore will be better employed setting aside grandiose calls and playing the blame game and focusing instead on justifying the costs associated with the councils.
Is the €460,000 spent on Galway City Councillors in 2012 a good use of public funds? Should we be upgrading County Buildings at a cost of €200,000 to make room for nine new county councillors when we don’t have room for patients in our hospitals?
Local Election candidates might not enjoy addressing these issues, they might feel it is an issue for central government, but, when everything is being reduced to finances, they can’t expect to escape the inevitable.