RTE news this evening reports that the final count for the European Parliamentary constituency of Ireland South will take place tomorrow. Almost two weeks after the election, the final list of those going to Strasbourg will be known. Do the newly-elected know what awaits them?
Sitting beside the Minister for Education at a lengthy and monotonous gathering on a spring night ten years ago, I had pondered the staying power of Irish politicians. Would you give up your Saturday evening to go to such an occasion in the expectation of your presence being noted by a few dozen people? There wasn’t even a guarantee that they would vote for you.
A lull in the proceedings had allowed a chance for conversation,
I heard one of your colleagues went to Strasbourg last month and returned to find a message on his answering machine from one of his constituents complaining that the county council would not fix the toilet seat in his council house”.
“Who was that?”
I named the politician concerned.
“I wouldn’t believe all his stories”.
The minister went silent for a moment.
“Having said that, I was at Mass two weeks ago and someone came up to me on the church steps and said that their cistern wasn’t working.
It was hardly the sort of thing you expect to think about on the way out of church.
Anyway, the same person came up to me last week and said it was fixed.
‘Did you call the council?’ I asked. ‘No’, he said, ‘why would I call the council. It’s my own house. What would you make of someone who expected a TD to sort out the plumbing problems of their own house?”
But that is the nature of Irish politics; those who are elected often depend on clientelism. “Vote for me and I’ll do this for you,” begs the question, “What will you do for me, if I vote for you?” Constituencies are such that a few dozen votes can make the difference between success and failure. In multi-member constituencies, where being elected may depend on transfers from someone else at the ninth or tenth count of the single transferable vote proportional representation system, it is dangerous to alienate any group of people; you never know when a handful of transfers may cost you your career.
Ideally, you are elected on the basis of first preference votes, but tallymen for the newly-elected will have taken careful note of the transfer patterns, which candidates’ papers transferred to those who were elected, which areas were most fruitful for picking up those vital votes. Toilet seats and cisterns could be important.