Sunday, March 19, 2006

Take a parachute and jump...

[this post was originally published on]

The phenomenon of parachute candidates is one that many think unique to Irish politics given our multi-seat constituency system (which no matter how much moaning is done about it means that blogs like this one would not be half as exciting!)

(I know that several UK Conservative and Labour MP’s have parachuted (by hundreds of miles sometimes) so maybe its not unique to us.)

In terms of definitions of parachuting as a political modus operandi – well I think I would define it where a candidate is moved into a constituency to contest an election for the following reasons.

  • A previously non party member who because of their celebrity status (Media/Acting/GAA/Rugby) a party believes they would have a better chance of being elected than the current incumbents or available ‘resources’. (eg: Orla Guerin in 1994 European Elections)

(These candidates would never be referred to as people to back up an existing running mate as they would not give up their media or other status if they did not think they would get elected).

  • Formerly elected officials who are seeking new ground because they do not believe that they could be elected again in their former constituency.
  • Currently elected officials whose constituency boundaries have changed or constituencies have completely disappeared.
  • Politicians from another political jurisdiction completely (in the Irish case, Nothern Ireland) who are looking to continue to ply their trade in a less hostile situation. (Oh I can hear the comments already!)

My interest in this subject was renewed recently by the selection of Frances Fitzgerald to contest the Dublin Mid-West Constituency in the next general election. Frances was one of the 22 FG T.D.’s who lost their seat in the last general election. Several other former T.D’s have been selected to recontest their own former constituencies. However I think so far Frances is the first to put the parachute on her back?

I live in Dublin MidWest, and I judge the activity levels/electoral chances of most parties on a number of criteria; the amount of paper that comes through the letter box, the coverage in the local papers and also the appearance by TD’s/Councillors/Wannabees discussing local issues on Newstalk 106. The constituency is made up of two large Dublin suburbs – Clondalkin and Lucan.

Fine Gael are very quiet in terms of stuff that comes in my door. The most visible parties on in terms of number of leaflet drops are Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Labour in that order. I have no idea what the party organisation on the ground for Fine Gael is like but it would seem to be weak in terms of leaflet drops or door knocks.

Cllr. (and former Senator) Therese Ridge is Mayor of South Dublin County Council and would be well known in the Clondalkin Area especially for pointing out all our lovely new bus lanes with no busses on them. Word is that she is not amused with the decision to select Frances Fitzgerald to run. I have no idea if she has any links to this area and in fact I don’t know what Frances has been doing since the last general election unlike a few other former FG TD’s (Alan Shatter has been doing his law bit, Norah Owen has been busy being a former Minister for Justice commenting on Michael McDowell etc.)

Whilst I have a problem with the clientilist system of Irish politics and the notion that one can make a good TD because one has done their time at council level, I do think that parachuting candidates and those derailed in the process is rather unfair.

I am not going to get the Tipp O’Neil quote out for its usual irish politics first year essayesque quote but local issues do drive Irish politics. Frances Fitzgerald has a very busy year ahead of her if she is going to make any impact in this constituency, which is hugely under served in terms of resources and infrastructure. I think that the electorate are rather sophisticated and will look through the name (if they recognise it in the first place) and reward effort by politicians to improve or highlight the situation facing those living here.


At 21:21, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say I think Irish politics is too localised altogether - we elect people to legislate not to do get jobs like fixing potholes done


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