Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dublin's New Mayor - Who'll Bridge the Divide Between Ballier and Blackrock?

Diamond Joe Quimby - the most likely winner, God help usThe election for the first directly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin was always going to be exciting. The George Lee resignation has made it even more so.

The election is important nationally as it’s potentially a sea change in politics, in the way we choose our politicians (directly elected Mayoralties are meant to roll out to Galway, Cork and other cities if Dublin goes well). A directly elected Mayor is, potentially, someone on whom to pin the buck. Even a hint of accountability would be a treat compared to the current system.

Not that the new Dublin Mayor will have the power to do much. The draft legislation for his or election was approved by Cabinet on Tuesday, but details of what exactly the position will entail aren’t due until next week. However, your correspondent seems to recall Conor Lenihan using the phrase “however limited his powers” about the new Mayor on the Sham Shmyth radio show recently, which should give potential Mayoral candidates pause for thought and reflection.

Interpreting those runes, if any newly elected Mayor shows any symptoms of any Obama-esque dreams of change, they will be told no, you can’t, fairly lively. We’ll have no boat-rocking here, thank you very much. Now feck off out to Finglas and open that clinic, here’s two Euro for the bus.

But they’ll run, all the same. It’s what they do. You might as well ask a junkie to switch to a nice cup of Horlicks at night as ask a politician not to run for election, no matter how ceremonial the actual job.

Paddy Power, a man never knowingly caught napping, has made book on who the new Mayor may be, and it’s an eclectic field. A bit too eclectic – betting men would be better advised to see whom the parties field before parting with any wedge, because even choosing a candidate within the major parties themselves is a far from trivial task.

The so-called left are energised at the moment after the local election result, and would be the biggest party in Dublin if the general election were held in the morning. Contrary to their acolytes in the media, this is not a swing to the left in urban areas. This is a lot of civil servants who don’t fancy pay cuts. But how and ever – choosing a left candidate will be tricky.

An Spailpín’s guess is that Labour are praying desperately that Joe Higgins is happy among the Walloons at the moment, and is not planning a homecoming. Joe got a big, fat vote for himself but Joe is far too loose a cannon for the apparatchiks in the Labour Party to trust, and the people who voted for Joe in previous elections may think again if Joe has the power to strike rates.

Fine Gael, meanwhile, must be still tearing their hair out in bunches. They held the line well for their first 24 hours of George Lee, but Brian Hayes’ shabby crack on the Pat Kenny show yesterday did them no favours and the lack of grace under pressure demonstrated how much the Lee resignation has thrown them.

The party is reeling, and there is a big huge swathe of Fine Gael voters in Dublin who do not like seeing their party run by a culchie, as reported by the always excellent Olivia O’Leary on RTÉ’s Drivetime during that Dublin South by-election last year. Not even Coveney, probably, although they might be open to negotiation on that. Fine Gael’s best candidate may be the highly personable Lucinda Creighton, but whether she’d be willing to be give up a safe Dáil seat for a role that may have little power is open to question.

For a long time, it looked like the Dublin Mayoral Election would be a suicide mission for Fianna Fáil, where they’d send a man out on a mission from which he may very well not come back. Their aim may be slightly higher now, as they slowly rise in the polls and eagerly await to see what damage George Lee has done Fine Gael. If Fianna Fáil end up running Conor Lenihan as Dublin Lord Mayor, An Spailpín Fánach wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

The field is open for a surprise candidate. Mannix Flynn, perhaps, although he would not be getting An Spailpín’s vote. The tricky thing is that the city is so very diverse – if you were to draw up a candidate from scratch, what would he or she look like? Northsider or Southsider? Dubs like Dubs, generally speaking, but what really is the demographic breakdown of the city?

There is a lot of talk about the emigrant population of the city, but the biggest immigrant population in the city, and the one that has always integrated with the most difficulty, remains the culchies.

Could the culchies be the kingmakers? Is there a sufficiently charismatic candidate out there who can unite both sides of the river, the rich and the poor, the immigrant and native populations, turn the political system on its head, and define his or her own Mayoralty, breaking free of the constraints of the job, energised by a popular mandate? Let’s hope so. It’s not a trivial ask but God knows, we could do with it.

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