Friday, 20 March 2009

Guest Post - Paul Dillane

As part of a new series of occasional guest posts, I am asking members of our campaign to let the readers of this blog know about their motivation for involvement, the work they do and the hopes they have for our campaign for community and change.

This week's guest blog post is from Paul Dillane (pictured with me on last year's demo against education cuts, right). Paul and I both studied Social Science in UCD, where he encouraged me to get active in politics and to join the Labour Party. In 2003 he recruited me as his campaign manager for his successful bid to become President of UCD Students' Union, and we have shared many platforms and campaigns ever since. Paul plays a key role in our campaign here in Tallaght Central, and as an activist
across issues and at many levels - including on the National Executive of the Labour Party - he is unfailing in pushing for a socialist alternative in Irish politics.

"Dermot Looney campaign points to a different and better way for local politics."

When an election candidate's close friends and political colleagues start paying tributes to him/her, things generally start getting fairly embarrassing. We are generally asked to believe in a candidate’s tremendous ability to "get things done", their unstinting track record of "hard work" and their localness to a particular area. It is as if a good political candidate has the qualities of a saint (they can intervene on your behalf with unknown powers), a horse (can work and work and work...) and a priest (is at the heart of the parish).

In reality, some of the powers claimed by local politicians are powers that do not long belong to them at all. For example, the planning process has been taken out of the hands of local councillors. The claims of politicians to be able to deliver planning permissions and stop your neighbours from building extensions are just that-claims.

That is not to say that politicians cannot work with local communities to develop good planning or put pressure on developers who are neglectful, but to state that politicians are simply not gifted to make the final decisions when it come to planning matters.

The functions of budgeting have also been broadly removed from councillors. For example, the controversial and unfair bin taxes lie not in the hands of people we elect, but with the county and city managers and the Department of the Environment. This is not to suggest that it is okay and right for councillors to vote for privatisation of services under protests of "they would have done it anyway" or "we had no choice", but to point out that the capacity of politicians to intervene in some of the most important local issues is extremely limited.

It is the not the work of a conspiracy theorist to suggest that real power often does not lie directly with people we elect. What then is the role of a local councillor, particularly one concerned with bringing about real political change?

It seems to me that a local councillor who uses his/her position to campaign, mobilise and organise people in pursuit of political goals is the best response in a system that is undemocratic and where decision making does not lie directly with those we elect. The alternative to such an approach is politicians claiming credit for things that have nothing to do with them or justifying decisions that they had no power in shaping.

It is one thing to claim be a local campaigner and organiser of people as an alternative to the clientelist model of politics, and another thing to pursue and deliver on this goal. However, the Dermot Looney campaign is seriously showing how politics can be done in a different way. The campaign to redevelop the McHugh’s site in Greenhills- a site left derelict after the developer in question knocked down the once key amenity and then did something of a runner- is one such example of this alternative approach, where Dermot mobilised local opinion through petitioning to put pressure on the council. And there are others - such as Dermot’s involvement in anti-education cuts initiatives, which have attempted to mobilise people against the cuts culture of the government.

So, if you are willing able, please consider voting Dermot Looney in the local elections. Better still, consider getting involved in a campaign that is genuinely different and where you will be sure that your involvement will make a difference.