We would urge all who can vote in this Friday’s European and Local Elections across Waterford and the South East to do so. Now more than ever, in a period of ongoing flux primarily caused by Brexit, the need for competent and responsible representation at political level has never been greater, be it in City Hall, Brussels or Strasbourg. The European Election has traditionally proven a sideshow to the more parochial and generally more interest local poll. It’s a mindset that needs shifting, in our view.
The island as a whole, given the ongoing uncertainty over the border and the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, needs MEPs fighting our corner and making our case in Europe, all the more so given the likely budget cuts that will arise in the event of UK leaving the European Union. Our agriculture and fishing sectors need to be aggressively defended and both are areas where all our returned MEPs, regardless of their parliamentary groupings, must strive to lobby and defend on a collective footing.
The post-Brexit needs of the people of Northern Ireland, many of whom will remain EU citizens once the UK departs the EU, will also need to be raised by Ireland’s MEPs. We must remain a voice for all Irish people in Brussels in due course and it is important that each MEP articulates such a message in the tough months and years that may lie ahead. Two other votes will also be held this Friday, namely the directly elected Mayor proposal (which is commented upon in the adjoining column) and the referendum which seeks to reduce the duration of time in which a divorce can be applied for.
The promotion of both, in terms of Government involvement, has been very disappointing, with the regional media driving the directly elected mayor proposal. And one would have to question the wisdom of presenting the electorate with four ballot papers this Friday: is there too much to take in all in on go? The lack of decision-making powers that our Mayor currently has at his/her disposal when compared to other municipal office holders across Europe is notable. The most prominently regular tasks of our Mayor as things stand is to chair Plenary Council meetings, attend civic events and to host Civic Receptions. Just because our Mayor has carried out these roles traditionally does mean he/she should be limited to a range of ceremonial tasks.
Why not increase the significance of the role and in so doing, pay accordingly? Should voters opt for the new system that the proposed Mayoral budget will be reviewed before the first new Mayor is elected in 2022 because the initial published figures have been justly queried.
Friday’s elections are also likely to prove a test of Leo Varadkar’s leadership. The Taoiseach has made some flippant comments of late, many of them related to this city and region and people have a right to expect more wisdom and empathy on his behalf.
A weak result for Fine Gael will surely get TDs thinking about whether Mr Varadkar, beaten in the popular vote for the leadership by Simon Coveney, will be their long-term leader. It will also be a litmus test for Micheál Martin, whose own Tallaght Strategy has kept Fine Gael in high office. But whether there is a mood for change in both the local and European assemblies is at the behest of the electorate.