Politics: a profession populated either by 30-something University graduates who worship skinny lattes or middle aged folk veering towards pensionable age who like floury spuds in the middle of the day. Right? Well, not quite.
Take Tramore Town Councillor Tom Raine for example. Catapulted into the Local Election race at the 11th hour last year, Cllr Raine was preparing for his Leaving Certificate when he hit the hustings.
Twelve months on, and Ireland’s youngest Councillor (who turned 20 in April) is both a WIT Business student and Deputy Mayor of County Waterford’s biggest town.
Clearly relishing political life, Cllr Raine admits the job does come with a few disclaimers he’s all the wiser for a year after his election.
“Things move very slowly,” he admits over a cup of tea. “It can take a lot of time to get things done – there’s a footpath in the town where the work started a year ago and it’s still not finished so that gives you some indication.
“And as we’ve seen with Enda Kenny and Richard Bruton, politics can be nasty as well, and that runs all the way down to Town Council politics. That’s the nature of the beast.
“But putting those things to one side, my perception of politics is good, I still see it as an area where positive things can get done. Being able to help people and getting things done is what it’s all about.”
The McCarthy Report, which one already suspects is already coated with dust in Brian Cowen’s office, called for the abolition of Town Councils and potential mergers between City and County Councils.
With his foot barely in the door, Tom Raine is steadfastly opposed to the further dilution of local government, which, in its current condition, is already largely impotent.
“People come to us and we can often provide an answer straight away,” he says, referring to the importance of the Town Councillor’s local role, surely made relevant thanks to their local savvy.
“If we’re not there, then the hope of getting something answered or dealt with reasonably quickly would be significantly diminished.”
Cllr Raine, turning the knife into the coalition’s major partner in a manner which his party leader could learn a thing or two from, believes there’s party politicking afoot within the McCarthy Report.
“Reading between the lines, I think it’s clear that there’s a political motivation behind it. Fianna Fáil doesn’t have the numbers that it once had at Town Council level, so from where I’m looking it just smacks of the ruling party throwing the rattle out of the pram.”
Cllr Raine added: “It’s worth pointing out that An Bord Snip Nua isn’t a White Paper – it’s Fianna Fáil’s input into a White Paper.
“I’m sure that the other political parties will want to have their say into what they want to see done with Town Councils.
“But the chances of it happening within the next few years? I don’t think it’s very likely given all the red tape that would have to be got through to get rid of the Councils. I certainly hope it won’t happen. I don’t think it should.” While exchanging verbal slingshots in the Dáil seems to occupy many national politicians’ work time, such an approach isn’t going to help Tramore’s residents all that much.
With that in mind, Tom Raine believes a more collegial approach has been set in train by his Town Council colleagues.
“I think working together would help, and both Joe O’Shea (Fianna Fáil) and the new Mayor Ann Marie Power spoke about the importance of working together at our last meeting.
“There seems to an agreement there now between the parties in Tramore to work together and working more effectively together over the next four years. We’ll achieve little if we all we decide to do is argue among ourselves. After all, we’ve got to get a lot of work to get through.”
So what about the oft-referenced political gravy train, Councillor? I’d imagine you’re on great money altogether?
“I worked it out the other day – being a Councillor in Tramore is only worth about €3,000 per Councillor a year,” he revealed.
“We can hardly be accused of being in it for the money; we’re in there to try and make the town a better place. And if we work together looking to the future, then we’ll definitely get more done – and that’s to everyone’s benefit.”
It’s clear that after a year in politics, Tom Raine has learned a great deal, but hasn’t been suckered into the toxic world of spin doctoring.
Like Fine Gael colleague John Cummins in the city, along with Fianna Fáil’s sole City Councillor Gary Wyse, Cllr Raine doesn’t speak in riddles.
He has a clear sense that politics can perform a useful service in the community for the community and is keenly aware that getting the so-called ‘small’ things done can pave the way towards greater progress.
Tom’s hopes for Tramore and what he aims to achieve for the seaside town during his initial term as a Town Councillor will be detailed in next week’s offering.