The Irish Times view on the local elections: No excuse for not voting
Polling today will provide a necessary health check of Irish democracy
The local elections today will tell us something about the health of our democracy. File photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
The local elections today will tell us something about the health of our democracy and that is why it is important that as many of the State’s 3.3 million eligible voters as possible go to the polls. Although the locals may have been overshadowed to some extent by the publicity surrounding the European contest, they represent the bread and butter of the democratic process.
It is true that councillors have a limited range of powers – far too limited – but they are the first interface between voters and the political system. That is why it is crucial to elect people to local authorities who are committed to representing the concerns of the community as a whole and not simply vested interest groups of one kind or another.
A good turnout is imperative to ensure that those who are elected are a cross-section of society. Vibrant local councils capable of providing facilities that work for the community are the best antidote to growing cynicism about politics and politicians.
It is not as if voters have not been made aware of today’s elections
Of course local politics doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The performance of the various political parties will have serious implications for their prospects in the next general election and some of the council contenders are hoping to win seats as the first rung on the ladder to Dáil Éireann. Nonetheless, voters should keep local issues in mind when making their choices.
One of the big disappointments of the last local and European elections in 2014 was a serious decline in the turnout to just under 52 per cent from almost 58 per cent five years earlier. A further drop would be a worrying sign of apathy or disillusionment which could have serious long-term consequences for our democracy.
It is not as if voters have not been made aware of today’s elections. The media has devoted more attention to the Europeans but posters have adorned lamp-posts up and down the State for the past three weeks and a stream of election literature has come through every front door. Polling stations will be open from 7am until 10pm so there is no excuse for not voting.
As well as casting their ballots in the two elections, voters will be asked to accept or reject a proposal to liberalise the divorce laws and to recognise foreign divorces. There will be one question on the ballot paper and voters can either vote Yes to allow both changes, or No to reject both. They cannot accept one change and reject the other.
In Cork, Limerick and Waterford, voters will also be asked if they want to see directly elected mayors in place of the current system by which mayors are elected by councillors. In theory, acceptance of the proposal would be an innovation that could pave the way for more dynamic local authorities. But it is difficult to detect any commitment by the Government to ceding the power and authority necessary for such an outcome.