It’s a basic principle of Irish democracy that taxpayer funding may not be used to promote candidates for election, or sides in referendums.
Actually, let me rephrase that: It used to be a basic principle of Irish democracy that taxpayer funding may not be used to promote candidates for election, or sides in referendums.
But it’s not, any longer:
FIFTEEN LOCAL AUTHORITIES have been given funding of €143,617 to carry out 23 projects to promote women and people from minority groups to become councillors and to take part in their county councils.
Minister of State for Local Government and Planning Peter Burke announced that funding has been approved to a number of local authorities to support activities such as mentoring programmes, surveys, and women’s caucus.
The projects that won funding were chosen based on criteria such as supporting existing councillors, engagement with potential future candidates, creating an awareness of local government and intended impact on the targeted sector.
One of the problems, whenever something is decreed to be a good cause, or a good idea, is that people become tempted to look the other way when rules are bent, and principles broken, to support it. In this case, the notion of getting more women involved in politics is generally felt to be a good cause, and, therefore, the polite, politically correct, thing to do is to look the other way when some liberties are taken with public funds in order to support getting more women involved in politics.
That, however, doesn’t make this a good, or appropriate, use of public funds.
Look at the bits in bold, above. One of the objectives of this funding is to “support existing councillors”. This is, remember, in the context of “getting more women into politics”. Obviously, if female councillors aren’t re-elected, that might mean that there are fewer women in politics.
It would be very strange, therefore, if these funds were not intended, at least in part, to help some sitting politicians get re-elected.
And look at the next part, right after it, in bold: “engagement with potential future candidates”.
The Government has no business looking around to decide who might run for office and spending money to engage with them to help them get elected. Elections are a free choice – or they are supposed to be. The Government, here, is spending taxpayer money to put its thumb on the scale in a future election by providing engagement and support to some candidates that it simply does not intend to provide to other candidates. It’s a disgrace.
€143,000 won’t break the bank, of course. But breaking the bank, or not breaking it, is not the point. That is €143,000 of taxpayer funding that only some political candidates are intended to benefit from.
And once we accept this principle, what’s to stop it being extended, or abused, in the future? Is there a good reason, for example, why we wouldn’t spend another few hundred thousand trying to promote and help muslim candidates, or jewish candidates, or transgender candidates?
What’s more, it’s a direct act of interference into internal political party selection processes. When the Labour Party meet to select their candidate in the Ballywhatever North ward for the next local elections, they won’t be being asked to choose simply between, for example, a man and a woman. They’ll be asked to choose between a candidate who can get them even more state funding, and a candidate who can’t. The state is putting its thumb on the scale, in terms of who even gets to stand for election.
There’s zero political opposition to this, of course, for the usual reasons of cowardice and apathy. Nobody wants to be the politician coming out against women in politics, even though this issue has nothing to do with the merits of having women in politics. And lots of politicians simply don’t care – this funding will probably help at least some candidates from their own party.
But just because people don’t care, or are too scared to speak up, it’s still not safe to assume that this is a good idea, or a just one. It is both a bad precedent, and deeply unjust.
Elections should be free, and fair. This is a direct attempt, by the Government, using your money, to make them slightly less fair, for at least some candidates.
You probably don’t care. But you really, really, should.