Credit: Social Democrats Via Facebook

Social Democrats identify new threat to nation: Idling cars

In some ways, the public do not appreciate just how challenging and difficult life is for politicians, especially in a smaller party. Publicity, after all, is their currency: If people do not know who they are, then they are unlikely to cast a vote for them. Parties which do not make the news do not get attention, and politicians who do not get attention, do not get elected. For that reason, in Ireland, over the last decade or so, a new strategy has been deployed by politicians with uncommon regularity: Say something completely daft, knowing that it will get coverage, and spark a conversation.

The trend, really, can be credited to former Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone. She, famously, managed to get a week’s worth of news coverage and debates out of calling for a ban on music being played by Ice Cream vans in the summer, on the grounds that the music attracted children, which fed Ireland’s alleged childhood obesity crisis. If in doubt, and if in need of coverage, call for something to be banned.

It’s also a strategy that works well with Irish culture: As countries go, we’re quite open to the idea of banning things. If you call for a ban on something, you can be sure that there’s some crank who is willing to phone in to Joe Duffy and back you up. “I’ve been saying it for years, Joe, online chess is wasting hours of productive time in offices. It should be banned in the morning”.

In that spirit, the Social Democrats took to the Leinster House Plinth this week, with their bright new idea:

“Banning parked cars from idling their engines outside schools”.

How very specific.

The rationale for it, if you’re not sure, is partly climate related, and partly public health. The idea is that exhaust emissions from cars which are not moving are a waste of CO2 emissions in the first instance, and a danger to air quality in schools in the second instance. Ban it.

But why jump straight to a ban? And a fine?

Do we really think the Gardai are going to devote significant resources to wandering around school forecourts at 3pm every day, checking to see if engines are running as Mammies await their little angels?

Would it not be better, if this is a real problem (which is disputable) just to put signs up outside schools saying “if you are waiting for your child, please remember to turn off your engine”?

People are, after all, relatively open to doing small, cost free things to help the environment. Recycling is very high, and a growth industry. People are more conscious about litter than they were thirty years ago, and so on. You’d almost certainly get better results here with an awareness campaign than with the long arm of the law.

But of course, an awareness campaign would not have me writing about how silly it is, or other media inviting Deputy Whitmore on to explain herself.

The bigger issue here, of course, is that it is telling how few Irish politicians are able to generate ideas, or coverage for ideas, to solve the country’s big problems. The Social Democrats, being a small party, get limited Dáil time. They could use that Dáil time for proposals on health, or crime, or housing.

Instead, they are using it on this. A stupid publicity stunt, which will strike sensible people as ridiculous.

Irish politics is an immensely silly business. No wonder they leave the real decisions about running the country to Dr. Holohan, and his team.

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