Laura McGonigle, is 26 and was co-opted onto Cork City council to replace Deirdre Clune TD after Clune took a seat in Cork South Central at the last general election. This is Laura’s website/blog, her Facebook and her Twitter. Here are the answers to some questions I asked of her.
Why politics and why Fine Gael?
Why politics – because there’s no point sitting at home complaining and not doing something about it. You can’t improve things by doing nothing.
Why Fine Gael – Because I don’t trust Fianna Fail. I got involved in politics for the 2002 General Election, which was probably Fine Gael’s darkest hour. I think in the weeks after that I knew that Fine Gael had been the right choice for me. Fianna Fail had been re-elected with almost an overall majority, but within weeks they were rowing back on their election promises – the electorate had been codded.
Every year in advance of a General Election, Fianna Fail pull a trick out of the bag to buy the electorate. Their politics isn’t about what’s best for this country; it’s about what is going to keep them in power.
Also because my father told me I’d have to live in the shed if it was anyone other than Fine Gael.
Young and a woman, surrounded by old (poltical) fogeys, what’s the reaction been by those old fogeys?
They keep their distance!
Seriously, most Councillors in City Hall just do their own thing. If you get too caught up in what everyone else is doing, you become paranoid and the job will pass you by.
But some of them like to call me “dear” and try to antagonise me that I’m still wet behind the ears!
What do you class as a win for you in local politics?
Getting a job done. People may disagree on this, but local politics are local. We’re not legislators and we’re not going to change the world. But I get phone calls everyday of the week from people who believe that their concern is monumental and to solve their problems or to right a wrong is what we are here for. It’s not to attend every funeral and letter opening.
Got any stories of how local politics has helped a local?
Local politicians aren’t going to be able to change your life dramatically, but as many people know it’s the every day things that count and that’s what we’re here for.
Local politics is about helping people access their entitlements. I have assisted people with everything from filling in forms to apply for their pension, helped people get information on their entitlement to public housing and I’ve helped young couples get a foot on the home owning ladder by explaining how the social and affordable housing schemes work and helping them to decide which scheme makes most sense for them to apply for.
What’s the most pressing thing on the doorsteps recently?
There is palpable anger out there. I’m meeting people who’ve lost their jobs, whose houses have dropped in value and most of all who really feel like all their hard work over the last few years in just going down the drain because the Government won’t stand up and take charge of the situation. The Government and its Ministers are paid to make tough decisions and they’re shirking their responsibilities.
Should there be more accountability and transparency when it comes to expenses?
Of course there should! It’s your money!
Why do you think less people seem to care about politics then they did 10 and 20 years ago? How do we change that?
Politics under FF and Ahern in particular has sidelined the interaction between politicians and their constituents. Social partnership took what were political and market forces and gave unelected unions and employers (social partners) the opportunity to dictate. With politics being much more important now, with the nationalisation of banks and the decision by Government to take an active role in the economy to alleviate people’s suffering, we are likely to see people much more interactive with government and their politicians as a consequence.
As people have less, they will look more at their politicians and grade them more honestly as opposed to looking for the spin or the “nice guy” quality
We need to examine ways to make politics more accessible to my generation, show how it is very relevant to them in their lives. This means looking at ways of taking politics away from branch meetings and so on and moving towards a more campaigning type of politics where you can engage with people on issues as they arise rather than forcing people into the strictures of a branch when the reality is that their time is limited and they will allocate it to what matters to them.
Should the Senate be removed since the public can’t choose or vote for those in it?
The Senate was never meant to be popularly elected but corporately. Each section of society from trade unions and labour, to agriculture, to local authorities were all meant to give the Houses of Parliament a more agenda based outlook rather than representing people based on geography.
Much call in recent time to remove the County and City Council voting block, as this is seen as castrating the radical and vocal qualities that the Senate might actually have.
No to abolition, yes to reform and to widening the franchise. Allow more people to vote in each constituency, be that labour, agriculture, colleges, etc etc
Should the office of the President be given more powers?
Sure why not. Allow her to make the Taoiseach’s nominations in the Senate.
Also, allow her to say what she thinks is appropriate to say with out having the Government vetting all her speeches.
Mary Robinson and Mary MacAleese have both shown that the Presidency can play a very valuable role in stimulating debate in society and representing Ireland overseas.
Enda or Chips?
Chips – curry chips from KC’s in Douglas! (Sorry Enda! I like him, I just wouldn’t eat him!)
Is the Garret Fine Gael a totally different to the Enda Fine Gael?
Completely different. Enda and Garret are two entirely different leaders. Garret always lead from the front and Enda is seen very much as a Chairman of a party. Fine Gael under Enda Kenny is a progressive party that believes in the same principles that have guided us for quite a long time. A fair society, promoting enterprise and reward, recognising that while we have rights we as citizens also have responsibilities. The times in which both men led the party were challenging in their own ways. Garret had enormous social issues to deal with in addition to the economic challenges of the time. Enda leads the party at a time of economic challenge but with a very different societal landscape in terms of the challenges that we face.
What can be done on a local level when it comes to business support?
There is lots of support for local enterprise – whether it’s the chamber of commerce, local enterprise boards or Enterprise Ireland. I work for an Enterprise Ireland sponsored company and their advice and assistance has been second to none.
I had a question down to the City Manager at last week’s City Council meeting, asking if small businesses in the City would be allowed to defer payments on their commercial rates if they find that they are in serious financial difficulties.
Ultimately no business in Cork should be forced to close its doors, because of rate arrears. In the same vain – businesses shouldn’t be forced to reduce employee hours or let staff go because of their liability to City Hall.
And this has been agreed to.
Tell us about a local politician not from your party that you admire/respect.
Máirín Quill – a member of Fianna Fail, the Progressive Democrats and now a non party Councillor. From dealing with Mairin in Cork City Council, she has always been objective in what she tries to achieve and always has Cork as her priority.