Ups and Downs: The Roller-Coaster Ride of Local Politics

December 19, 2014 Updated: December 19, 2014

The election count was the best political memory of this year. I don’t remember being nervous at the time – we had a plan and we did a job – but it was a good experience. 

Walking into the council itself brought an element of pride, and being congratulated by my father was a good moment for me. Having him tell me that I made the family proud meant a lot to me. 

Outside of the election itself, accomplishing things for the area also brings an element of satisfaction. Actually getting things done for the local people, and seeing changes happen in the community based on work I was involved in are among my best memories.
This comes, in part, from my background. I’m a mechanic, so I fix things that are broken, and it is natural for me to look to help where I see problems in the community. It really is satisfying if I can help resolve an issue.

It was also an eye opener for me to see how local council budgets are passed, and what goes into creating them. It was amazing how transparent they are, and that everything in the process is published for the public to see. If anyone would like to know more about this process give me a call, or call the council – it’s all available for the public. It was great to be involved in this process.

Working with others

When you are elected you become part of a team. I am part of a team of thirteen Fine Gael Councillors and eight independents who work together to get things done in the local Meath Council. It is interesting to work with independents, who are voted in on different agendas to yours. It is an interesting dynamic. We all have to compromise to get things done.

Recently, I was with a delegation of councillors who met with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly. It was interesting to talk to him, and to bring to him local issues facing the people of the District of Ashbourne. It is amazing the difference when meeting someone in person compared to what is presented in the media! He was genuinely interested in the local issues, and was trying to use his position to make a positive difference for the general public. You would never guess that from reading a newspaper!

Difficult Business

Politics is a difficult business – the opposition’s main role is to look for faults and to criticise, but the suggestions of the opposition parties are not put under scrutiny until they are in office. So they are free to tarnish others without restraint. Every time a tax is implemented to help pay for the national debt, it is attacked without a viable alternative being suggested. It is an incredibly difficult job to be a Minister today compared to any time in our recent history. 

At the moment, with things like water charges being implemented, there is a need to be responsible to the country as a whole. Some of the opposition are encouraging people not to pay, but without this money how would we pay for our water, or pay the national debt? If they were elected, it would be hard to see how they could balance the books. 

Experience with Fine Gael

Being a member of Fine Gael has had its ups and downs. Before Christmas 2013, the party seemed to be doing everything right – the economy was growing and unemployment was going down, but recently the water charges have taken over the agenda, and the popularity of the party has dropped. 

The first issue that was brought to me by local people was from the elderly, who were afraid that their medical cards would be taken away. This has since been reversed, and it is a relief to so many people because they were genuinely worried about not being able to afford medical care. All the Fine Gael party members feel the pressure when the party has to make hard decisions.

With water charges, the response has been strong from members of the public. Personally, I support water charges, because I think it is important to ring-fence money for the supply of quality water. Logically it makes sense, as opposed to relying on taxes that provide fluctuating levels of funds. But on this issue, being a member of Fine Gael has not been easy – the views people have about why they should not be paying are very strong, and sometimes they are passionately expressed.

Biggest Surprise

The biggest surprise to me after becoming a county councillor was that of becoming a public figure! I was all of sudden not Alan Tobin, but Fine Gael Councillor Alan Tobin, and people started to treat me differently. I found that very hard to get used to. 

I have been involved in many local projects to improve the community before becoming a councillor, but for a politician there is a huge amount of distrust. The public seem unsure about the agendas of their elected representatives, when often all they are trying to do is help.

There have been huge positives too, and there have been people who put a huge amount of trust in you when sharing very personal problems they need help with. It has been a great honour to be able to help people in those situations.

Will there be an election in 2015?

There is only one way I see an election happening in 2015, and that is if Labour see an opportunity to pull out of government that will benefit them. Unless there is a major political event that boosts the Labour party, I don’t see an election happening in 2015.