Postcards from the Parish Pump
The Irish Election Literature blog showcases the perverse nature of opportunism and spinelessness which runs deep in many who court our vote. Barry Gruff finds out more from its curator Alan Kinsella.
It is fair to say most people don’t hold on to election flyers and leaflets for too long, before filing them to the nearest bin. This is not the case for Dubliner Alan Kinsella, who has been studiously collecting election literature and other political documents for the last 30 years. In that time he has amassed a unique and valuable historical archive, which he has been sharing with the wider world through his Irish Election Literature blog.
rabble caught up with the man himself to find out more about the blog, his hobby and all things election-related.
Alan caught this bug during the general election of February 1982. Too young to vote he was brought down to a polling station which was “a lot more lively and really exciting [place] as canvassers hadn’t the restriction they have now. I came away with a handful or leaflets and stickers, including one autographed by Barry Desmond and somehow I held onto them. By November there was another election and I got more, this time some relatives kept stuff for me also.” Over time the circle and locations from which he drew material grew. In the days before email he wrote away to parties requesting leaflets with varying degrees of success and has to date amassed a collection of between four and five thousand.
As well as enjoying uploading this material to the blog it serves another purpose, he explains “I posted a letter that James Reilly sent out last year before the election assuring Roscommon Hospital was safe but next of all Roscommon Hospital was closed. That one went everywhere; it was in the paper, the Fianna Fáil website and a few other places. It definitely made an impact.”
Other material provides a valuable insight into the mindset and concerns of previous eras, with anti—divorce literature from Alice Glenn and others, or leaflets from Sean Clerkin’s ‘Jobs for Youth – not condoms’ offering a glimpse into a different Ireland. “Looking at them now they appear to be crackpots” says Alan, “but that wasn’t the case at all. Alice Glenn was a TD and in the 1991 Local Elections Clerkin polled 1,136 first preferences, just over 10% of the vote and that was in Cabra where he was up against sitting TDs Jim Mitchell and Dermot Fitzpatrick.” Similarly Alan wonders what future generations will make of more contemporary literature, like that of the anti Royal visit. He is intrigued to see “what narrative is put on the visit in the future and if opposition to the visit is covered. Although I think there was a general air of ambivalence to it.”
Certain issues remain rooted to a specific time; others however, have a habit of recurring again and again. Two which resonate strongly with people today are of course, the household tax and water charges. Both feature frequently in his collection and have evolved as the nature of the proposed charges and the forms of oppositions to them have changed over the years. For example a value-based Property tax mooted in the early 90’s was, as Alan explains, “see as an anti-Dublin tax and an anti-family tax, as young people working would be forced out of the family home. It was double taxation. It was also seen as anti-home ownership.” The household tax resurfaces again in material from 1992, where Fianna Fáil accuse both Labour and Fine Gael of intending to increase it, while Fine Gael point the finger at Labour alone. The PDs were also against it, primarily because it was anti-Dublin citing “a figure of 77% of Property Tax being paid in Dublin.” Adding “at that time in 1997 the property boom had just started, so people were paying (what were then) hefty mortgages, hefty stamp duty and then the Property Tax on top of it. Another argument used, and one that resonates with the current policy of using revenue from the household charge to pay for local services, was voiced by Olivia Mitchell (FG) when she said “Most of the money will be collected in this area but will be spent elsewhere.”
Alan says there is a similar trend in tracking the life cycle of water charges, “In my own collection they first pop up in the early ’80s with a leaflet from the Communist Party of Ireland. What’s interesting is that there’s nothing about water conservation. Some of the Democratic Left anti water charges material from the early 90s doesn’t mention conservation. It was the same again in 1996 when Joe Higgins ran as a Militant Labour / Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charges Campaigns candidate in the Dublin West by-election. In 1997 The Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charges Campaigns ran a number of candidates with Joe Higgins being elected. Anti water charges candidates, such as Paddy Mulcahy also ran in Cork in 1997. Through the Greens and the green agenda, water charges are back on the radar but it’s not yet as major an issue as property tax, although that will probably change when people have to pay it”.
What began as a childhood fascination has become over time a valuable and unique resource for anyone with even a vague interest in politics, for those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The materials collected by Alan show the fragility of parliamentary democracy and the perverse nature of opportunism and spinelessness which runs deep in many who court our vote.
Surprised Rabblers? No? Didn’t think so, but sometimes it’s nice to have your feelings confirmed.
Check out the site here.