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Our political parties agree on all the important details

‘Our political parties agree on all the important details …’
Liam Kenny
Election fervour is at full throttle: canvassing teams are hitting the doorsteps and party activists are festooning lamp posts with posters. Things were probably  less frenetic, but no less intense, back 50 years ago when the people of Kildare went to the polls to elect the 16th Dail Eireann. 
The editorial in the Leader of February 16 1957 began on a note of scepticism regarding the fervour whipped up by party activists: ‘ Important as a general election may be, it does not invariably produce as great an effect upon a nation’s affairs as electors are led to believe by party spokespersons.’ However in a seeming contradiction the editor  goes on to admonish readers on the importance of exercising their franchise ‘ The proportion of abstentionsts at recent by-elections was a danger signal. The democratic ideal – government of the people, by the people, for the people, is endangered when, as can happen, … a minority of the electorate has voted.’
While the legacy of civil war divisions meant that the difference between the parties was clear cut on one level, as far as economic and social policies were concerned the approaches of the main parties in Ireland were just as close to the centre as they are today. According to the Leader editor, that was an explanations for the falling turnout of previous elections: ‘ Our political parties are in agreement on all important details. This may be a part explanation of the lack of interest shown by electors in the casting of their votes. But it does not excuse them from making a choice and marking it on their ballot papers. Apathy in national affairs is bad citizenship.’
Admonishing readers to turn out and vote was one thing but the editor went on to speculate on the configuration of government in the wake of the elections. At that the time the choice was effectively between a Fianna Fail majority or a coalition government involving the other parties. Answering his own rhetorical question the editor seems to suggest that coalition is no bad thing: ‘ … the principle of co-operation (coalition) is accepted as sound in so many and varied undertakings that it would be strange not to try how it would work in politics.’ He goes on to draw an analogy with the international arena – an interesting comparison given that the world trembled with the dangers of the Cold War period in 1957: ‘ At present the nations, great and small, are forming new alliances and endeavouring to strengthen others. Not even Russia or the USA is content to stand alone.’
Thus  in so far as the neutral tradition of editorials would allow the writer of the day seemed to nod towards a continuation of the coalition, or Interparty government as it was then known headed by Cumann na Gael and Labour. The General Election result turned out to the contrary with Fianna Fail gaining a strong majority in the Dail although there was no political change in the Kildare constituency.
However when it came to the administration of the election not everbody was happy. A month later in the edition of March 16 the letters column carried a protest under the heading ‘ Employment of Polling Clerks’ . The letter- writer complained: ‘ In view of the serious unemployment in this area (Kildare, Newbridge) I am anxious to know who is responsible for employing polling clerks. In this area a number of employed persons were engaged, even Civil Servants and people believed to be in receipt of pensions from the Irish Government. No wonder we are unable to curb emigration when some can be employed on such work and paid twice out of public funds while other unfortunates have to go to bed hungry. Signed – Equal Rights for All.’   Thus on that postscript the story of the General Election of 1957 came to a conclusion – no doubt the General Election 2007 will produce stories and reactions that will similarly grace the columns for months to come.


Compiled by Liam Kenny from the rich resource of the Leinster Leader files, Local Studies Dept., Kildare County Library. Series No. 15


Reporting on the election fervour of 1957 - Liam Kenny takes a look in his regular feature in the Leinster Leader, Nothing New Under the Sun. Our thanks as always to Liam.

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