The Slugger Awards 2008 – up-and-coming politician of the year

For this part of the awards, we’re looking to identify the newcomers to public life in Northern Ireland. The quality of politics is partly determined by the personal qualities of its key players, and the changes that will take place in local government over the next few years could have a huge impact on the future of Northern Ireland’s politics.
At the moment, we have 26 councils and 582 councillors in Northern Ireland. By 2011, there will be only eleven councils, and while the exact number of councillors hasn’t yet been finalised, it is expected to be roughly two-thirds of the current figure. The District Electoral Areas (DEA – the subdivisions of those new councils) will not be finalised for at least another year yet, and the electoral system is yet to be formally agreed, but it would be surprising to all concerned if the current Single Transferable Vote (STV) system doesn’t survive the changes.

In addition, there is the question of the ‘Dual Mandate’ – where the same carbon-based life-forms holds more than one of the key elected positions – Councillor, MLA, MP or MEP. Again, this is in the hands of the assembly, but the odds on dual mandates continuing to be permissible look longer by the day.

So, in short, by 2011, it looks like a lot of our councillors will no longer be in office. Some of the new intake will be first-time councillors, so the survival figures are cut further. It looks like outgoing councillors will receive some sort of pay-off, so there is no incentive for timeservers to continue. The kind of qualities that helped get people selected by the parties over the past few decades will also no longer be valued in every case, (particularly by the voters under STV) so this will have a further impact.

Last week, we featured North Down Councillor Roberta Dunlop saying:

“Northern Ireland is crying out for bright young politicians with new ideas and fresh thinking. Yet, how would they ever get a foot on the political ladder when every run of that ladder is occupied by greedy politicians with dual and even triple mandates?”

How indeed? But who are these bright young politicians? And let’s not be ageist about this either – let’s strike ‘young’ from Cllr Dunlop’s quote. Who are the new faces – of any age – that will be shaping politics in Northern Ireland? And let’s not restrict it to local government either. Are there any wanabee MLAs out there that have created an impression? New MLAs who are making a splash?

Again, just a reminder. The Slugger Awards are about promoting a better quality of politics in Northern Ireland. It’s not a forum to continue long-held grudges or a general cynicism about politics. Sluggers’ normal light-touch moderation policy will be tightened up on this one, so please try to keep it positive.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty