Ask the Irish to believe in an omnipotent being watching over them, and you’ll have no problem. Ask them to believe that a fella sitting in Rome has a direct line to God and they’ll say sure, that’s grand. But ask them to believe that their TDs actually work hard, and they’ll demand physical proof. There is a fallacy about Irish politicians, normally held by people who don’t know them, and it is that they are lazy. The actual truth, on the other hand, is that they are quite possibly the most hard working politicians in the western world. What’s more striking, however, is how completely pointless most of the work is.
Every now and then, a lazy tabloid journalist, when he’s fnished trying to get a young “intern” drunk so that he can grope her, and has used up that month’s quota of sex predator stories, will reach for the stock item: The photo of an empty Dail, and then vent his sexual frustrations by pontificating on how lazy Irish elected officials are.
Yet anyone who has known a TD of any party will recognise a different picture: Answering phone calls at two in the morning from parents whose hoodlum kids have been arrested for drug dealing, and are demanding “what are you going to do about it?”, or the woman who comes to your clinic demanding you get her children a Playstation 3 (Actually happened), or the absolutely mad race around the constituency in the evening, trying to get to as many residents association meetings as possible where, after practically giving yourself a hernia to get there, some smart alec at the meeting declares that you are never seen “in the area”. Or the distribution of thousands of leaflets telling people stuff they could happily find out for themselves on the web, just so that you can put your mug on the front in a desperate plea to prove that you actually physically exist.
Here’s the sad part: Actually do your job, scrutinise legislation to make it better, hold the government to account, and you will almost certainly lose your seat. The late Jim Mitchell chaired the DIRT inquiry which recovered hundreds of millions for the taxpayer. He then got turfed out by his voters for spending too much time in the Dail.
As a woman once shouted at Mary Harney at a public meeting in Tallaght, when Harney announced that she had to get to Leinster House for a vote: “Here! We didn’t elect you to be off votin’ in Dail Eireann!”