They may be among the best paid in Ireland – but even TDs can't buy love. It emerged last week that one lonely-hearted TD has enlisted the help of the well-known matchmaker, Avril Mulcahy, to find his perfect partner. Although the lovelorn politican got in touch with Mulcahy around last Christmas, Cupid's arrow hasn't struck for him yet.
The TD is not alone. About one in four of us is single – and many of us are turning to matchmakers or online dating websites in our quest for love. One of Ireland's biggest and most reputable online dating websites, anotherfriend.com, for example, says it has almost 740,000 members – with about 10,000 Irish members joining every month.
No matter how determined you are to avoid turning into Bridget Jones – or her male equivalent, be careful. You could pay through the nose for a matchmaker or online dating website.
Furthermore, as dating agencies are not regulated, you could be throwing your money down the drain if you choose the wrong agency. Dating agencies admit there are cowboys in the industry.
"There's no regulation of dating agencies and it's absolutely scary," said Sharon Kenny, director of the dating agency, thematchmaker.ie.
With online dating, it is usually free to send and receive messages to other members on the website – however, you need to pay for a subscription to send on your contact details to someone or arrange to meet. You'll pay €144 upfront for an annual subscription to anotherfriend.com – and even then, you can only arrange to meet members who also have a subscription. To be able to meet members who don't have a subscription, you'll pay another €99.95 a year – which bumps up the cost of your annual subscription to €243.95.
Be careful about signing up for free trials to test out online dating – if you don't cancel the trial membership on time, you could have to cough up for a month's subscription. For example, with anotherfriend.com, if you sign up for a three-day trial of the site's premium membership, €24.95 will be automatically charged to your credit or debit card at the end of the third day of your trial and at the end of every month after that – until you cancel. So if you are so carried away by the prospect of finding true love that you don't bother to read the small print of the trial – and you don't notice your card is being hit with a €24.95 charge every month – you could inadvertently end up paying almost €300 a year. If you sign up for a three-day trial of anotherfriend.com's premium plus membership plan, you'll pay even more if you don't cancel on time. Under this offer, €47.85 will automatically be taken out of your card at the end of the third day of your trial membership and at the end of every month after that until you cancel. That adds up to €574.20 a year.
Another thing to be aware of with online dating is that your subscription usually automatically rolls over – so you'll have to pay for another subscription unless you cancel a few days before it expires.
As well as offering annual and monthly subscriptions, anotherfriend.com offers a three-month premium subscription for €54.75.
"One-month and three-month memberships automatically renew in the same way as gym membership does," said a spokeswoman for anotherfriend.com. "This is industry standard in online dating, until the member cancels their subscription. All annual subscriptions expire at the end of their one-year term and are not automatically renewed."
Another Irish dating website, maybefriends.com, charges between €150 and €275.88 a year for a subscription to the site. The website offers a six-monthly subscription, which costs €75 upfront – or €150 after a year. Otherwise, it costs €51 for a three-monthly subscription (€204 a year) or €22.99 a month for a monthly subscription (€275.88 a year). Again, these subscriptions are automatically renewed – unless you cancel your membership at least two working days before your subscription is due to end.
"Before consumers sign up and pay for any contract they should check the terms and conditions and see if it is a contract with an automatic rolling period – which means the subscription will be automatically renewed to a new minimum term unless the consumer requests their subscription is cancelled," said a spokeswoman for the consumer watchdog, the National Consumer Agency (NCA).
Another issue to be aware of with online dating relates to "cooling-off" periods. When you buy something online, you can usually cancel your order within seven days of receiving your goods – without having to give a reason for the cancellation. This is known as the "cooling off" period. However, with online dating, you're usually not covered by a "cooling off" period and reputable sites will make you aware of this. For example, the conditions of a subscription to anotherfriend.com or maybefriends.com make it clear that: "Subscription member services are provided to you as and from when your registration and fee is processed. This means that you will not be entitled to cancel your membership within the 'cooling off' period."
The NCA confirmed that the cooling-off period may not apply to online dating. "The seven-day cooling-off period excludes services which have begun with a consumer's consent before the end of that period," said a spokeswoman. "However, this should be made clear to the consumer before they sign up."
If you're looking for love, you may have better luck hiring a matchmaker than trawling through thousands of profiles on internet dating websites.
"Online dating is good for people who want more choice – but you don't know who you're dealing with or if the people online are genuine about seeking a relationship," said Mulcahy. "Matchmaking is good for people who are looking for a long-term relationship."
Hiring a matchmaker doesn't come cheap however.
If you hire thematchmaker.ie to find your perfect soulmate, the charge is €10,000 over two years. With this package – 'Find Me My Perfect Soulmate asap', the dating agency organises dates for you every second week and meets you once a month to make sure you're taking the right steps to find love. "Two men are using this service now," said Kenny. "With this service, I show the customer videos – and give a lot of details about potential partners."
Most people who hire a matchmaker will pay a few hundred euro to get a one-to-one consultation with the matchmaker – and to get lined up on a few dates.
With thematchmaker.ie, for example, you'll pay €275 for three dates, €325 for four dates and €500 for seven dates. The matchmaker Topmatch Ireland, charges €335 for five dates.
Mulcahy, who appeared on Dragon's Den earlier this year with her new mobile phone dating app, Flirtricity, charges €395 for her matchmaking service. With this service, you get matched up with three dates. If you simply want to get some date coaching, Mulcahy charges €125 for an-hour-and-a-half's advice.
Do your research before hiring a matchmaker. "Ask the matchmaker what type of people they have on their books and how many dates they'll arrange for you in a year," advised Mulcahy. "You should also ask if the matchmaker will look for people both on and off their books – there may be a suitable partner for you who is off their books. You should also check if the service is confidential – make sure your photo isn't given away to people."