News Analysis

Tuesday 23 September 2014

'Show Up and Shut Up' – one TD's tale is not too far from reality

Fiach Kelly

Published 31/07/2013 | 17:00

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HE read the news today, oh boy, and realised his lot was an awful trudge.

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Unloved, put upon, expected to be seen and not heard, the job of a backbench TD is, in effect, to "show up and shut up".

Ah, but this frustrated deputy is not real, just the figment of one Fine Gael TD's imagination.

But Dublin South-East's Eoghan Murphy didn't really stretch his imagination too much as he sketched out a day in the life of your humble Coalition grunt, expected to troop through the Dail lobbies for the glory of government, keeping schtum all the while.

So who is the "backbencher" Eoghan used to illustrate his point at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal?

"A newly elected TD to the main party in government, he's about 6ft 2ins, dark hair, represents Dublin South-East and has an awfully high opinion of himself," said Eoghan.

He forgets to mention he also sports a tidy little beard these days, but then again this "backbencher" isn't Eoghan. So he started his not-so-tall tale, hoping he could tell it "as best as I can without getting into too much trouble".

Somewhere, the ears of Fine Gael party bosses were twitching. Eoghan has emerged as the effective leader of the so-called 'five-a-side club' of ambitious young TDs who meet in private to discuss policy.

They are definitely not fond of the "know your place, lad, and bide your time" atmosphere of the Dail, as Eoghan described it.

"The title of my address to you today is 'Show Up and Shut Up', subtitled 'The Button Pusher: A Cautionary Tale of a Backbench TD'," he said as he warmed to his theme. Eoghan – sorry, backbencher – always swore he would be a different TD, one who focussed on national issues rather than streetlights and potholes.

But poor "backbencher was feeling frustrated" after Mary Murphy rang about – yes, you guessed it – a pothole. Decisions, decisions – fix a pothole or read important legislation?

"But Mary had voted for him, she was in the local tennis club. She knew his mother."

And the frustrated deputy only figures out how he will vote in the Dail chamber once he looks "at the large screen above the Ceann Comhairle with the bright green lights indicating how his colleagues had voted".

"Got it, he said, and pushed the green button," Mr Murphy added, and looked wistfully back at his imaginary TD's time on the city council, which sounded an awful lot like his own time in Dublin City Hall.

'There you actually debated and you had to understand the issues and you had to stand by your vote yourself, no excuses.

"And you remember some really great debates where the vote was actually swayed by passionate contributions of others, where he went in not knowing how he was going to vote."

Now, the big bad Chief Whip tells him to speak at five past nine at night – hardly the Hollywood slot – when he will praise and congratulate some minister "in equal measure".

And – in a shock development – the mysterious backbencher has his own band of TD chums who don't like the way the Dail operates and are labelled as troublemakers if they speak up at parliamentary party meetings.

Backbencher also has trouble getting his ideas taken on board by ministers, and once asked if he could attach on amendment to a bill. "You can. . . on my arse," he was told. Surely nobody would be as rude to Eoghan?

And, just to further endear himself to party bosses, Eoghan also said that Dail reform should not be contingent on the abolition of the Seanad, which Taoiseach Enda Kenny is proposing.

Irish Independent

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