Billy Keane: The unpalatable truth: we need to pay – and treat – politicians better
Published 03/02/2014 | 02:30
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I was sitting next to a politician on the plane. He got himself into a bit of bother some years back when he was involved in what can be broadly described as lack of attention to detail. The conversation was private in that we are friends, hence the vagueness of detail regarding his sins, which might be described as mid-to-low-range.
He was a good man who worked hard all his life. My pal was left go by the people of Ireland. He hadn't been in long enough to pick up a pension and had resigned from his previous job. He gambled all on making it in politics and he lost. The man was humiliated in public. His vote was only very fair.
There was something he said to me that night that stayed in my mind. I cannot remember the exact words but this is close enough. "Billy," he said, "I advised my children to stay out of politics. If you're in you're in, there's no getting out. You're a lifer."
I have come to the conclusion that you'd have to be mad to want to go into politics. There's no escaping eejits. The politician has to talk to him because in a democracy an eejit's vote carries as much weight as a smart person's.
I was told of a politician who was told by a constituent that he was taking too long for lunch. He left most of his food on the plate. People feel they are your employers and you are on 24-hour call. The fact that most of us would not tolerate such working conditions doesn't seem to come into it.
Fair comment is acceptable but goes with the job. It can be personal, brutal, unfair and unrelenting. Many have been broken by the torture. Now let's be clear in this. Our politicians messed up the country, not just for the past seven years but for years to come, but their side of the story must be told.
We resent every penny our politicians earn and begrudge them every day off. They should be in for love of country alone, is our view, but then how would they look after their families? How can we get in the best?
It's a dog's life.
There's always a big headline when the Dail breaks up. Something like 'POLITICIANS ON THREE MONTHS' HOLS' but the fact is the successful ones, who keep winning elections, are lucky to get two weeks off. The other great fiction is that our Taoiseach is paid thousands more than President Barack Obama but the US leader signed a multi-million-dollar book deal the other day.
Then there's the state cars argument. Why don't they drive like the rest of us? Fair enough, but would you want the person in charge of billions of euro to arrive at meetings exhausted and unprepared after hours at the wheel?
There is truth, though, in the argument that we paid big money and got monkeys, but many are doing a very good job and many are genuinely patriotic. The lack of transparency over pensions and perks really bugs me but the unpalatable truth is we must make sure our politicians are well paid in order to attract in high-calibre leaders for the future. We should also ensure our politicians are allowed some sort of private life.
I know a politician who had callers to his house on Christmas Day, looking to see if he could do them a bit of a turn.
The day you go into politics is the day you lose your independence. We own you. So now with the local elections coming up, we have many new candidates entering the fray. I'm sure most are going into politics for all the right reasons. That's the way it starts off anyway. We all know a large percentage will become cynical or greedy or incompetent but the county councillor might become a minister or Taoiseach.
There is no doubt but that the standard of politician must improve both in terms of intellect and selflessness. So many brilliant Irish men and women opt not to go into politics. Upward mobility is as slow as sharing a lift with an elephant and his sumo mahout.
Unless you have a family seat, you will probably need to spend a five-year internship in the county council.
Every other councillor will have the same goal so there could be 10 more years to be spent as a trainee. Patriotism isn't about dying for Ireland anymore, it's about drudging for Ireland.
Even if you make the Dail, you start the apprenticeship all over again, on the backbenches. So many finish up bitter, broken, paranoid and disillusioned. Always thinking of what might have been.
Maybe you might like to run yourself? There is still plenty of time before the closing date for nominations.