Martina Devlin: TDs should concentrate on exposing corruption – not flesh
Published 23/11/2012 | 05:00
SOME of the most self-serving crooks, chancers and hypocrites in Irish politics have turned up to Leinster House in impeccably cut suits, tailored shirts and tasteful ties.
A suit is no guarantee of someone's bona fides. A number of men in Ireland who have wardrobes crammed with suits deserve to be behind bars.
Suit-wearing was standard among those involved in the financial collapse, from lax regulators to bonus-hungry bankers to boom-cheerleader politicians. Often it was an expensive suit and sometimes it verged on the dandy, with a silk handkerchief in the breast pocket and matching waistcoat.
Members of the last government were always besuited. Not a T-shirt or hoodie in sight on public duty. Gym gear was kept for the gym.
But Ireland lost its economic sovereignty on the last government's watch, despite that plethora of smartly-attired men and women on the job. So I'm not too bothered about people in the workplace being suited and booted.
The sight of Independents in the current Dail wearing Dress Down Friday outfits every day of the week doesn't make me fret about the viability of our democracy. The tyranny of the party whip system bothers me more on that score.
That some new TDs opted not to suit up doesn't leave me hot under the collar. Not everyone admires the city slicker look, or the corporate banker look, or the squireen look.
No harm having a crop of deputies up there in Kildare Street with no desire to fit in. The Government benches are so full of people slotting into the system, they're indistinguishable from the previous administration.
But the pendulum swung too far for me this week at the sight of Mick Wallace in a low-cut sweatshirt, chest hair billowing out. Save it for your other half, Mick.
For the record, I wouldn't care to see a female TD in a low-cut top, either. Nor one in a thong deliberately showing above her trousers.
Most of us look better covered up. There's no easy way to break this to Wallace, but he's no exception. Even Tom Jones's famous chest looks better buttoned up these days.
But I can't help suspecting that Wallace's chest rug might be the curly straw that breaks the camel's back. As the Dail wrestles with the issue of a dress code – some of its longer-serving members highly exercised by the new kids on the block – no doubt the Wexford deputy's latest sartorial choice will influence the decision-making.
Personally, I wouldn't impose a jacket code, as seems likely. Instead, I'd recommend a go-easy-on-the-flesh-you-flash code.
Granted, some people are offended by TDs in casual clothes, and believe it shows disrespect to the House and to the public which elected them.
But look at Michael Lowry: discredited by two tribunals, disregarded a Dail motion for him to resign, has brought politics into disrepute, and a nicely turned-out individual at all times.
Remind me again, how do clothes maketh the man?
Three male TDs seem to attract particular attention for being a suit-free zone: Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Richard Boyd Barrett and Mick Wallace. (Incidentally, Independent Stephen Donnelly never wears a tie and he's an excellent TD, I wish he'd stand in my constituency.)
Boyd Barret hasn't done anything inappropriate – he stood on a left-wing agenda and continues to pursue it. He's doing what he was elected to do.
Flanagan also does what it says on the tin, campaigning on local issues. Sometimes he looks like a geography teacher on a field trip, but if his constituents don't mind why should the rest of us? We do have expectations about certain people. When Queen Elizabeth visited last year, we'd have been disappointed if she hadn't packed at least one tiara.
But the TDs who wear jeans in the chamber fought the election in jeans. Voters knew what was on offer. It's not as if they hit the campaign trail in Armani suits, and promptly put them in mothballs as soon as they won their seats.
LET'S compare Dail Land with the real world. Out here, the way we dress doesn't make as much difference as some people might think. Nobody refuses to take Michael O'Leary seriously because he wears open collars and jeans.
O'Leary has made a lucrative career out of challenging monopolies and the status quo, and his fashion sense highlights the unorthodox style he favours. Both in his appearance and the way he operates, he conforms to the disruptive business model theory.
The same applies to the new tech areas – the brains behind Microsoft, Google and Facebook don't do pinstripe, nor do they expect it of their staff. But nobody doubts their ability to innovate and to make money.
Ireland's legislators have bigger fish to fry than to waste time on the jacket on/jacket off issue. They can rock up to Leinster House in Elvis jumpsuits, as far as I'm concerned, so long as they do their jobs.