Sunday 25 September 2016

Shadow of the axe hangs over TDs

Politicians are fearing the worst, and rightly so, writes Willie O'Dea

Willie O'Dea

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

"You can identify the TDs who have decided not to contest the next election by the Zen-like serenity they exude as they walk around Leinster House"

Some while back I observed that you can identify the TDs who have decided not to contest the next election by the Zen-like serenity they exude as they walk around Leinster House.

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That is not to say that every retiring TD is calm. This quality is reserved for the handful who have made this decision for themselves. The truth is that many have had that 'decision' imposed on them. They would give a limb to run again, but have reluctantly opted for retirement, rather than face the politician's nightmare - losing their seat.

Retirement is an option not available to their more inexperienced government backbench colleagues. The madness and mayhem that will be the next election will not be easy for them.

With each passing opinion poll you could feel the pressure mounting on the Government TDs - even those polls that appeared on the surface to be good for the Government, or at least for one of the Government parties.

I won't bore you with yet another analysis of the numbers, suffice to say that the one thing all the polls are agreed on is that there will be fewer Fine Gael and Labour TDs in the next Dail and more Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Independent ones.

What that tells you, and Government TDs, is that some of them are going to lose their seats, no matter what happens. They know the devil will take the hindmost, and they rightly fear that will be them.

This realisation has struck a number of Government backbench TDs (and a few ministers) in one of two ways.

Some of them have responded by believing even more in the hype and spin and thinking that sticking ever closer to Enda or Joan will save them from the public.

Perhaps they truly do believe the Government hype and imagine that the 'indifferent duo' can rescue them from their fate, but the more experienced constituency watchers reckon that the two leaders will have problems enough in their own constituencies.

Others - mainly Labour - have gone the other direction. They know that linking themselves to Joan and Enda cannot save them; indeed they fear that a visit from either to their constituency during the campaign will invite even more negative attention than they already experience.

Instead, they offer the Bart Simpson "it wasn't me" defence to voters angered by broken promises, rural decline and the two-tier recovery.

Both groups are probably on a hiding to nothing as it is clear that the TDs who feel most vulnerable are the ones who have spent the last few years busying themselves at meetings and committees and studiously avoiding the public almost as carefully as they dodged Vincent Browne's People's Debates.

No amount of plastic posters, glossy leaflets or stage managed 'public meetings' can save them now. The TD who only discovers he has constituents a few weeks before the campaign starts, soon discovers himself no longer a TD when the campaign ends.

Particularly worrying is the extent to which some Government TDs, particularly Fine Gael ones, are in thrall to their leadership and dare not step out of line lest their careers be cut short. It is as if there is a photo of Lucinda Creighton hanging in the Fine Gael Whip's waiting room, bearing the words: You Have Been Warned.

Such is the Kenny demagoguery that it may not be long until speaking out against Enda becomes a punishable offence, a bit like the hapless Thai gentlemen who fell foul of Thailand's strict lèse-majesté laws for posting a sarcastic comment on Facebook about the regime and the King's dog and now faces up to 40 years in prison.

Enda's entourage must be looking on with awe.

Willie O'Dea is Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City and former Minister for Defence

Sunday Independent

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