Monday 23 October 2017

Leinster House of Cards: Deceit and politics in Dail Eireann

As Seaon three of 'House of Cards' is uploaded to Netflix today, Joyce Fegan asks Irish politicians if there is any truth in the fiction

The American TV series, House of Cards, is highly dramatic in its portrayal of just how badly power can corrupt.

Hospitals have their electricity supply shut off because a billionaire businessman is trying to leverage his way back to the president's table. A rookie political journalist gets thrown under a train, literally. And a prostitute is kept under house arrest by the vice president's right-hand man, as part of a murder cover-up.

As season three returns to our screens today we ask is truth stranger than fiction? Just how similar is real-life Irish politics to House of Cards?

Most of us tax-paying, Netflix-watching citizens will never ever know what truly goes on along the corridors of power.

Instead we resort to watching a character called Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) weave his way through Washington, where he will stop at absolutely nothing, to seize the throne in the White House.

But this week we asked politicians and Kildare Street insiders, about the Leinster House of Cards.

"Politics brings out the worst and the best in people," said Labour TD Joe Costello - one of the few politicians who would go on the record.

Asked if Leinster House mirrored House of Cards in anyway, he said: "yes and no."

"On the one hand politicians can act childishly and on the other hand politics can create a great sense of comradery. It's like Jeckyll and Hyde," added the former Junior Foreign Affairs Minister.

And does it ever get nasty?

"Of course it (back-stabbing) goes on. It had its heyday in Charlie Haughey's time. I avoid it like the plague," said the Dublin Central TD.

However, Labour TD and Junior Minister in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Sean Sherlock, said his Leinster House observations were not fit to be printed.

Minister Sherlock was asked whether he had seen any colourful power-plays or acts of back-stabbing during his time in Dail Eireann.

"There have been plenty of incidents that I've observed. But nothing that would even be remotely printable," answered the Cork East TD.

Former secondary school principal-turned Fine Gael TD, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, said while there is plenty of strategic manoeuvring on Kildare Street, she hopes that none of her colleagues have ever resorted to the criminal tactics that Frank Underwood employs.

"House of Cards makes great watching but is a fair stretch of the actual political scene, at least in Irish politics anyway.

"I'd like to think that no politician has killed a journalist or colleague in an effort to cover up their wrongdoings. Politicians have made mistakes but not that severe. Of course, there is the whispering in the corridors, the late-night chats and the strategising but that's all part of the political working day.

"You need a hard neck, thick skin and a steely determination to deliver for your constituents. Paul Kehoe, our Chief Whip is a lamb in comparison," said Ms Mitchell O'Connor.

A Leinster House insider, who is not a Dail deputy, but has digested 20 years of political life, says things can be fairly deceitful behind the beautiful Georgian facade of the Irish house of parliament.

"The worst are the ones who are nice to each other - they'd knife each other in the back for a Cornetto in here. It's all about the career ladder. Corporate politics. Your own are the ones you have to be careful of," he said.

"The other problem is that with this austerity there are less positions to give out, Bertie had something like 70 to give out between committees and junior ministries and Enda now only has something like 30," explained the insider.

The game-playing however, is not just reserved for Leinster House, as it is also quite prolific in the Seanad, explained Independent Dublin South TD and former senator Shane Ross.

"There is a good story about the Seanad campaign - the most ruthless election of them all. Battle-hardened councillors, who are the electors, make promises to Seanad candidates seeking their vote. They are reputed to be notoriously prone to pledging their number ones to more than one candidate.

"Some years ago when the ballot papers were opened, every single candidate on one ballot paper had a number one opposite his/her name.

"At the bottom of the ballot paper the enigmatic words were written: 'At least I kept my promise!'," explained Deputy Ross.

With the comfort and cloak of being off-the-record, an anonymous Dail Eireann veteran is unashamed about his own morally duplicitous manoeuvres.

"I've f***ed people over - sometimes you have to teach people a lesson. I wouldn't taken any pleasure in f***ing people over but sometimes you have to do it out of necessity and you have to do it thoroughly and you have to do it well," he admitted.

And finally, in his opinion just how House of Cards is Leinster House?

"Irish politics is not as crooked or as organised as House of Cards. Irish madness around politics is more accidental."

Irish Independent

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