Know your shelf life, go before your sell-by date and life after the Dáil will be a doddle
'All political careers end in tears' was the famous remark of Enoch Powell at the departure of Margaret Thatcher. It’s not true, if you end yours on your own terms and at a time of your own choosing.
So far, only 12 TDs have announced they’ll not be members of the next Dáil. I sense many more may use this last summer recess of the 31st Dáil to privately contemplate political retirement. They should.
It’s a positive, life-enhancing option if positively embraced. Of course there’s a lot more to life than politics, though it doesn’t seem that way to those anoraks inside Leinster House’s bubble.
The dozen departees so far are Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Gilmore, Ruairi Quinn, Sean Kenny, Jack Wall, Michael Conaghan (all Labour), Joe Higgins (Socialist Party), Seamus Kirk (FF), Michael Colreavy (SF), Frank Feighan, Liam Twomey and Dinny McGinley (all FG).
Many TDs have retirement forced on them through defeat. It’s a bitter end to a long and distinguished career. It’s often motivated for wrong reasons, such as trying to hang on until a son or daughter is ready to maintain the dynasty. Nepotism is an Irish tradition that should disappear. Too often politicos misjudge their use-by date, when the electorate is one step ahead of their own assessment of useful shelf life.
The latest poll, with FG on 24pc and FF on 18pc, indicates that up to 40pc of the current Dáil membership will be replaced, including the cull from constituency contraction from 166 to 158 TDs. These long-serving TDs should hear bells tolling: Joe Costello (Labour/Dublin Central); Bernard Durkan (FG/Kildare North); John Browne (FF/Wexford); Michael Kitt (FF/Galway East); Emmet Stagg (Labour/Kildare North); Brendan Smith (FF/Cavan-Monaghan); Olivia Mitchell (FG/Dublin South); Dan Neville (FG/West Limerick). It’s not ageism, but realism. They may conclude their tenure of national service is nearing an end.
The most fascinating potential retiree is Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, who’ll be 71 next month. First elected to the Dail in 1981, he is undefeated in every contested election since. His chairmanship of the Dail chamber rounds off a long and successful career on the Fine Gael frontbench, including as a minister in the Rainbow Coalition government.
Behind the public facades of front-line ministerial ranks are two unspoken private considerations: Will I hold my seat? And if so, will I retain my ministerial job? Sean Barrett doesn’t have to worry about re-election in Dún Laoghaire as for him it’s automatic.
Intriguingly, the only way for him to NOT receive ministerial pension entitlements is by remaining a backbench ordinary TD. Former office-holders can’t access actuarial pension pots valued at between €2m and €5m if they continue to be members of the Oireachtas.
Many potential recipients have also maximised their TD’s pension entitlement. With 20 years’ service they can’t get any more increments, having attained the maximum ceiling. Extra years’ contributions are without retirement reward.
This entitlement conundrum brings into sharp focus the respective options of four powerful politicians; namely, the members of the Cabinet’s Economic Management Committee – Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin. It may seem unthinkable that any of this Gang of Four could consider an exit – even if they wanted to, they’d have to leave it to the last moment, as any announcement to step down at the next election would mean immediate loss of cabinet position. Their CVs reveal:
Enda Kenny. Born 1951, aged 64, with 40 years’ Dail service.
Joan Burton. Born 1949, aged 66, 23 years a TD with one break of four years.
Michael Noonan. Born 1943, aged 72, with 34 years’ Dail service.
Brendan Howlin. Born 1956, aged 59, with 33 years’ consecutive service as a senator and TD.
Add another five years to their potential retirement age if re-elected and the 32nd Dail goes the full stretch.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan experienced some ill-health and is in the autumn of his career.
Tánaiste Joan Burton faces a dogfight in Dublin West for re-election.
Brendan Howlin should be re-elected in Wexford, but with Labour polling at 8pc it’s no certainty.
A political career is unique because of zero job security. Dismissal by defeat is instantaneous. You’re disconnected from your phone and office with immediate effect. There’s no basis to rock up to an Employment Appeals Tribunal. Such vulnerability is deeply etched on the faces of incumbent TDs seeking re-election.
I met Jack Wall last week, post-retirement announcement. He was an invigorated, happy man, free from the worry of Labour’s woes costing him his seat. Liam Twomey’s decision surprised many in Wexford, but was probably perspicacious.
Having been a TD for 21 years, I always felt and publicly said I’d retire from politics in my 40s. Other youthful deputies, such as Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, tend to also opt out early. Politics is more passionate when it’s temporary and a gateway to other diverse career opportunities.
Contemplating a career change is to be set free from confining boundaries of party team-speak and say what you really think. To completely unshackle yourself from the nonsense of illusory self-importance and pseudo-authority of being a public representative with total informality is life-enhancing. Don’t wait until you’re a washed-up crinkly old prune to do something different.
Any takers at the top?