Saturday 19 October 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Man overboard, but the captain smiles on'

A minister jumps ship, while crises abound, another sign of a Dail that simply isn't up to the job, writes Gene Kerrigan

Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

There are people in this country who would kill for Jim Daly's job. And on Friday he announced he's walking away from it, voluntarily.

Daly has been a TD in Cork South-West since 2011, and a junior minister for two years and three months.

And he's decided he's had enough of it.

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The job takes over your whole life, you have no time for your family - and Daly has five young children.

Some may feel sorry for him. And conclude that TDs work too hard for us.

They don't.

Some of those obsessive people who hunger to be a TD may feel he's a loser who couldn't handle the tough life.

He's not.

Some will wonder if the routine internal machinations within Fine Gael have claimed another victim.

Probably not.

There's no reason not to accept Daly's explanation that his decision is a personal one. Certainly, his schedule is more demanding than most jobs.

"I left Clonakilty at 7am on Monday morning," he told Sean O'Rourke on RTE, "and I won't get back to Clonakilty, where I live, until 7pm on Saturday evening."

A long, long shift, you have to admit.

Daly's decision is personal - but it's also a result of the dysfunctional democracy that can't house its people.

His dilemma is part of the reason we have a broken political system that can't build a children's hospital without being plundered by Ireland's professional classes.

The long, long shift is just part of the problem. Daly says some weeks he's away from home for five days, other weeks three days. Lots of people have jobs with similar pressures.

What puts impossible demands on TDs is the other stuff - the unnecessary, stupid, damaging nonsense that has infested the Dail with grinning handshakers and infantile blabbermouths.

When Daly finishes his shift in Dublin - and this applies to too many TDs in all counties - there is the weekend to be endured.

Daly explained on RTE that he could handle the long shift. "I don't mind doing the work... being away from home for four or five days - I can live with that. But... I've no clinics done this week, for example - so I will have several phone calls to return, I will have to attend a number of events, there'll probably be a funeral or two. You know, there'll be a lot of demands on me the day and a half, the two days, that I get home - as well as to do local constituency work."

Is he kidding us?

Unfortunately, no.

These words define modern Irish politics: "I will have to attend a number of events, there'll probably be a funeral or two."

This is a minister of state, responsible for dealing with mental health and old people. And in order to protect his job he reckons he has to be a part-time professional mourner.

The "events" he attends won't be earth-shattering developments that need the presence of a member of the national parliament. They will be sports matters, prize-giving or a constituent attempting to get into the Guinness Book of Records by stuffing currants up his nose. The "events" will, in short, seldom be anything that should demand the presence of a politician.

The most bizarre example of this nonsense is the "tradition" of TDs attending funerals in their constituency.

The reasoning is that if the TDs don't turn up to these funerals their opponents will, as will local councillors and others who have ambitions to displace the TD. And their absence will be remembered at the next election.

This is offensive on a lot of levels.

Above all, it's not about showing respect to the dead, it's about hustling the bereaved in the hope they'll give you at least a second preference.

Self-respecting mourners would take serious offence at having politicians come to their loved one's funeral to canvass votes - which is effectively what these TDs are doing.

Confront them, ask them politely to leave.

TDs have "clinics", where they take note of problems their constituents have, usually with accessing state services. Some of these problems might be the business of a politician, the vast majority are not.

It's hard not to conclude that state services are deliberately kept on a knife edge, to give politicians an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with voters, by writing letters and exercising "pull" on things to which the voters are already entitled.

Most of this "work" is just a form of electioneering. Once elected, the TD spends the next four or five years working to be re-elected.

There's little evidence of genuine political thought in Dail Eireann. Where's the time for reading, for debate, for thinking? It's all about ingratiating yourself and scoring points against the other shower, and bringing goodies to the constituency.

The result is a Dail chamber in which the majority have little political ability - and, frankly, we're talking low-grade thinking.

We're talking about a handful of impressive individuals - recognised as such by voters - and a whole lot of grinning handshakers and infantile blabbermouths.

Which is why the Constitutional Convention, and then the Citizens' Assembly, was necessary. The Dail couldn't handle the repeal of the 8th Amendment without the Citizens' Assembly doing the heavy lifting.

The Dail simply doesn't have enough people capable of a reasoned debate that explores complex issues.

The time-wasting "demands" on TDs - and ministers in particular - are onerous for them. They are ruinous to any notion of a functioning democracy.

Ideally, TDs have policies to explain, change to argue for, legislation to win support for.

Instead, what matters is a mournful face at a funeral.

They go to the Dail and spend several days answering letters and making phone calls to constituents. At best they'll hear some of a debate over a loudspeaker. It's mostly "constituency matters", "events" and remembering people's names - that last is really important.

One of the joys of the Brexit calamity in the UK is seeing a parliament struggle to assert sovereignty over a crackpot Cabinet.

Here, the Varadkar government is dominated by posers and empty suits. On housing, for instance, it can do nothing but persist with ideological policies that have repeatedly been shown not to work.

Ministers daren't think, Big Leo smiles happily through successive disasters, while the grinners and blabbermouths don't appear to believe that the housing crisis is any of their business.

The simple job of monitoring spending on major projects, basic to any notion of government, is beyond them.

It's parliament's job to hold such a poorly performing Government to account. Instead, the grinners and blabbermouths vote as they're told, write letters, shake hands and the circus toddles on, from one screw-up to the next.

There have always been elements of this. When those awful places were doing awful things to kids, how many TDs gave a moment's thought to what was going on?

These days, we have big bucks, big debts, big issues at stake - but the quality of those governing us is poor.

Most TDs don't recognise the Government has failed abjectly - their definition of failure is not getting re-elected.

There are ways it could be reformed, but there's no evidence that these people even recognise there's a problem.

Anyway, they're too busy attending the funeral of yer man, what's-his-name - ah, you know him, his brother always voted for me...

Seriously, Jim, you're better off out of it.

Sunday Independent

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