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In the Dail abattoir, the cattle know who is marked for death


Willie O'Dea in TV3's Dáil on the Dole

Willie O'Dea in TV3's Dáil on the Dole

Willie O'Dea in TV3's Dáil on the Dole

On Tuesday, the Dail returns for its last session before the General Election, whether that happens in November this year or at the end of February next year.

Either way, it will be a tense time for many of the TDs. A lot of them will be starting to seriously wonder if they will be still be TDs in a few months' time.

About 15 know for sure that they won't. They are easy to detect. They are the ones who look the most relaxed and calm. They are doing as much work as they ever have, it is just that they do it in a considerably less frantic and less worried manner than their colleagues.

They are the TDs who have decided to call it a day and opted not to seek re-election. They include longstanding and hard-working TDs like Fianna Fail's Seamus Kirk, Labour's Jack Wall and Fine Gael's Dinny McGinley.

In contrast to this calm group, there is an even larger one: those who are now panicking as they slowly begin to realise that their seats are in jeopardy. These are the ones, mainly first-time TDs, mainly on the Government side, who have spent the past four and-a-half years toeing the line, doing as they are told and thinking that things will come good in the final home stretch and secure them another five years in Leinster House.

Now, with just a few months to go and government support down by at least a third, they are faced with the painful reality that no amount of 'thank you' letters from a minister for making irrelevant speeches on the report stage of some obscure piece of legislation or appreciative calls from party HQ can save you from an angry electorate.

They have spent four and-a-half years not rocking the boat, not causing distress to their chief whips and now find that soon all they may have to show for this loyalty is an invitation to the annual former Oireachtas members' shindig.

I recall some years ago watching a veteran Dublin TD leaving his Dail office late one evening to go to a meeting in his constituency.

As he was departing, he spotted a constituency rival on the monitor getting up to speak in the Dail. He watched the screen for a few moments to see what his rival, from another party, was talking about.

When he was satisfied that it was just about something meaningless to his constituents he left saying: "There's X talking his way out of this place again."

He was right. His rival lost his seat at the following election. He did not lose it for being too good at being a legislator, but for being a poor public representative.

All too often the commentariat confuse reading tedious and inconsequential scripts, mostly penned by disinterested researchers based on briefing notes prepared by even more disinterested civil servants, on to the Dail record with being a legislator.

It is not.

We have a highly competitive system, coupled with an electorate who are increasingly volatile and disillusioned.

We demand a great deal from our TDs, but they in turn have upped the ante on themselves by promising more than they can ever possibly deliver.

This current Government came to office not just on the back of a deeply unpopular predecessor, but also on the basis of promising huge political reform. It has delivered nothing, yet it tries to convince the voters to ignore the evidence of their own eyes.

It did the same thing with the Fennelly Commission Report. The Taoiseach's evidence is directly contradicted by a former minister, a commissioner and two secretaries general and yet the Government's spin machine tells us that he is completely vindicated. Indeed, he is so vindicated that he determined that his only full interview will be given minutes after the report is published and before any journalist is allowed the time to read its 300 pages.

This makes for a very difficult situation for TDs who have spent the past five years confusing the pomp and ceremony of public office for real work. And no amount of promises from the top brass that Enda and/or Joan "have a plan" can becalm the soul when the spectre of seeing the words "FG/Lab loss" appearing beside your name at the count hovers into view.

Willie O'Dea is the Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City.

Sunday Independent