Tuesday 25 June 2019

Let a new vision bring an end to old-style 'career' politics

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Barbara Scully

'I am a gay man" wasn't the only interesting thing that Leo Varadkar said to Miriam O'Callaghan.

He also shocked many of us with the revelation that he was only 36. He then went on to say that although he intends to stand at the next general election, he does not see himself in politics when he is 51. He wants to do other things. I wish we could hear this more often from our politicians.

The last few years have taught us much but one of the things we are still grappling with is the fact that we seem to have a broken system of politics. Old Civil War divisions seem increasingly ridiculous but it looks very much like we are completely stuck as to where we go from here. We have a plethora of independent politicians but we know that without unity, chances are that these independents will have only limited power.

While Lucinda and Shane et al shadow box about setting up new parties, there is one change that I would like to see us make in what is possibly and hopefully the pre-dawn of a new era in Irish political life. I would like to see the end of the 'career politician'.

Politics should attract only those with vision, those who want to make a difference, men and women who want to contribute to the life of this country. It should not be seen as a great career choice with a healthy salary and great pension, especially for a retired minister.

Two terms should be the maximum you are allowed serve in Dáil éireann and then off you go back to civvy street where you have to make your own way through the brutal cuts and cold winds of recession.

Limiting the number of terms one could serve as a TD would do a number of things.

It would lessen the obvious disconnect between the Government and the electorate. I have no doubt that many of our politicians are so out of touch with the reality of people's lives that they no longer have any real idea as to how cuts to social welfare and increases in tax can impact on families in the real world.

Perhaps this explains how they can agree to things like the removal of discretionary medical cards from very sick children and why they then seem to be somewhat surprised when there is public uproar.

Becoming an elected representative should be seen only as an opportunity to make positive changes to this country and her people. Knowing you only have a limited time to achieve something tangible while in office (or opposition) would focus minds much more clearly on the job in hand and therefore make for a more effective Government. A decade should be plenty of time for political achievement.

Putting an end to the career politician would also see the end of the despicable practice of TDs holding onto their teaching jobs in the real world for decades, blocking permanent postings and then collecting pensions on the double or even treble.

Term limits for TDs would in turn restrict the opportunities for cronyism that has become so embedded in the political system. It would also spell the end of political dynasties where a Dáil seat is handed down through families, albeit with the support of the local electorate. According to Liz O'Donnell, writing in this newspaper last Saturday, the majority of female TDs who are opposed to the forthcoming gender quotas have obtained their seat via the dynastic route. So not only would a shorter shelf life for elected representatives make it a more attractive option for women, it would get rid of those who prefer to gain their seat via nepotism.

I have only been inside Dáil éireann twice but it has the rarefied atmosphere of a gentleman's club.

It's an odd place and seems to be a breeding ground for a sense of entitlement in those who are elected to sit on the benches of the Dáil Chamber. Charlie Haughey clearly led the field in this particular aspect of Irish political life, with his gentrified lifestyle but he wasn't alone. One 'Pee' Flynn also chose to enlighten the nation as to just how difficult it was to run various households as he worked away on our behalf. And currently we have a deputy seemingly in a bit of trouble over who should foot the bill for her phone calls to Africa.

I am as sick and tired of austerity and this Government as anyone but I have a sneaking regard for Leo Varadkar which has nothing to do with his sexual orientation but everything to do with his clear manner of communicating and his honesty.

He has always come across as a man on a mission and a man in a hurry. We now know that is because he has an exit strategy, something that I believe should be compulsory for all TDs.

Irish Independent

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