| 15.2°C Dublin

How the Opposition allsorts will get their say, but it won't be in the Dáil

Wouldn't you be sorry for the Opposition, all the same? A tiny number of Fianna Fail, a slightly smaller number of Sinn Fein and a bunch of Mixed Allsorts, facing the serried ranks of a Government the size of Asia.

Sure, the lads on the Opposition benches will never get word in edgeways.

Perhaps we should hold the sympathy for a moment. Yes, the Opposition is small. Yes, that won't get them much speaking time inside Leinster House. But it doesn't matter.

Politicians don't get famous as a result of speaking time in the Dail. They get famous because of what they say outside the Dail. They become household names because of appearances on radio and television. Nobody seems to have realised it, but the small number on the Opposition benches gives each of them a major chance at media stardom.

Every major RTE current affairs programme, for example, is bound by rules about balance and fairness. The producers of Prime Time simply can't invite Minister Noonan into the studio on his own, even if he's a great performer and can withstand the most robust questioning.

They might like to have him on his own, particularly at the moment, when he's just back from meeting the European holders of Ireland's purse-strings. But they must achieve balance. So, except in straight news programmes, Opposition people have to be invited on, alongside Government Ministers and Ministers of State.

So every time Sean O'Rourke's weekend TV programme, for example, invites a Leo Varadkar or Frances Fitzgerald to appear, they will have to put on at least one Opposition spokesperson to even things up.

In the past, when Governments were smaller and Oppositions bigger, Opposition spokespeople got limited opportunities on that kind of show. Some Opposition backbenchers never got there at all.

However, now that there's so few of them, the more lucid (think Shane Ross), entertaining (think Luke 'Ming' Flanagan), determined (think Mary Lou MacDonald) or picturesque (think Mick Wallace) will get so many opportunities to appear on popular current affairs programmes, we'll be sick of them.

The debates in which they take part will also be all over the place, depending on which person from the Opposition benches gets on to each programme.

Where some of us play Fantasy Football, Sinn Fein TDs will be able to play Fantasy Economics. It will have nothing to do with economic realities but will allow them to sound impassioned and caring.

When the Mixed Allsorts get rolling, Richard Boyd Barrett will do his earnest hippy-dippy socialism, Ming Flanagan will go on about legalising hash, and Joe Higgins will arrive with a few witticisms he cooked up earlier.

All of them, except Fianna Fail, will be polishing up their personal brand and improving their chances of re-election, by talking early and often on every radio and TV programme which invites them on.

Fianna Fail are the exception. They will get nearly the same media opportunities as the Mixed Allsorts, but they'll be much more careful about what invitations they take up.

It's not easy to shine on a TV programme, up against a Government Minister, if the Government is taking roughly the same line of action that Fianna Fail would have taken if the ground hadn't been swept from under them.

But, before Fianna Fail complain, let it be clearly understood that they'll have it easy, compared to Government backbenchers.

The FG and Labour footsoldiers are going to have an awful time in this Dail. For every 10 media opportunities one of the Mixed Allsorts gets, a Government backbencher might get one.

It's fair to predict, as a result, that some Opposition deputies will become household names within weeks, whereas Government backbenchers will, for the most part, be anonymous.

What a turn up for the books...