Why you should love your local TD

14th February 2001

YOU lie down with dogs – you get up with fleas. I had as much populist contempt for politicians as anyone until I became a reporter. A couple of years following councillors around City Hall has mellowed me beyond recognition.

I can safely say that some of the finest people I have ever met are local representatives in this city.

You have to be an odd kind of person to want to be a TD or a councillor.

Some form of hassle junkie.

People ring you up at midnight because the water is off. There are meetings every night of the week. There are funerals, constituency clinics, residents’ associations, local campaigners, christmas cards, charity support, showing up at demos, contacting the social welfare office and the housing department and the cleansing depot and the parks section and on, and on, and on.

Then there is the actual business that you are supposed to be doing. Local councillors have to take time off work to make meetings in mid-afternoon in the city centre, and are on more committees than you’ve had hot dinners.

The political work is painfully slow and frustrating. A simple measure can take years to get through endless debates, shifting alliances, party whips and funding shortfalls. When it gets to a decision, you only have one vote in 50.

Then when you have all that work done you have to try and get local papers to report it so that the electorate know you are doing something. And the papers won’t, because most of it is run-of-the-mill stuff that would bore readers to death. So you live off the scraps of publicity that come your way.

Every four years you have to sell yourself: first to the party and then to the electorate, which now judges politicians by the worst of them.

Then you find yourself standing in a pub when someone behind you declares: “sure they’re all crooks anyway”.

Like the old joke about the dog riding the bicycle, it’s not so surprising that there are good politicians but that there are any at all.

Why on earth would anyone bother when all you get is grief?

There is an upside, of course. Getting an elderly person’s door fixed when they haven’t a clue how the system works is one. Getting elected must be a huge buzz. There is some fame (but more infamy). And for a small number there is fortune.

But it’s a very small number.

Which brings us to the subject of TDs’ pay. They currently get £39,000 per year. Ostensibly, this is a lot of money.

I reckon most politicians are working at least an 80 hour week. This works out at £9 per hour gross and then a greater proportion of that is taken in tax than the normal £9 per hour job because the overall wage is higher.

The proposed new salary is £46,500 or £11.15 an hour.

Politicians came under considerable criticism for awarding themselves pay rises. So they handed over the task to an independent committee. This is their recommendation. But politicians get the backlash anyway.

This rise is a once off adjustment. Then TDs’ will be paid on the equivalent civil service scale. It seems reasonable to me.

I believe that there are few politicians in Dáil Éireann that wouldn’t be better off financially in private business. You are talking about people who work tremendously hard, take risks and have great people skills.

Ivan Yates is walking away from politics. I’ll bet the proposed salary rise never crossed his mind. I’ll bet that the continual drain of kudos, the never-ending criticism and the sheer hassle made his mind up. Oh, and better opportunities elsewhere.

I’ve heard it said that the pay rise is necessary to keep good people in politics. It won’t. It’s not enough.

The Public Accounts Committee’s handling of the DIRT enquiry gave politics a boost. Perhaps it gives us a glimpse of how politics might be rehabilitated in the public mind.

The fact is that if the public could see the amount of work that TDs do they would change their mind about them.

They are not a bad lot, really.

As well as that…

Archaic elcetions don’t help

COMMENTATORS wondered over and over again about the relevance of Fine Gael during the leadership heave.

Some wondered about the ability of the potential leaders to communicate with their supporters.

I never read any comments on the completely archaic system of electing a leader in Fine Gael and in the other major parties. Why should the parliamentary party elect the leader of the party? Why not have a ballot of the whole organisation?

I wonder how many people were offered the role of finance spokesman during the election. If ever there was a recipe for “smoke-filled rooms” this was it.

This system was brought in when the logistics of holding large elections were very different. Now-a-days many large unions hold leadership ballots which are conducted efficiently and fairly amongst the whole membership.

Yet politicians never bother to address this issue which they think would lead to a loss of power. It would. It would also lead to a transfer of responsibility for decision making to the wider electorate.

This would be good for politics, because people tend to blame politicians without stopping to acknowledge who put them there.