Who Would Want To Be A TD?


From top: Opposition benches in Dáil Éireann; Derek Mooney

Who in their right mind would want to become a TD?

The pay is good, the perks are decent and the scope for promotion (career and ‘self’) is none too bad either, but can these incentives really outweigh the forfeiture of a private life, never mind the ongoing press, public and social media opprobrium whenever you express an opinion?

Shouldn’t politics be a vocation, not a career path?

The problem with that view is not just that it is naïve, it is that it simply won’t work. Try it and we end up with a Dáil full of only those who can only afford to be there by virtue of their profession, their families’ money or simple “pull” – by the way not all of them would be on the right, a fair few would also come from the comfortable left, but that’s just an aside.

So, recognising that we are in the real world, perhaps we should be looking more at how to make entry into politics less unattractive and encourage more people who would not just see it as a long-term career option, but rather as something to contribute to after they have done and achieved other things.

Billy Connolly used to say that “The desire to be a politician should be enough to ban you from ever becoming one”. He is right, but only in one narrow sense. Wanting power for the sake of having it should be disqualification, but wanting it so you can change things, whether that be how many street lights there are in your community cycle, how waste is managed or how the cost of housing is reduced – that should be encouraged.

One of the problems is that many of political parties still include obstacles and tests that deter all but the most ambitious and politically astute. There is value in these skills, but national politics needs others too: people with wider skill sets and experiences.

Politics is not well served when it full of neophytes who have spent plenty of time as parliamentary researchers and ministerial assistants but have no genuine experience of the real world.

This applies to both left and right. Politics needs more people who have built things from houses to computers to companies and fewer people who have made placards and organised protest marches.

This is one of the reasons we have political parties. The most crucial role of any party, after policy development, is candidate selection. Political parties are there to identify, encourage, resource and support new entrants – people who may not in other circumstances have considered or pursued politics. They are there to protect them and back when they come under attack and support their work by making policy expertise available.

It can and does work. After the 2011 election massacre, Fianna Fáil was left with a lot of vacancies for prospective TDs as it had a lot of constituencies with no sitting TDs and no seat blockers.

This was a major plus, it had the capacity to rebuild and renew with a massive intake of new talent. But it also had a big problem. On the negative side, it had a poll rating that would not encourage many to see it as offering a pathway to the Dáil.

Squaring this circle was no easy task. It had both to identify potential future TDs and to reassure them that it was a sufficiently viable vehicle to help them make it to the Dáil and contribute positively.

Much of that work happened locally. In many cases the local organisations and activists were ahead of their national counterparts. By the time of the 2014 local elections the party, nationally and locally was starting to synchronise both tasks: it had sufficiently recovered in the national polls to offer a credible vehicle and also had a slate of people with a variety of backgrounds to fast track into the Dáil.

Looking back, it now looks far more organised and structured that it probably was at the time. Building a mythology around what was done and how it was achieved risks missing the real and valuable lessons of what really happened. It also risks allowing a re-emergence of all the obstacles and hurdles of the past.

Though much of Fianna Fáil managed over the past five years was much by local action as by national design, it still offers a template for how other parties can and should encourage more new entrants.

But there is one big proviso, they must also realise that the work does not end when you bring in a few new TDs. If anything, that is when it really starts. TDs are not shrinking violets, but neither can they be allowed become punching bags for any group, whether in or outside the Dáil, who want to take politics out on to the street and then abrogate all responsibility for the consequences.

Every TD has an equal right to be heard inside and outside the Dáil. Being a Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour or Sinn Féin back bencher does not lessen or reduce their mandate and should not reduce their speaking rights. Political parties are not an impediment to political progress, they are the bedrock of it.

Everyone has a right to disagree and to do so robustly and loudly, but the “What the Parliament does, the street can undo” mantra of Solidarity-PBP cannot be allowed to stand. It is a pernicious attempt to discourage wider political engagement and involvement in the guise of opening it up to those approved by Solidarity-PBP.

It is joked that France has the only “tricameral system” in the world – the National Assembly, the Senate and the Street – but history and experience shows that the Street has always been the biggest hindrance to reforms.

It is yet another reason why political parties now must ensure that many people who should be considering entering politics are given the opportunities, supports and protections to do so.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

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29 thoughts on “Who Would Want To Be A TD?

  1. Brendan

    Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
    Derek Mooney, 2004 – 2010.

  2. Cian

    unfortunately what we get are schoolteachers and existing politician’s immediate family.

  3. Anomanomanom

    €90k+ a year and a chance to actually try do something decent for people… count me in.

    1. :-Joe

      I read it…

      I just can’t be bothered to engage with this PR clown and possibly add oxygen to his toxic flames of anti-social rhetoric.

      If you ignore him he is more likely to go away…..


  4. Yep

    Last 3 paragraphs are drivel.

    “..the Street has always been the biggest hindrance to reforms..”.

    History would show it has been the Street that has driven some of the biggest reforms in the world.

    Experience would show in the last few years people marching in this country has brought about huge change in government policy whether or not you agree with the change.

    1. nellyb

      – I must show this article to my french visitors :-) Derek just wiped them out of history :-)

  5. Sheik Yahbouti

    Would this be yet another cry from ‘the Establishment’ to stifle free speech amongst the plebs and the great unwashed, and limited grass roots activism? It looks very much like it.

  6. gringo

    So what Derek? Failure Fail lost a few muppets who saw the writing on the wall and decided to grab their millionaire pensions,and then selected a pack of shiny new muppets who will prove to be just as incompetent.Anyway, nobody gets selected unless they suit the leadership,who in turn do as they are told by their big business bosses.

    1. :-Joe

      Yup, exactly.

      I used to use “the bad-cop half of the fine to fail coalition of the business party” to describe FF, but Failure Fail has a nice ring to it… N1, Cheers..


      1. :-Joe

        If Derek Mooney was a member of a 1990’s politically motivated Rap Group his name would be “______
        _______ ” !

        First correct answer wins nothing, because you get nothing for nothing in the PR game..


  7. Johnny Keenan

    I wrote this last Sunday week when I saw FF all over FB and they were actually engaging with posts. To be fair though mists of the posts were calling them scum and such.
    I decided I’d take a more direct and sincere approach. Still waiting for a response. Maybe I should have called them scum. At least I would have got a reaction.

    I see FF ‘The Soldiers of Destiny’ are recruiting.
    They are doing a lot of interaction with the citizens through their FB page. So I decided to put a few points to them.

    My post to ‘The Soldiers Of Destiny’
    Here ya go folks. Can you respond individually on all the points raised in this article. I want to know where Fianna Fáil stand on issues of the day. All I see is FF abstaining in the Dail on every serious issue. I’m very familiar with FF past. I am more interested in the present in order to build a future. Btw I am immune to jargon and BUllshite. Please explain it to me in simple terms. The issues laid down are moral dilemmas that face this country. I want to know where FF’s moral compass is pointing. In advance I expect a detailed straight and honest answer. That means not sitting on the fence like what ye’ve being doing for the last year.

    I’m looking forward to hearing back.

    All the points are made by journalist Jennifer O’Connell in this piece in The Irish Times

    Here is the FF spiel on their FB page
    Would you like to play your part in shaping Ireland’s future?
    By joining Fianna Fáil you will join a 20,000 strong grassroots led, campaigning organisation.
    Join today and help shape an Ireland for all.

    I just have one word for Derek Money

  8. Spaghetti Hoop

    Agree with the first half of this article; I know a lot of folk that worked tirelessly in local politics without ambition or nepotism; in Dublin, in small suburban enclaves, no different to the small communities of rural Ireland, because they were filled with rural communities. The second half of the article tries to excuse party politics per se and is absolute nonsense. A young country with abused power should still be liable to answer to corruption charges by the EU or UN in my view where there not so many other post-colonial messes to address.

  9. Nehi

    I don’t trust anyone who uses the term ‘skill set’. I do not wish to preach to others but all the same… I counsel everyone to be wary of people who say ‘skill set’

  10. MoyestWithExcitement

    “What the Parliament does, the street can undo” mantra of Solidarity-PBP cannot be allowed to stand.”

    ‘The people must not have power. They must bow to parliament’. Why is this kind of authoritarian nonsense given a platform here?

      1. Rowsdower

        Dont you need to have authority to be authoritarian?

        Also, whats wrong with the FA?

        1. Clampers Outside

          Yeah, you can enforce it through violence and intimidation like antifa do. Antifa was about fightng fascism, now it is itself fascist in its actions, of violence and intimidation and shutting down people they don’t agree with from speaking… as authoritarians do, again, through violence and intimidation.

          Yes. You need power, but it doesn’t have to be official power to act like an authoritarian.

          Scumbags, no better than a mob.

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