Stop the presses. It may come as a surprise, but our elected representatives are only human. They mightn’t always show it, but every single one of our politicians – whether liked or loathed – has a soul, a family, feelings, and a reputation.
And politics is a profession that can seriously hurt all these. When Oscar Wilde said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” he was not thinking of an Irish politician.
The first rule of Irish Backbenchers Club is you’re in deep doo-doo if your name is all over the news. Even the Taoiseach is probably happiest when ignored – although Micheál Martin does seem like an exceptionally sociable chap.
No, Irish politics, no matter what level you’re at, is a difficult system to work through. No matter how cynical one may be, we have all seen talented public representatives at work; they are usually in it to try and make the country a better place. Theirs is often a thankless job, and yet they persist.
They persist even as they see their fellow politicians, who may only be in it for the money, the glory (hah!), the prestige, progress on through party ranks to ascend right to the top. That’s not to say, however, that all senior politicians are money-grabbing envelope pushers. It depends on the person.
Some are in it for the power and the salary and some aren’t. I would hazard a guess that 50% are in it because they genuinely want to represent their chosen cohort of the Irish population – whether that’s anti-vaxxers or pro-higher-taxes, every voter’s interests need representing.
Not every politician’s policies are going to appeal to everybody. There are so many politicians I would never vote for because their positions on important issues are completely different from the stances I’d take. For instance, Jack Chambers, Fianna Fáil’s Chief Whip and Minister for Sport and the Gaeltacht. I’m mystified as to why a young man his age would be so vocally anti-choice; he campaigned against the repeal of the 8th amendment and he got quite an amount of hate online for doing so.
Well, he’s in government now and seems to be popular among conservative FF backbenchers – who are arguably a little suspicious of more liberal Micheál Martin, so people like myself who wouldn’t vote for him just have to suck it up. That’s how democracy works.
From other quarters, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill were criticised heavily over their attendance at IRA member Bobby Storey’s funeral. On one level, they shouldn’t have been there because of the pandemic travel restrictions; on the other, they made people feel uncomfortable because they attended a terrorist’s funeral.
Mary Lou McDonald said she would have attended even if she was Taoiseach, which was a rare piece of honesty from a Shinner if you ask me. I see no problem in her attending Storey’s funeral; the two were good friends and it is normal to go to a friend’s funeral. (Whether it is normal to be friends with a terrorist is a question for another day and one which Sinn Féin seems intent on evading… not that most young people care, which is a bit worrying.)
Bobby Storey might have been a criminal to me and those who think as I do, but he was a person and a friend, and his death was sad for his family and friends. They deserve to mourn his loss with dignity.
Speaking of dignity, let us move not so swiftly, but definitely soberly, on to the case of Barry Cowen. Taoiseach Micheál Martin was shocked to discover his newly appointed Minister for Agriculture was banned for drink-driving a few years ago. Cowen, understandably eager to keep his job, was a bit slow to furnish the Taoiseach with the full details so, Martin sacked him.
Political journalists were having a field day on Twitter at Cowen’s expense to the extent that I kind of felt bad for him. I mean, I relate to a man who had a few pints but never bothered to get his proper drivers licence far more than I relate to some of the holier-than-thou Greens who like lecturing us about compost heaps and eating beef.
I mean, feck off!
There are some relatable Greens though, not least, Éamon Ryan, the party leader who is hanging on to that title by a hair. Rather hilariously, Ryan fell asleep during a voting call on a bill proposed by the Soc Dems on increasing the living wage.
A piece of video footage, which was like something written by the writers of The Thick of It, showed Éamon being called by Jack Chambers several times, before he eventually woke with a big sheepish grin on him.
Ryan, like Cowen, was widely condemned by everyone. It seems no voter in this country has ever made a mistake, and poor Éamon must be wrecked what with the new ministerial portfolio and his leadership of the Greens being contested by Catherine Martin – who was wide awake by the way.
The thing is Ryan voted against the motion to increase the living wage, which was ironic because he was asleep on the job himself. Irate tweeters were quick to point out the hypocrisy of him earning €100,000 while the workers he was supposed to be representing might be lucky to earn a quarter of that.
The lesson there for Éamon is if you’re going to have an accidental nap, at least have the decency to vote for a wage increase, man.
The lesson for Jack Chambers is to let sleeping Éamons lie for jaysus’s sake.
In the scheme of things, dodgy friends, bad driving, and sleeping on the job are sins a lot of people are guilty of. Is it right that we hold our politicians to such impossibly high standards? They can’t maintain them as we have learned time and time again. It isn’t doing anybody any good getting outraged every time one of them fucks up so why don’t we give them a break?
Yes, holding our elected representatives to account is important, but why can’t we do that on polling day instead of bitching about it after the fact? Politicians themselves are also the biggest mud-slingers of us all; the lefties hate the centrists and the Shinners hate the Blueshirts and on and on it goes.
Perhaps it’s futile for me to wonder why we can’t all just agree to disagree. It’s just not in our nature. As Dwight Schrute from the US Office said: “That’s politics, baby!”