'I wouldn't want to be a politician. Awful job. Dreadful hours. Constant abuse. A dog's life'
In the last part of our series in which ‘Irish Times’writers consider their alternative careers, MIRIAM LORDthanks her lucky stars she has only to write about the Oireachtas members
I WAS ONCE a cub in the Carmelites. Fully cloistered. Endless weeding. Vow of silence. (Note to subeditor: might I suggest you leave the rest of this space blank? This would convey perfectly the contemplative life. I’m off now to buy a beehive. That’s the nuns for you.)
No? So one day you wake up and you’ve been working in a job for a long time and you decide it might be the moment to consider a change. There’s a lot to consider. Like indolence, indifference, insufficient funds.
Perhaps a tilt at that career you always really wanted? Obviously, this supposes you actually always wanted to work for a living, an idea that a lot of (working) people might deem rather presumptuous.
For bragging purposes, of course, it would be nice to have been an astronaut (part-time). But nicer still to be constructively idle and filthy rich (full-time) with some random philanthropy thrown in to cover those unpatriotic tax-avoidance issues.
You’ll get nowhere these days if you’re a one-job wonder and haven’t properly lived. An exception might be our politicians, many of whom begin plotting their path to Kildare Street from playschool.
Take Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes, once memorably described by one commentator as “prematurely waistcoated”. He was barely out of short trousers when he began to comment on matters of national interest.
Look at our politicians. I do. A lot. Who would want to be one? Particularly when you get people who haven’t properly lived taking potshots at you.
In another life, if I were a politician, I wouldn’t want my children to grow up and become colour writers. If I were a politician, I wouldn’t want my children to grow up and become politicians.
Then again, if I were a politician I wouldn’t want to be a politician. Awful job. Dreadful hours. Constant abuse. It’s a dog’s life (although my mongrel lives like a prince – fed, watered, chauffeured everywhere, never has to put a paw in his pocket – which, I suppose, firmly places him in the ministerial bracket).
Happily, as in many things, I am supremely unqualified to be a member of the Oireachtas. First off, I can’t do my expenses properly. This automatically renders me unsuitable for a position in either chamber of Leinster House. Second, I do not possess a holiday home for relocation purposes in the event of a pressing need to claim enhanced mileage.
As a young journalist covering election counts at the RDS I developed, early on, a deep-seated fear of being hoisted into the air by red-faced and slightly tipsy men. One can only imagine what thoughts run through the fevered mind of the newly elected female deputy when she is suddenly shouldered aloft by puffing loyalists, and has to try to maintain smiling modesty while listing dangerously to one side, legs heading for the ceiling.
This is a ritual beloved of party workers when their candidate takes a Dáil seat. The successful few frequently describe this ordeal as one of the best moments of their life.
I wouldn’t be able to cope. And how would I manage with the electronic voting? As recent incidents have shown, some of our most experienced politicians have difficulty negotiating the technological minefield that is the red and green buttons.
Then there are the bells. Those infernal bells. A bell to vote, a bell to start, a bell for a quorum, a bell for the order of business, one for the Ceann Comhairle to hammer, one to summon committees. The Seanad bell sounds like a celestial harp. Any sane person would be driven mad.
And what would I be doing with myself for the three-month holiday, only telling people that I barely have time to bless myself with the workload? The imaginary holiday would then be followed by a party “think-in”. What? I’d be expected to think as well? That’s not supposed to happen to a backbencher.
Clinics on a Saturday. Most of them held in pubs. The Racing Channel on all the time in the Oireachtas members’ bar. You can’t avoid the members’ bar – the one place in Leinster House where you can take refuge from the great unwashed. The upshot of this is that when the great unwashed (damn their ingratitude) decide it’s time to throw you out of your job, you leave the pampered confines of Leinster House both a gambler and a raving alcoholic.
On the other hand, you may then find yourself unexpectedly winning large amounts of money on the horses. This will help supplement your income in the lean times. If you are particularly lucky, and universally loved, people you hardly know will force large sums of money on you and look for nothing in return. This would necessitate the purchase of at least one safe, and possibly two. But I doubt that would happen to me.
Who would want to be a politician now that the Standards in Public Office Commission is keeping such a close eye on things?
Funerals. They don’t pose such a problem for the urban politician. But it’s a brave rural deputy who would decide to cut out the obligatory round of funerals and removals from her constituency routine.
The politician must smile when a distraught constituent rings up demanding emergency passports for a trip to Tenerife, booked months ago and departing the following day. They tearfully tell you their father has died, “and it is going to take, ahem, the full two weeks to repatriate the body”. Wouldn’t you want to tell that person to take a running jump? But you can’t if you are a politician. You can’t pretend not to like people, either, unless you are in the company of like-minded people in the cocoon of the members’ bar. There you can whinge to your heart’s content. But, as we have previously pointed out, availing of that small comfort will most likely turn you into a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic.
And you have to clock in now to work at Leinster House. Deputies and senators must swipe a little fob to register their presence. Only once a day, mind, and if you forget you can retrospectively record your attendance. It’s not a huge inconvenience, but that isn’t the problem. It’s the principle of the thing. Some parliamentarians have been known to complain: “Do they think we are factory workers?” We can’t be having that.
The foreign trips would be a terrible chore. And don’t get me started on the media.
No. In another life I wouldn’t like to be a politician. But, for the purpose of this article, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I do have another life. It’s just that I can’t say anything about it, as it involves crime-fighting, superpowers and a mask.
My parallel existence keeps me going during the day, when I am a mild-mannered journalist for The Irish Times. Boring, but there you are. At least nobody will ever suspect I have another life, which leaves me free to carry on the never-ending crusade against the forces of evil in this dirty old town.
I was never a nun.
Series concluded. Next week: you tell us about your other lives
Everybody has an alternative career they could have pursued but didn’t, or a life they feel lucky they escaped from. E-mail a short account
of yours to summerliving@ irishtimes.com (no more than 200 words and with ‘My Other Life’ in the subject field) and you could see it published in The Irish Times.