Why do we tolerate idiocy in our politicians?

Opinion: Please, John Halligan, stop digging. The rest of you: cop-on, and think before you speak

You would think – or hope – that our political leaders, the public representatives who make many of the decisions affecting our lives, would have at least as much cop-on as the average person. But really, what comes out of some of their mouths sometimes makes you wonder if they should have a speech delay function installed in the Dáil, to have a moment to consider before speaking.

What planet do they live on? How did they get this far?

John Halligan’s questions to a female civil servant in a job interview for a senior job – was she a married woman, did she have children, what ages were they? – are like a parody of 1950s attitudes. You could imagine the scene featuring as a sketch in a comedy show.

His defence? He was trying to put her at her ease; he “regrets” asking the questions; he “did not realise that it was unacceptable to ask such a question”. (So why did he preface them with “I shouldn’t be asking you this, but ... ”)


Stop digging, oh, please stop digging.

The questions were obviously contrary to accepted human resources practice. That he’s Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation and Research and Development and should know more than the average person about professionalism in interviews, gives his dinosaur gaffe added idiocy. And clearly the public purse should not be footing the €7,000 bill for it.

But really, has he been under a rock for 30 years?

Apparently he’s a nice man, but what on earth is he doing as a public representative if he doesn’t have basic nous and an understanding of the world around him?

This is the man who's hoping, along with Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, to sort out North Korea (Kim Jong-un, by the way, is believed to be married, and may have two or more children – and therefore he may be quite busy, Mr Halligan – but he has wisely kept information about his family life private, perhaps in case it may affect people's perception of his competency in an interview situation).

The airwaves and commentators have been tossing about whether Minister Halligan should resign. Surely the question is not just whether he should (though they are doing so in droves right now in the UK), but what is someone so clueless doing in the Dáil at all in the first place?

Then last night the dinosaurs were out again. Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, a member of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, is quoted as saying: "Women have a natural tendency to change their minds; how do we deal with this?"

Think about the fact that this is a public representative in our governing party in Dáil Éireann in 2017. Shouldn’t a general awareness of the world we live in be a basic requirement of office?

We shrug and say: You get what you pay for. We laugh and deride. But they’re supposed to be leaders. Or maybe they’re not, I’m not sure, I’ve changed my mind, I can’t decide.

It brings you back, to those halcyon days not so long ago, when Michael Lowry recommended a PR consultant – in writing – as "bright, intelligent, and not bad looking either". Or when Brian Cowen urged Eamon Gilmore to "rein her [Joan Burton] in now and again". Or when Mick Wallace referred to Mary Mitchell O'Connor as "Miss Piggy".

And that's without even considering the outright lechery (from Fianna Fáil's Liam Aylward groping an usher in Leinster House in 1998, to Fine Gael's Tom Barry hauling his party colleague Aine Collins onto his lap in the Dáil chamber in 2013).

Cop on, boys, the world has grown up on you and left you behind.