Jim Daly: Retirement propelled by distance and family demands
Politicians must juggle time spent in constituency with requirement to attend the Dáil
Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly: “I am from west Cork and have five children, aged between six and 16. It just was becoming very difficult for me to spend any time with my family.” Photograph: Julien Behal
Irish politicians evoke as much sympathy from the public as tax dodgers if they dare complain about their conditions.
They get very well-compensated and get a generous summer break.
But then, the job is no cushy number. They are always one election away from a P45. And politics for the past decade has been very volatile and thankless. For TDs that means being on call seven days a week. For rural deputies, it is worse. Constituents expect to them be ever-present. For those TDs who live hundreds of kilometres from Dublin and have young children, the work-life balance is deeply skewed.
For those reasons, the decision by Cork South West TD and Minister of State, Jim Daly, to retire from politics at the next general election does not come as a huge shock.
“I am from west Cork and have five children, aged between six and 16,” he told The Irish Times. “It just was becoming very difficult for me to spend any time with my family.”
He said he loved the challenge of politics but it had become increasingly difficult for him in more recent times. And hence the most difficult decision he has made in his life. “It has torn me apart. I have been wrestling with the decision for months,” he said. “In the end it was a personal decision, I just need to spend more time with my family.
“I have the height of admiration for my colleagues Joe McHugh, Michael Creed and Simon Coveney. Like me they have young families and are in constituencies a long way from Dublin. I have done that and I have just decided it is not for me any more.”
Daly has been a TD since 2011 and was appointed a Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he took office in June 2017.
As Minister for State, Daly was given one of the more difficult assignments. He has had a mixed record in mental health where he found it difficult to make inroads into the long waiting lists for child and adult mental health services.
Daly (47) said on Friday his proudest achievement was succeeding in establishing a fully online service for mental health services and for shifting State policies on elderly people away from nursing homes to more independent small retirement villages.
He said he would spend five days in Dublin, and then travel five hours to west Cork, to begin a weekend of work taking calls from constituents, attending funerals and other events, and doing paperwork.
Asked about his plans, he said he none. He would not return to teaching but said he would think over it in the months between now and the general election. He is expected to stay on as Minister until the end of this Dáil term.
He’s not the first to make that decision of late. The Waterford TD John Deasy announced last month he was stepping down at the age of 52, after 17 years in the Dáil.
Mr Daly said politics has become a difficult occupation. At the time Mr Deasy said, “I won’t miss it now. It has become a very strange animal. It has become chronically uncertain for people who have become elected.
“If somebody has a stable job with a young family I would not recommend it. The instability will continue after the next election as politics continues to fracture and people’s lives will be put on hold for years.”
Louise O’Reilly of Sinn Féin said it was very hard for TDs with small children.
“The further you are from Dublin, the harder it is. It is a 24/7 job and in many ways it should be, there are responsibilities. But there is no such thing as protected time,” she said.
The Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said there clearly was massive stress for anyone with a family, particularly women due to the hours of Dáil sittings but also other commitments like community meetings.
“It’s about a million times harder for someone in a small left party than for the establishment parties as we don’t have the luxury of specialising in one brief,” she said.
Kate O’Connell agrees that it is challenging for TDs with a young family. However, she adds there are positives to it.
“There is a huge value in the intensity of the sitting day in the Dáil. I can work from home a lot on other days and can spend time with my family a bit more.”
“For TDs not from Dublin, you can be very remote from your children, and it’s particularly hard if they are sick. The positives outweigh the negatives though. It is a well-paid job and that has to be remembered.”