‘Shunted and rejected’: The TDs who lose their seats

In every general election there are casualties. Three of them tell us about life after politics

ÁINE COLLINS
Former Fine Gael TD, Cork North-West
When Áine Collins lost her Dáil seat in the 2016 general election, she sought distractions. The former Fine Gael TD for Cork North-West kept herself busy with the many tasks that presented themselves in the immediate aftermath of the election. Things like packing up her constituency office and gathering election posters. When all of that was completed, she was faced with a daunting question: what now?

“I was like the 16-year-old going, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life,’ ” she recalls. “But you’re not 16. You’re in your 40s.”

In every general election, there are casualties in the form of sitting TDs who are voted out. In 2016, 48 outgoing TDs lost their seats. While many subsequently moved sideways into the Seanad, others were left to salvage old careers or forge entirely new paths.

So what is it like to make the transition from politics back to civilian life? “You’re almost mourning in some ways,” says Collins. “You’re all consumed with politics, challenges, policies and meeting people. Within six weeks it was completely gone. The phone stopped ringing.”

After the election she embarked on a period of “soul-searching”. An accountant by trade, she had been self-employed prior to being elected and didn’t have a job to immediately fall back on. She considered running for the Seanad but quickly ruled it out.

The former TD took on some consulting gigs to keep busy and did a course with the Institute of Directors. She now works with EFM, a company that provides outsourced financial management services for businesses. “It took the best part of 2½, three years to figure out which way to go,” she says.

When it comes to politics, she says she still misses the “people and the pace”. But following an unsuccessful run in last year’s local elections, she says her days in electoral politics are behind her. “That door is closed and I’m happy that it’s closed,” she says.

CIARA CONWAY
Former Labour TD, Waterford

Facing into the last election, Ciara Conway was all too aware aware that Labour's stock had fallen nationally at the time. Nonetheless the former Waterford TD did her best to keep positive. "If you're involved in politics, you have to be kind of an optimist by nature," she says. "You're always hoping against hope sometimes."

But it wasn’t to be her day. Like many of her party colleagues, she lost her seat. “It was devastating for the whole Labour family that day,” she says. “There were so many people who I would have worked with for over five years who were all essentially after losing their jobs.”

Among them was her husband, who had been employed as a parliamentary assistant by another ousted Labour TD. “It was a double whammy in our house,” she says.

Conway recalls that the transition to normal life was further complicated by the fact that she was three months pregnant at the time.

“It was definitely a distraction for everybody,” she says. “But being really practical about it – and this might be down to the fact that politics by its nature is mostly made up of men – I wasn’t entitled to any maternity benefit.” This, she says, was down to the type of PRSI contributions paid by public office holders.

Although Conway is still a member of the Labour Party, she is no longer active in politics. These days, she works as a market access manager with Baxter Healthcare. It was "a huge career change", she says, but she loves it. "It took us a while to get back on our feet but we're getting there now."

NOEL HARRINGTON
Former Fine Gael TD, Cork South-West

As a TD, Noel Harrington was always conscious of his lack of job security. "You don't know what event is going to completely change and you don't really have a career," he says. "Anyone who believes they have a political career is not really with it."

When Harrington lost his seat in Cork South-West, he was able to resume work as a postmaster in Castletownbere. It meant that he was quickly back out into his local community, something for which he was grateful. Nonetheless, the immediate aftermath was tough.

“Getting out in public in the days immediately afterwards was difficult,” he says. “You have been shunted and rejected by people. You don’t know who you’re meeting, whether they did or didn’t. You’re putting on a very brave face but you know full well that you’ve been rejected and that’s public. When everyone knows it, they try to avoid you for a while.”

There are things Harrington misses about life in Leinster House, chief among them his Dáil colleagues. But life as a postmaster has its upsides, too. Not only does he get to spend more time at home with his family, but he is more present.

“As a TD ... even when you were at home, the phone was on or you were waiting for it to ring,” he says. “You were at home, but you were never there. Being there now is a huge difference and that’s fantastic. It’s a different ball game.”

His words of wisdom for any outgoing TDs?

“There certainly is life after politics.”