The politicians' protest: We're not going on a summer holiday


As the Dáil recess approaches, TDs in the age of austerity stress that they are keen to have a clear head rather than a tan at the end of the long break

The Independent TD Mattie McGrath has twice been elected in Tipperary South, but this constituency will be united with its northern neighbour, another three-seater, to form a single five-seat constituency at the next general election. Time away from Leinster House will be used to introduce himself to potential voters.

“I’ll visit parts of north Tipperary I’m not familiar with. It’s a big county. I’ll have to get up there for a night to two to see the lie of the land,” McGrath says. He has a busy summer ahead on the home front, with plenty of family events to keep him in Ireland: the first of his five daughters is getting married on August 3rd and one of his three sons is taking part in an all- Ireland soccer tournament in Galway at the end of the month.

In September, however, he hopes to make a return pilgrimage to Medjugorje, where he went last year. “My wife loves it. It’s very peaceful and tranquil. It’s good to get time for reflection and renew energy, and to get a bit of sun and sustenance to face the new term.”

Like McGrath, the Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews will be seeking divine inspiration when he sets off on holiday with his wife and brother. “We’re not doing a long one this year but we are just going to take a few days in a place I haven’t been for 30 years: Lourdes, believe it or not,” Mathews says. “It’s a time for reflection, composure and looking for miracles for the country – and ourselves,” he says.

Minister of State for Tourism Michael Ring, who is going to Co Clare for a short break, says he has not had a day off since last Christmas, but will soon be putting a message on his phone to say he is not available. “But I’ll be back in the office two weeks later,” he says. “Some of my colleagues are going abroad, and that’s fine. That’s their wish and they’re entitled to do that. Staying here is helpful for the Irish economy, and the hot weather is not for me.”

Former minister Pat Carey, a senior figure in the previous administration who lost his seat in last year’s general election, says politicians should certainly not feel guilty about taking a holiday. He urges the current crop of TDs to learn from his mistakes. “I rarely, if ever, took a decent holiday, just a day here and there, and it’s a big mistake. You need a least a fortnight. If you make a conscious decision to cut yourself off, you’ll be far fresher when you come back.”

Holidays help provide the perspective that politicians sometimes lack, he suggests. “Believe it or not, you’re not exactly missed all the time.”

Location, vacation, staycation: How to maximise the break from the Leinster House grind

* Adapt to the weatherThick-skinned or not, be sure to use suncream if you go to a hot place. A glowing complexion will anger constituents who cannot afford holidays abroad and give opponents a rod to beat you with. After the Easter break, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte could not resist a dig at Mary-Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin. “Such tanned indignation,” was the Minister’s cutting Dáil put-down. Cold weather can also present problems. In January 2010 Noel Dempsey, as minister for the environment, denied “swanning around” in Malta during the snow in Ireland.

* Look busyDempsey could have learned a thing or two from the late former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, who faced his own snow crisis in 1982. He cut short his holiday and returned to Dublin, where photographers awaited him. “The best I could do was to disembark holding my portable typewriter, hoping this would convey the idea that I had been working on public affairs while away,” he wrote in this newspaper in 2010. In fact, the indefatigable elder statesman revealed, he had been “relaxing” by revising a paper on the geographical pattern of the decline in Irish-speaking between 1770 and 1870.

* Dress to impressIt might sound shallow, but consider your summer wardrobe. The Leinster House uniform of dark suit and tie covers a multitude of sins. Photographers love to snap politicians in casual gear or swimwear. Even FitzGerald was caught out when he was papped emerging from the sea in Tenerife, having “noticed a photographer with a long lens taking shots of, I presumed, girls on the beach”.

* Keep it local, but don’t be sanctimoniousMinister for Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar has made it known he will be heading to the Donegal Gaeltacht to brush up his linguistic skills. Let’s hope the bean an tí isn’t too strict. Advocating staycations is all very well, but it is easy to end up with egg on your face, as the Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone found out. Despite launching the StayHome.iewebsite in March, and asking “Why would you want to go anywhere else?”, Noone took a trip to the south of France recently. The former Fianna Fáil chief whip Pat Carey cautions against being “irresponsible and extravagant”, and the pressure on politicians to holiday at home has led to a plethora of announcements about charity cycles and fundraising treks.

* Switch off, but stay in contactHolidays are traditionally a time for losing yourself in books, and politicians’ summer reading lists, usually carefully selected by spin doctors, are a staple of summer coverage. Mattie McGrath is honest about his reading intentions. “Books? I’ve read only the first three or four pages of any book I’ve ever brought,” he says. The importance of keeping in touch with domestic developments was highlighted when the 1979 State papers were released and showed it took almost nine hours to contact Jack Lynch, the taoiseach at the time, who was in Portugal, to tell him about the assassination of Lord Mountbatten. When Noel Dempsey returned from Malta in 2010 he said he could see from media reports that his absence was “becoming a bit of a distraction” from the work being done by frontline staff during the snow crisis. It seemed he was left with the feeling, familiar to many holidaymakers, that he had never been away. “I was actually out of the country only since Tuesday, which is four or five days, but I feel as if I’ve been here all the time, I’ve been so well briefed by my officials.”

Calling time

Some people will never be persuaded that TDs deserve their long holidays, but the recess is actually getting shorter. The Dáil is set to rise next Thursday and resume on September 18th, just over eight weeks later, with committees sitting for an extra week on either side. The Dáil also rose for eight weeks last year, down from 11 in 2010 and nine in 2009.

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