Being a TD could add up to being the perfect job


The stumbling block to becoming a Dáil deputy is not age or family connections but maths, writes ANN MARIE HOURIHANE

Can’t stop for long; am rushing out to become a TD. Economic downturn, own industry in freefall, rats leaving sinking ship, time to trot up the gangway. To paraphrase Michelle Shocked, sometimes you have to race over that burning bridge. Because, you know, one person’s burning bridge is another person’s career opportunity. Actually, me and Shane, we’re on board already, leaning back in the old hammocks, wriggling our toes.

Oh it’s the TD’s life for me, as the traditional shanty has it. Short hours, long holidays, two houses, one brain cell – I can do this. That old crowd was too sensitive, resigning wholesale when the waters got rough. Sissies. Me and Shane are made of sterner stuff. You punters can relax: at the weekend Senator Shane Ross announced on The Saturday Night Showthat he is to stand for the Dáil as an Independent candidate. I am ready to do the same. Haven’t been able to get in touch with Fintan.

But I’m here to reassure you that for some time to come there will be a steady supply of journalists who wish to become public representatives. Even though we spend an awful lot of our journalistic years pointing out what a useless shower this country’s politicians are. So you’re not to worry about a thing.

I think journalists’ fondness for public office, which usually strikes the journalists concerned in late middle age – hey, I am so there – comes from our communal conviction that we are running the country already. We shout about the state of the nation quite a lot when we’re on the phone to each other. We laugh knowingly. We curse and swear. We do a little bit of swaggering at our keyboards. Because we know the score. Politicians are idiots. These conversations constitute our political experience, and qualify us to dash out looking for a nomination, a book deal or a chance to address the angry horde and give it the benefit of our opinion.

Perhaps the fact that journalists and politicians are held in such refreshingly low esteem by their fellow citizens also has something to do with it. Gossipy, self-righteous show-offs are in short supply in this increasingly sanctimonious world, but, what the hell, they are my people. I know where I belong.

The thing is, recent neurological research has proved that if you talk about a subject for long enough, you think you know how to do it. This is what happened to George Lee. And some crime correspondents who think that they are cops. And this is also what makes all those soccer teams composed of sports journalists so touching. To be fair, sports journalists are permanently confronted by the physical realities that kept them from becoming athletes in the first place. Back here in the comment section, a windbag is a windbag. Get me a Merc, I’m ready to go.

In this country, perhaps because our Government (okay, modern Fianna Fáil) is so bewitchingly lawless, journalists have turned into some sort of gatekeepers of the political system, polishing up the rules and keeping precedent fresh. None of us can remember where the Opposition parties have been, or indeed if they ever existed. But even in the absence of the Opposition parties, it’s a bit much to see members of the NUJ, usually the political correspondents who have somehow assumed the role of prefect or monitor, lecturing television and radio audiences about whether the Greens should be in power, what with their attitude.

In contrast to this audacity, time spent in the Dáil seems to rob TDs of all confidence in their ability to do anything. Perhaps for this reason politicians are much less bad tempered, rude and cranky than most journalists. Or maybe much less bad tempered than me. Politicians are also more modest. But to hell with them, right? As I’ve remarked before, being in the Dáil is like being backstage at a very bad play. The actors can’t believe they’ve got away with it for so long. At the same time they cannot leave the production in the middle of a run.

Now this particular run has ended, and the incumbents, as we political types like to call them, can’t resign fast enough. To some of us, though, being a Dáil deputy is the perfect job. Hang round all day, smoking fags and talking rubbish, with the occasional court case thrown in when things get slow. It’s like journalism, only with an in-house gym.

For those of us seeking a career change, the only obstacle to our advancement is not our age, or the fact that we have no relatives in the Dáil or even that we’ve no money to run a campaign.

The stumbling block to becoming a TD is the maths. This is not a problem for Shane, obviously, because he is business-type cove. It wasn’t a problem for George Lee who was (is) an economics whizz. But what about the rest of us newcomers to the Dáil, how are we going to manage our expenses? And how are we going to get through the mileage exam?

These are the things that could keep a girl awake at night.