‘Get a life’: A retiring Fine Gael TD reflects on his younger self and a more toxic political world

Former minister for agriculture Michael Creed from Cork says political debate became more aggressive over his 30 years in Dáil Éireann

Commissioned by The Irish Times

Sitting in his constituency office in his hometown of Macroom, former Fine Gael minister for agriculture Michael Creed looks at a clipping from the pages of the Cork Examiner from the days after he was first elected in 1989.

The clipping is faded now.

In the article, the younger Creed earnestly insists that he would not be Dáil “lobby fodder”, that he would – because of his age – bring new perspectives to the issues of that day, including emigration.

Creed was elected to Dáil Éireann alongside one Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil in Cork South Central. He was just 26 at the time.


“I thought rereading the piece ‘Christ, you sound as if you know it all and you didn’t’. My advice as a 59-year-old man now to my 26-year-old self would be ‘Get a life – go out and enjoy yourself’,” he said.

“But also to get a life because you need a broader experience of life to be an effective public representative.”

Speaking just days after he announced that he would not run again, the Cork North West TD looks back on a career with highs and lows.

In 2011, he was overlooked by Enda Kenny when the latter formed his coalition with Labour – a penalty for backing Richard Bruton in his ill-starred leadership heave less than a year before.

“It was devastating,” concedes Creed, who had been Fine Gael’s agriculture spokesman, “but there was nothing for it but to go the backbenches and suck it up, throwing my toys out of the pram isn’t me.”

He was briefly tempted to quit; but was persuaded not to do so by his late sister, Claire.

Commissioned by The Irish Times

His support for Bruton came at a price. Not only did Creed not get a hoped-for Cabinet post, he also lost out in the race for minister of state posts: “Not even the chair of a committee; it was like I was sent to Siberia,” he said.

Kenny may have viewed Creed’s support for Bruton more harshly than that of others involved because of the relationship that Kenny had with his Creed’s father, Donal, a 24-year Dáil veteran.

“He had great regard for my father and very often asked about him, so whether he saw my backing Richard Bruton as a betrayal, you would have to ask him,” says Creed.

“My relationship with [him] after that was zero, but we had been close.”

A self-described “traditional unreconstructed Blueshirt”, Creed found the 2020 birth of the Coalition with Fianna Fáil difficult. Even the invitation to Micheál Martin to address the Béal na Bláth commemorations last year leaves him uncomfortable.

During his Dáil years, he served alongside some of the big beasts of Irish politics, Charles Haughey and Garret FitzGerald in their later years, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, Alan Dukes, Mary Harney and Dick Spring.

But after lauding Pat Rabbitte and Pat McCartan of the Democratic Left for their oratory, he says the one who “consistently impressed” for clarity and conviction was Fine Gael’s John Bruton.

“I didn’t always agree with him; in fact I more often disagreed with him than agreed with him, but he was certainly brave,” Creed says.

“Sometimes he was brave to the point that you would say: ‘John, do you have to kick every sleeping dog?’

Silent about today’s Government benches, Creed is little impressed by the Opposition: “There’s a lot of noise and my mother had a saying: ‘Empty vessels make most noise.’”

Politics has changed since 1989, with more political parties, while social media has made everyone equal irrespective of the merits of their message. In turn, political debate has coarsened.

“I have had engagements with people on social media of the most offensive nature and I would meet the same people on the street and it was like the offensive communication never happened; it’s kind of like a split personality,” he says.

Creed’s Macroom office was daubed by anti-blood sports campaigners when he was a minister and anti-vax and anti-immigrant groups have picketed his office, which concerns him when his staff are there on their own.

Proud of Fine Gael’s role in governments over the last 12 years, Creed believes it has made the right calls on the post-2008 economic crisis, Brexit, Ukraine, though housing remains unsolved.

His decision to leave politics is not prompted by short-term gripes, but because he had long ago decided that “because I went in early, I would get out early and that meant earlier than my father,” who quit at 65.

Saying it was not an easy decision because he was conscious of carrying his father’s baton, he explains: “I’m still young enough to open another chapter in my life, whether it’s growing spuds in a greenhouse, in the garden or whatever.

“There must be nothing worse than lying on your deathbed and realising that you haven’t lived, or you haven’t lived life to the full extent you might have – it could be anything, but I am going to fill that space somehow.”