Quote of the Year
25 April, 2010
Miriam Lord had a piece on Saturday in the Irish Times which is partly funny, partly tragic, and wholly revealing about the disfunctional nature of our electoral system.
The new clocking-in regime for TDs and Senators has been causing great angst for many in Leinster House, but a new twist in the saga has left critics of the system absolutely seething. On Thursday, they got a letter informing them that request number 403 under the Freedom of Information Act has been granted to an unnamed petitioner. The information sought is to be released on April 30th. The request is for the attendance records of TDs and Senators during the first two weeks of the new system, overall figures relating to the attendance and non-attendance for TDs and Senators in that period and a breakdown of who was, and was not, in attendance.
“This fobbing thing is causing blue murder,” a rural deputy tells us, referring to the small device they must use to register attendance…. “Nobody envisaged this happening, but now that our attendance is computerised it’s going to provide a whole new area for journalists to examine. It’s pure daft – how will anyone get re-elected if they have to spend so much time above in Leinster House? They won’t be able to get away for as much as a dog-fight or a funeral.”
There you have it. In 30-odd words, this anonymous rural deputy has unwittingly told a profound and depressing truth about how TDs get elected. Forget about Leinster House, forget about intelligent debate in the Dáil chamber, forget about valuable legislative and committee work. To get elected you have to be seen at every dog-fight and funeral in your constituency.
You also, incidentally, have to spend almost all your time getting two types of things done for your constituents: (a) things they are entitled to, and for which an appropriate system is in place at great taxpayer expense, but for which they are too lazy or corrupt to wait their turn in the queue; and (b) things they aren’t entitled to, but want you to bend or break the rules to ensure that they get them anyway, usually at the expense of more deserving cases.
Electoral reform can’t come too soon.
I have already noted that Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, at the time of the banking crisis in 2008, leading up to the now notorious Government guarantee, was still devoting a very large amount of time to constituency clinics, and to local dinners and other functions. Could he not have given full priority to the complexities of his brief at that vital and dangerous time? If ever there was a time when one’s own re-election should have been subordinated to the national interest, this was it. We will never know if it would have made a difference, but when the stakes are so high, he should not have taken a chance.