The weeks can begin to blur into one but, every now and then, certain things stand out.
In the Dáil, you can have a significant piece of legislation in front of the house or you can be struck with a contribution from one of your colleagues that either finds the spot or is revealing in its insight.
However, it is the much disparaged constituency clinics and phone calls from individuals that really can halt you in your tracks. The so-called clientelist nature of Irish politics regularly comes in for criticism. Sometimes, as with many other things, it can be taken to extremes or given too much attention verses a TD’s legislative duties. But it often provides a vital link between the policy makers in Dublin and the population. Through such contacts with the everyday (and sometimes not everyday) struggles of individual lives you can observe how policies actually work out and their impact on individuals.
The recent doubts cast on the future of the mobility allowance for persons with disability has been the cause of a lot of distress, coming on top of all the other cuts to disability services and payments. Even in their distress at the latest Government action, the individuals concerned preserve their dignity and their determination to live their lives to the greatest possible extent. Many of their stories are heartbreaking in the effects that recent changes have had on the people concerned and their families. Helping them achieve a better quality of life or representing their concerns and experiences back to the policy makers in Leinster House and Government Buildings is something I find worthwhile.
Over the last number of years, many people have found themselves out of work for the first time and have little knowledge or experience of interacting with the social welfare system. Many struggle for some time without receiving their full entitlements or encounter difficulty in dealing with the bureaucracy. My clinic acts as a ‘poor man’s advocate’ to help citizens secure what is rightfully theirs.
The same applies to the recent SUSI debacle, where students and their families found themselves trying to cope with a system that was dysfunctional. While seeking to solve individual problems, I, and many other of my fellow TDs, were also able to communicate in direct terms back to the Minister for Education and his officials the many problems that people were having with the process.
As well as individual concerns, you can come across problems affecting entire communities. Many of these problems apply not only to the communities here in Galway but have relevance across the entire country. I’m currently working with one community who are attempting to resolve the many impediments to the realisation of the full potential of the shellfish industry in Galway Bay. However, the same issues holding back the industry here in Galway apply to many other communities in coastal areas around the country.
The job of being a TD is quite demanding but very rewarding in its variety and the satisfaction you can get out of helping individuals and communities or in securing a change to policy or legislation. Every person and community you come across has a story to tell.
Most of them relate to their immediate concerns and, sometimes, you can get a broader view into their lives. For anyone interested in people and unfolding stories taking place all around us, being a TD is a wonderful privilege.
The toughest part of being a TD is the impact on your family life. You are absent in Dublin during the week and are often not there for the highlights and lowlights of your children’s lives, either to celebrate or comfort.
The evening meetings and the constant stream of phone calls can play havoc with your duties as a parent and spouse. It has been observed that the five ‘C’s, one of which is ‘childcare’, act as barriers to women entering politics. It is not difficult to see why. Culturally, it is easier for us men to compromise on this area but it still comes at a cost.
For all that, I certainly would have little time for politicians putting on the béal bocht in relation to the above. It is a cost, but the struggles that many of the people I come into contact with every week place it in context.
We are going through hard times right now and many individuals and their families are struggling to protect their well-being. If ever there was a time to be willing to stand up and speak up for your community, then this is it and it is a privilege on honour to do so.