Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Marking their score cards - how Galway's Deputies have performed nationally so farSeptember 19, 2012 - 8:35am
The General Election last year was an extraordinary one that produced a Dail with scores of new Deputies. Momentous shifts like that are rare – the elections of 1992 and 1977 are the most recent that come to mind.
But even compared to those two elections, this was landslide writ large. There was a facile explanation for the swing – as Fine Gael's Brian Hayes memorably put it: "We are all fighting over the carcass of Fianna Fail."
The other part of that equation - the other explainer for the big churn - was that many TDs from all parties were pushing on and many decided to retire early.
So when the 31st Dail convened last March, there were whole rows of unrecognisable fresh faces sitting nervously in the tiered rows of the Chamber. A year and a half later, I'd say there are still half a dozen of the quieter ones that I don't salute by name as yet. That’s a new experience for me.
The massive influx of new young TDs - the Irish version of Blair's Babes in Britain in 1997 - isn't really reflected in the Executive.
The opposition were waiting a hell of a long time for their chance to govern - 14 years - and when the reward finally came, we saw a tired Cabinet made up of predominantly grey-haired males being replaced by a fresh Cabinet made up of predominantly grey-haired males.
With the exception of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, most of the rest have been around the houses a few times. For younger TDs in enlarged parties, the chances of promotion are fairly slim.
When you are a backbench Government TD, you are essentially “lobby fodder”, as former Fianna Fail TD Barry Andrews put it – there to read out scripts on obscure pieces of legislation prepared for you by the party’s researchers; or to pass through the lobby to chase a vote on behalf of the Government.
So almost a year and a half in, which of the Galway TDs and Senators have made an impact at the national level – as opposed to the constituency?
Only three of the eight TDs who represented Galway West and Galway East in the last Dail stood in the election: Micheal Kitt; Eamon O Cuiv and Noel Grealish.
Kitt has never been a showy TD – indeed his persona is on the quiet almost bashful side. But he performed a very deft manoeuvre right at the beginning when he succeeded in being nominated to the position of Leas Ceann Comhairle; ahead of Fianna Fail’s preferred candidate John Browne.
That was partly explained by his long friendship with Enda Kenny going back to their student teacher days. It’s a relatively high profile role – Brendan Howlin was the previous incumbent – and Kitt has so far kept a clean sheet.
He’s not abrasive like the cranky Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett and sometimes struggles to keep control. But he hasn’t done badly, considering the high-octane verbals that sometimes explode.
More recently, the splitting of Galway East has affected his base very badly. If he stands again, he and his Fine Gael rival Paul Connaughton junior will have to forge a Faustian pact that will place each of them in different constituencies. It’s the only way that both can hope to survive.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.