While the rest of us work, TDs get three months off...
THERE are ordinary people and then there are the people in the Dail. Dr James Reilly made the distinction while arguing against a three-month summer recess. Ordinary people, he said, could not fathom how the Government could take a three-month holiday in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in the history of the State.
The Fine Gael deputy leader was doing his best to distance himself and his party from the perception that they and all the other extraordinary people in the Dail exist in some sort of parallel universe , untroubled by reality.
However, the Opposition's attempts to absolve themselves by objecting to the length of the recess rang a little hollowly. In the end, they shrugged and went off on holiday anyway.
Would it be too cynical to suggest that it doesn't matter a curse that the Dail will be inactive for three months due to its general ineffectiveness?
When we are told that the Dail has decided this or that, what it usually means is that the Government has decided this or that.
Nevertheless, TDs and ministers are elected to enact laws, supervise the Government and control the finances of the State. In an uncynical world, they would regard that function as an honour and a privilege -- perhaps some of them do -- but they can only fulfil those functions when the Dail is sitting.
We ordinary people find it difficult to accept that committee work and constituency work are proper substitutes.
Indeed, Dail deputies spend more than half their time on constituency work, as against a third on legislative work. In other words, our national politicians see it as more important to deal with problems in their own electoral backyards than with the problems of the nation.
At least that's what an Oireachtas survey into the Dail mindset found.
It is confirmation that all politics is local, as Tip O'Neill once remarked. Given the great issues he dealt with on a daily basis, the venerable US Democrat was probably exercising a little irony. Here in Ireland, it is hard fact.
Most TDs say they are in the Dail to represent the interests of the people back home, rather than the broad sweep of the population. Does this mean that our TDs are parish-pump politicians, or is it simply confirmation of what we always knew and accepted?
Probably the latter, but in the midst of what is supposedly a national effort to get through the worst economic crisis for generations, it does not seem right that our TDs should scoot off back to their constituencies for three long months to mind their seats.
The long break may give the Taoiseach and his ministers some respite -- an irony that was not lost on the thousands of carers who took to the streets this week in protest against spending cuts. Nevertheless, their exodus does not sit well with the voters.
FURIOUS readers have deluged this newspaper -- and presumably others -- with emails containing comments such as: "They demand of us that we work longer for less pay while they themselves close shop and go on holidays till the end of September."
Another one: "How much further in debt will we be after our leaders return to work in three months' time? Can our children afford this blundering?"
Or: "Our TDs have spent the little time they have had in the job this year shouting and yelling at each other, only to go on a long vacation and give the two fingers to the public."
Our TDs can hardly point to a hectic work rate over the rest of the year as justification for a summer break that exceeds even that of a schoolteachers.
Last year, the Dail did better than in previous years by sitting for 100 days, 42 days less than the House of Commons.
Even as increasing numbers of Irish workers are forced to cut their working week to three days in order to preserve their jobs, the three-day week is the norm for TDs.
In contrast, the House of Commons sits for four days or more. Last year, it sat for 20 four-day and 10 five-day weeks.
MPs, most of whom will have three or four times as many constituents to look after, have a basic pay of €75,000, compared with nearly €93,000 for TDs.
Nor can the Government here look to other troubled countries for reassurance.
The Italian parliament is to take a summer break of six weeks. In Greece, it's just three weeks. The Spanish Cortes has decided not to go on holiday in July, as it normally does. And the French National Assembly will take its usual August off, but will do so in the knowledge that it will be promptly recalled in the event of an emergency.
The Taoiseach might have ordered a similar gesture, if only as a nod of recognition to the sacrifices that so many citizens are making.
But, much of the time, the Taoiseach does not appear to care what the people think.
That is both bad and sad.
Report by Brian Brennan - Irish Independent.