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finding their feet

"It's a bear pit" - 100 days in, our newest TDs talk the hours, income, and oddities that come with Dáil life

There are a huge amount of first-time TDs in the 32nd Dáil. Here’s how they’ve been finding life in their new home.


TODAY MARKS 100 days since the general election. No, we’re not kidding.

If it seems like it went by quite quickly, remember that the first 70 days or so were spent trying to come up with a government.

Well things are (relatively) back to normal now as the Dáil settles down to business. Aside from the enormous summer break that may yet come to pass.

Still, the 32nd Dáil contains an absolute cavalcade of first-time TDs. Almost a third of the 158 deputies are new to the lower house of parliament (if not Leinster House itself). Have you wondered how they’re settling into their new positions?

We wondered that too. So we asked them. Here’s what some of them had to say.

One thing you wouldn’t have expected about being a TD?

I understand now why the Dáil chamber is often empty, something which horrifies most decent people. Broadly speaking you know when you are expected to speak, so it is sensible to be in your office doing other work watching the live feed in the meantime, even if it looks dreadful from the outside. Before I understood this I sat for hours waiting to be called to speak, particularly on the night of the mental health debate - Bríd Smith (Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, Dublin South Central)

How supportive people have been towards me. There has been so much anger towards political figures in recent years that the genuine support I’ve received is something that kind of takes me by surprise - Shane Cassells (Fianna Fáil, Meath West)

gino Gino Kenny

It’s like going from the third division straight into the Premiership. There’s so much more of a focus on you here. It’s a very, very different animal from the council - Gino Kenny (Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, Dublin Mid-West)

While I expected them, the extent of the late and long hours spent sometimes in Leinster House, on constituency work and the increased demands on my time within the party since being elected. Also the degree of good will and messages of encouragement I have received from people who I don’t know - Catherine Martin (Green Party, Dublin Rathdown)

The delay in getting business up and running in our Dáil. Things taking days when a few minutes could sort them - Michael Collins (Independent, Cork South-West)

TDs across parties work together behind the scenes on many policy issues both locally and nationally. This is something that mightn’t be evident or visible from those watching the activities in the Dáil chamber. It’s refreshing to experience  - Jack Chambers (Fianna Fáil, Dublin West) 

I wouldn’t have anticipated that voting is such a slow process - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Sinn Féin, Cork South-Central)

For me the biggest change is there’s a lot less chance to speak compared to the Seanad, where there’s less people but more speaking time. Here you have to wait for priority questions, and you have to take your chance when it comes - David Cullinane (ex Sinn Féin Senator, Waterford)

On problems maintaining your personal life…

I’ve always tried to keep a good balance and I’m keen to make sure I maintain my normal routine. I’m no different just because I’ve become a TD. And if I thought I was I’d get a fair kick in the arse from the people around me. The toughest thing for me is the time spent away from family due to the demands on your time outside of normal hours. I have three young children so it’s hard on them that a lot of my evenings are taken up during the week - Shane Cassells

29/1/2014. Sinn Fein Political Reforms David Cullinane

No. As my husband is a county councillor he has a great understanding of political life and he gives me tremendous family support too - Catherine Martin

Yes. Being involved in the programme for government meant I got a lot of media attention which has made me very much recognised. I have little time with family during important events - Michael Collins

There are problems to an extent, and certainly you do get recognised more, but thankfully I have found that when I am socialising people generally respect that. It does have an impact on things that would have been a big part of your life. I often miss hurling training because of meetings or being in Dublin, or I was a Scout Leader and again, due to being in Dublin mid-week, it means I have had to take a step back. But I expected that. The role has to come first, and it’s a huge privilege and honour to have that role. I don’t have children or a partner, so in that regard it hasn’t suffered greatly - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Other stuff in my life is very much on hold for now. If I am not in the Dáil I am busy moving constituency office and visiting people who need my help - Bríd Smith

On mixing with other TDs

You might have a coffee with somebody for 10 minutes during the day but there is so much to do you really don’t have a chance to socialise. The legendary stories of the Dáil bar don’t seem to be replicated in the modern political world. I wouldn’t be staying up during the week like the TDs from down the country so I’m probably missing out on that side - Shane Cassells

I’m not sure as I always go home straight away at the end of the day to my family. But at lunch time in the canteen TDs from all parties dine with each other.  I’ve had many enjoyable conversations with TDs and Senators from various parties - Catherine Martin

There’s little or no mixing. Seeing as I object to there being a Dáil bar I don’t drink in the bar which means I won’t be meeting my fellow politicians socially as often as others - Michael Collins

There’s not a great deal. Around the buildings, and during votes and things like that of course there is chat and mixing, but there isn’t very much outside of Leinster House so far as I can see - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

The food in the canteen is very good, I haven’t been to the restaurant or bar though - Bríd Smith

I’d say hello to anyone in the Dail. It’s like a bear pit though. I would never make any personal remarks about anyone, or on someone’s appearance. I hate that stuff - Gino Kenny

Getting used to Leinster House

I reckon it’ll take maybe a year and a half before you get a real feel for it. At the start I was very daunted, then it became like any other building. The first time you’re in the chamber I was a bit struck you know. It’s surreal seeing all that you’d normally see on TV and you’re in the middle of it - Gino Kenny

24/2/2016 General Election Campaigns Starts Bríd Smith Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Honestly, my initial impressions have been unexpectedly underwhelming. Like for instance the size of the chamber. I only ever saw it on TV before so my first impression was that it was really small. Coupled with that was a feeling of familiarity with all the famous players, like Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin, Gerry Adams. Most likely that comes from TV recognition. So it wasn’t like ‘oh my God there’s Gerry Adams’. And I’ve become less and less impressed as time goes on to be honest - Bríd Smith

I’m not even halfway there to getting used to it! - Shane Cassells

I’m not sure I’m fully used to being there yet - Catherine Martin

I’m still getting used of it, but since the formation of a government it’s getting much better - Michael Collins

I have the advantage of having worked here for close to three years, which meant that I was familiar with the building, and had a general understanding of the procedures and set up in the Dáíl, so it maybe didn’t take that long. But of course, it’s a different thing being in the chamber, especially the first few times, and having to get up and speak and so on - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Travelling to and from work

It varies. I’ve travelled by train and occasionally have travelled up with Jonathan O’Brien, (also a Cork Sinn Féin TD). The train is useful for reading briefing papers, reports and documents, as telephone and wifi signal aren’t always the best - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

It takes five hours in the car. I spend the time on my hands-free talking to my staff and keeping up to speed on happenings in west Cork - Michael Collins

If I am dropping my children to school then I have to drive in to Leinster House to ensure I arrive on time for 10.30am. Otherwise I get the bus. It takes about 45 minutes. I listen to the radio on my way in - Catherine Martin

27/2/2016 General Elections Campaigns Results Jack Chambers

It takes about an hour by car and the time is spent listening to my local radio political programme – the Michael Reade show - Shane Cassells

On the bike. It’s about 13 kilometres each way, so maybe a half an hour to get in - Gino Kenny

The best advice you’ve heard…

Don’t get caught in the bubble of Leinster House - Shane Cassells

A few ex-TDs have said to try to enjoy it. I think it’s good advice, it’s like anything new, you could detest it. I’m trying to enjoy it, I’ll smile as much as possible - Gino Kenny

Take your time to adjust to life in Leinster House and reserve plenty of time for family - Catherine Martin

Remember who put you there - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

I’ve been listening to senior politicians on a number of issues, but some advice I got many years ago from a wise man I think is best – “say little first but listen” - Michael Collins

What frustrates you about the Dáil

The slow pace can be really, really difficult. Like I’m prepared for it, I know that in politics things can be excruciatingly slow. I want to try and concentrate on two or three things that I can change, that’s what kept me going on the council. But it could drive you insane with all the talking. I want to see something done at the end of the day - Gino Kenny

The most frustrating thing is the feeling of not getting things done or completed but hopefully that will change. I feel like I am working very hard, I usually do, but achieving less than normal. I am surprised how much time is wasted running from building to building, queuing up to vote and also trying to interpret the agenda and timing - Bríd Smith

The procedures of the chamber and how so much time is wasted on nonsensical stuff. It took two hours of walking through lobbies to try and elect the Leas Ceann Comhairle and we still didn’t get a result at the end of it. Pure madness - Shane Cassells

The time it took to form a government - Catherine Martin

The six or seven weeks after the election were deeply frustrating as a new TD, You’re full of energy and enthusiasm and ideas, and you have a desire to make a contribution and raise the issues that were raised with you on the doors, but in many ways we were frustrated in that. I think much more debate on legislation and motions could have been facilitated during that period - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

donnchadh Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

The poor opportunities for independent TDs to speak in the Dail as speaking times are eaten up by the leaders. Also the difficulty of getting accommodation up in Dublin - Michael Collins

Pleasant surprises?

The way all staff are most helpful  right throughout the Dáil - Michael Collins

The genuine warmth of people around the constituency who are willing you to do well. Goes against the popular belief that people want to see you fail - Shane Cassells

Probably how close it is to what I had anticipated it being, maybe from having worked there before. What’s also noticeable the prompt response you get from officials as a TD, compared to being a councillor - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

The positive reaction I received to my maiden speech - Catherine Martin

People stopping you in the street. That gives me that bit of hope. It’s what keeps me going - Gino Kenny

The staff around the Dáil are really sound and extremely helpful and cheerful, given that they are dealing daily with those who cut their pay and pensions while maintaining a high standard of living for themselves. One of the things that people outside the Dail really enjoy, like local people I work with or Luas strikers I am supporting or even just friends, is to be invited in to have a gawk at the chamber, to witness what goes on and to take a short tour of the historical building. I think that is a good thing - Bríd Smith

On getting some sleep…

I sleep well enough still, it varies but I still usually manage a reasonable night’s sleep. I anticipate that things may yet get much, much busier though - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Seven hours is what I aim for. It all depends on whether or not there’s a decent row on Vincent Browne and whether I stay up to watch it - Shane Cassells

I sleep well but I work late and get about five hours a night - Michael Collins

Six or seven hours - Catherine Martin

Has it been worth it?

Every single bit of it! - Shane Cassells

Yes I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Being involved in the programme for government has been a huge benefit for me and my constituents - Michael Collins

It’s still really too early to tell, it’s already been a great opportunity to be a voice for the people who elected me, but I want to measure my time as a TD by what I achieve, and thus far it has been difficult to achieve much due to the slow pace of things. However, it is great being part of such a strong team of capable Sinn Féin TDs, from diverse backgrounds. So it has been worth it, to be a part of that - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Totally - Catherine Martin

Some mornings I wonder do I want to be here. I’m not an office person. I like being out and about, chatting, knocking on doors. I have difficulties doing this. But then I know I’m making a difference - Gino Kenny

Important one this – what does an Oireachtas pay slip look like?

It’s just a very ordinary A4 thing. I got my first one last week - Gino Kenny

A hell of a lot healthier than any payslip from my days as a journalist - Shane Cassells

The pay is enormous and I honestly am annoyed with TDs that don’t acknowledge this – like those TDs who criticised the Luas drivers for fighting to stop lowering the starting rate of their pay to €29,000 while the TDs start on €87,000.  And yes we pay a lot over in tax but the same applies to lowly paid teachers and nurses - Bríd Smith (AAA / PBP TDs take home the average industrial wage and use the remainder to fund campaigns in their constituency)

shane1 Shane Cassells Facebook Facebook

Because my family, like many others, is part of that negative equity generation, I consider myself very fortunate. Also, it assists me to pay back time and money spent on getting elected. It’s a sense of relief - Catherine Martin

Getting paid pays the bills, although I was being taxed at a very high rate and I am trying to sort that out now. My expenses are high as I am the TD living furthest from the Dáil but hotel rooms here in Dublin are hugely expensive also - Michael Collins

What’s the pace like in Leinster House?

Tuesday to Thursday is quite busy when the Dáil sits. That’s the part I have to adapt to. In here you do less because you’re here. It’s a learning curve - Gino Kenny

The day just goes by in the blink of an eye. You have to be really disciplined to make sure you accomplish all you set out for the day - Shane Cassells

The day never seems long enough. There is so much to do and there is nothing like getting things done for both the people of West Cork and for our country also - Michael Collins

The pace of life since becoming a TD is absolutely frenetic.  But the most frenetic is the Dáil itself. “Do this, respond to that, speak on the other, read this – no actually the schedule is changed, go to the chamber now and speak and get your PQs in this morning, no actually go to the plinth or Buswells for a media event” - Bríd Smith

Frantic! Time flies in there. 10 hours can feel like 10 minutes - Catherine Martin

It has been erratic. The first few weeks were particularly frustrating, sittings which had no outcome, and a lack of ability to discuss and debate the motions and legislation we were elected to discuss. Recent weeks have been much, much better, and days can certainly go by very quickly, and I would anticipate that when the committees get up and running that will be even more the case. You don’t mind spending long days in that way - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Those lovely Dáil bars, and the Dáil gym

I haven’t been to the restaurant or bar. When we were without a government but frequently voting for Taoiseach, usually late at night, a shocking proportion of TDs spent most of their time in the Dáil bar and only came into the chamber to vote. I remember one night late leaving to go home and the smell of alcohol oozed around the corridors. I am not prudish and enjoy a drink but I think it sends out all the wrong messages to allow the bar remain open while the Dáil is sitting. It should be closed and I will put a motion forward to this effect in the near future. If we do this we could contribute to changing a very dangerous culture of over-emphasis on alcohol which permeates our society - Bríd Smith

I’d rather go to the gym than either of the bars. I will eventually go in. I’ll go in for one drink at some stage. But right now I’ve never set foot in either of them - Gino Kenny

Michael Collins

I popped into the members bar once to have a coffee in the first week but haven’t been back there since. I sometimes take a cup of tea in the public bar. I’m quite the teetotaller really! I haven’t been to the gym as I’m an outdoors person and try most days to fit in a three or four-mile walk - Catherine Martin

No. I don’t approve of a bar in a workplace so while I have shown people that have come to the Dáil the bar I will not be drinking any alcoholic drinks here. I have not been to the gym as I don’t have time - Michael Collins

I haven’t been to either Dáil bar since being elected. I have used the gym frequently though - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

I have paid a couple of visits to the bar alright. My Meath colleague Thomas Byrne has told me there is a gym. I just haven’t found it yet - Shane Cassells

Rules, regulations, procedures, requirements…

It’s confusing rather than intimidating. You really have to learn on your feet - Shane Cassells

It’s a little intimidating, but then we live in a rules and regulations country, be you a farmer, a fisherman or self-employed. I am used to rules - Michael Collins

Some are rather outdated and peculiar, and the more structured and timed speaking slots are a long way from the cut and thrust of debates in local councils - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Everything about Leinster House is quite intimidating at first and I’ve been told it will take at least a year to get used to it! - Catherine Martin

Tell us something odd…

I am still not used to being called ‘Deputy’. It’s great to see the increase in female representatives in the Dáil and that is certainly moving in the right direction but sitting in the chamber it is hard to ignore that the overwhelming picture is one of a sea of suits. That needs to change - Catherine Martin

The Monday after the election I headed to Leinster House to register with the clerk of the Dáil. When I got to the security hut I phoned Thomas (Byrne), who was inside, to sign me in. He fell about the place laughing. “You’re a TD now… you just walk in,” he said. He’ll never let me forget that one - Shane Cassells

10/3/2016 Dail Resumes after General Election Campaigns Catherine Martin Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

The oddest thing is sometimes hearing party people all want to speak about the same thing. Instead, in my view, the party leader should speak on an issue, or a designated person from that party, and no more - Michael Collins

I was surprised at how long it takes to record a single vote. This afternoon four votes took about an hour. This is partially due though to the fact that the electronic voting system isn’t in use yet - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

I find it mystifying the amount of TDs that aren’t in the Dail at any given time. When someone’s talking about anything there tends to be less than a dozen at any one time. I try to be in for at least an hour for anything I’m concerned with - Gino Kenny

Finally, the Dáil summer break – a good idea?

I think a month is enough to be perfectly frank. Three months is too long, although there is plenty of work I’ll find for myself to do. I understand you have to prepare for a new Dáil term, but too much time is not used for that process. Then we have a lot of stuff crammed into the last weeks of recess, we’ve seen it before, and then legislation is guillotined through. I wouldn’t be in favour - David Cullinane

I have to admit I am tired and looking forward very much to a break. But a three-month break would be nuts just now especially since we had no government for the first three months. It would cause completely justified public outrage. I am also looking forward to returning in the Autumn and getting my teeth into a few pieces of legislation that we’re hoping to introduce - Bríd Smith

I have never taken a holiday. I go away for five days every year but also work while I’m away - Michael Collins

With the year that’s in it and the time it took to get the Dáil up and running, holidays should be drastically reduced - Catherine Martin

Not particularly. Of course holidays are needed, and even when the Dáil is not sitting naturally TDs are working. But I think we have a great deal of work to do on a whole lot of issues and on many pieces of legislation, and not much has been achieved by the Dáil since the election. In that context, what has been proposed for this summer is far too long - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Having waited so long to get here I’d prefer if the place would keep sitting so I could get used to things rather than see everyone head for the hills - Shane Cassells

If work needs to be done on Leinster House then fair enough, but seven or eight weeks is too long. Having said that, most of the stuff you do as a TD you do it outside the Dáil. You’re always busy, what goes on here is just one part of it, the national prominence of Leinster House. Both of them are complementary as a socialist. Still, to close on the 7 July would be ridiculous given how late everything started - Gino Kenny 

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