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Image: Donegal County Council

'Show up and shut up' - the story of a government backbencher

In a rousing speech at the MacGill Summer School today Eoghan Murphy called for a loosening of the whip system to allow TDs to better represent their constituents.
Jul 30th 2013, 3:27 PM 11,170 53

FINE GAEL TD Eoghan Murphy beguiled the audience at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal today with a short story about the life of a backbencher in Leinster House with an “awfully high opinion of himself”.

The story entitled ‘Confessions of a Button Pusher, Show up and Shut up, by a Government Backbencher’, tells the tale of the young TD – who is definitely not Murphy – and his struggle to settle into the daily goings on at the house.

In his basement office in Leinster House, the TD debates whether or not to use his position to put pressure on the council in his constituency to have a pothole filled in.

When called to a vote, the faithful backbencher heads for the chamber, unsure of what he’s voting on, and once he sees on the screen how his other colleagues voted, he presses the same button.

Back at his office later that night, after waiting hours to have his say in a debate, he speaks to a senior government colleague about adding an amendment to a bill. He has already put the suggestion to the Minister responsible and when he asks if he could push for it again at committee stage he’s told: “You can. On my a**e”.

‘Power is confined to far too few’

Once he finished telling his story – or rather the story of his ‘backbencher cousin’ – Murphy said he believed that the political system was at the core of what went wrong in Ireland over the last number of years.

The Fine Gael TD said that there needs to be a “loosening of the whip system and a more mature parliament”. “Power is being confined to far too few,” he said. “We need to have the maturity to say that it’s OK to think and to have opinions.”

The new people in politics will get frustrated and they will walk away and the ones who remain will eventually and unfortunately… be broken by the system and eventually forget why they got involved. Twenty or thirty years down the line we risk losing it all again.

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He said that “this mentality of know your place lad and bide your time” should be done away with. “For those of us who were elected through the crisis – we don’t want to wait,” he added.

Murphy said there was a definite conflict between representing your government party and standing up for your constituency and a fundamental chance to the system is required. “The whip system as it’s imposed today can’t exercise the two responsibilities,” he concluded, receiving a rapturous applause from an audience clearly relieved at a break from some of the stuffy speeches of the last two days.

Read: ‘Not fit for purpose?’ Why the Dáil’s party whip system may need reform>

Column: Rebel Rebel – why are Irish politicians so whipped?>

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Michelle Hennessy

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