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9 things we learned from last night's 'Looking After No 1' programme

A great insight into how politicians get things done for the people who elect them or a demoralising portrayal of Ireland’s ‘parish pump’ politics.

Michael Healy-Rae out on the road
Michael Healy-Rae out on the road
Image: Screengrab via RTÉ Player

THE ‘LOOKING AFTER NO 1′ programme broadcast on RTÉ One last night offered a revealing insight into the lives of five politicians and their handling of constituency issues.

The programme shone a light on the constituency work done by Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea, Labour’s John Lyons, Fine Gael’s Michelle Mulherin, Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, and the independent deputy Micheal Healy-Rae.

We saw the TDs dealing with various constituency cases, having varying degrees of success with each, while also discussing their roles as Irish politicians and the complexities of balancing lawmaking with local issues.

Depending on your point of view it was either a great insight into how politicians get things done for the people who elect them or a demoralising portrayal of Ireland’s ‘parish pump’ politics.

The programme can be watched in full here. But here are a few things we learned from it…

1. TDs do a lot of driving

We are introduced to our five protagonists while  they are driving their cars and we see a lot of this throughout the programme.

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Healy-Rae in particular covers a lot of ground. On one day the narrator tell us he is visiting 14 pubs on the Dingle Peninsula, covering some 240 kilometres.

2. They gets all sorts of offers

“I’d love to have you in the shower,” one elderly constituent tells Ó Snodaigh.

The man actually just wants the Sinn Féin TD to experience how draughty it is as a result of weather-damaged window frames on the outside of his house, which Ó Snodaigh says he will try to sort.

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3. Michelle Mulherin got a lot of abuse over the abortion vote

“My head is mush,” the Fine Gael TD for Mayo admits at the height of the debate on the abortion bill as she is on the receiving end of lobbying and abuse over her decision to eventually support the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.

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Prior to the vote, we see her being lobbied by four young women at one of her clinics, after which she says: “There are people within the Dáil who think its crazy we don’t have abortion on demand. I may not agree with it, but I don’t rubbish it.”

Then after the vote Mulherin is on the receiving end of abuse in her constituency and reads out a particularly nasty piece of correspondence.

She admits: “It makes me a bit sad, yeah.”

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4. TDs will hold their constituency clinics anywhere

We see TDs holding their clinics in pubs, cars, houses, and, in Willie O’Dea’s case, out in the beer garden:

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5. Some TDs are already thinking ahead to the next election

We see both O’Dea and Healy-Rae dealing with cases outside of their current constituencies,  but with people who will be eligible to vote for them at the next general election because of the boundary redraw.

It’s also noticeable that Mulherin covers a lot of ground and does as much constituency work as she can , perhaps conscious that Fine Gael will struggle to hold its four seats in Mayo at the next election.

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6. It’s “political assistance” and not “political interference”

On that fine line between helping your constituents and politically interfering, TDs have some ready-made answers, as you’d expect.

“My experience of the civil service is if you try to sort of get into this area of political interference, you’re very quickly slapped down,” O’Dea says.

Healy-Rae describes what he does as “political assistance” and not interference.

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7. Healy-Rae takes his shoes off when he goes in the office…

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8. … and has a picture picture of himself with model Katy French in his Mace shop

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9. Parish pump politics is here to stay, whether politicians like it or not

“I know if I didn’t have the clinics I wouldn’t be as aware of the realities of some people,” John Lyons says.

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Ó Snodaigh notes: “If you were to ignore the local it would be detrimental to the nation,” adding that the alternative is “166 robots” in Leinster House.

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O’Dea says there is a merit to the argument that we are over-represented, but says he has yet to see a compelling argument for any alternative to what working in the Irish political system currently involves.

Watch the programme in full here >

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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