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"You get in and box like hell, and get out": Michael Fitzmaurice on his first year as a TD

It’s a year since the man once known as the ‘new Ming’ won his seat. How has he found his first 12 months as a TD?

IT’S A YEAR since TD Michael Fitzmaurice – previously best known as the head of the turf-cutter’s association – topped the polls in a Roscommon-South Leitrim by-election, taking the seat recently vacated by this friend and fellow campaigner Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

It was a dramatic weekend on the political front, as you may remember: Paul Murphy also upset the odds, snatching a seat that had looked destined to go to Sinn Féin in Dublin. The first big water protest happened on the same Saturday.

12 months after upsetting Fianna Fáil to take a seat on the opposition benches – how has Fitzmaurice found life as a TD?

We caught up with the outspoken independent during the week.

Aside from the fact that he’s quite fond of boxing metaphors, here’s what we learned (about what he learned):

fityz

There’s not exactly an ‘orientation day’

Speaking after his first week in the Dáil, Fitzmaurice told us:

“We’re just after getting an office, we haven’t our computer or phone line set up yet. We’re waiting on that.”

Getting used to life in national politics is a steep learning curve, he says – over the phone from Leinster House:

“All those things got sorted, but it’s a learning process and you’ve to hit the ground running.

“You’ve to be a fast learner and you’ve to get up and get on with it.

“As the man says, you’re playing senior hurling – so you’ve got to hurl fairly hard.”

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

You have to reach across the aisle to get things done: 

The recently-elected deputy says he’s made progress on a number of areas, through cooperation with government TDs and junior ministers.

He highlights an initiative on apprenticeships which he championed, noting that it came about “with the help of a minister – obviously I can put out all the documents in the world and the minister doesn’t have to take them on board”.

Fitzmaurice brought his ideas to Fine Gael skills minister Damien English, they met “the senior guys in Solas” and some of his proposals have since been taken on board.

“It’s going to release a lot of opportunities for young people to get apprenticeships in this country, which is good.”

It might be surprising who’s willing to help: 

“In fairness there are some ministers that have been helpful to me.

“I’m not going to go castigating everyone – but the place you do it is in a corridor or you meet them for a meeting.

“And – yes, there are in fairness, there are ministers that have been helpful to me.”

leitrim-5-2-390x285 Delivering his first speech. Source: Oireachtas

But progress can be slow:

“There was nights I went down the road and I hit my head against the window and I said to myself ‘what have I got myself into’.

“Things work slowly here,” he says.

“I’d be used to making decisions quick, driving on, getting going. You have to learn that you need to keep boxing at something to get there.

It’s best to speak directly – and leave the ‘reams of paper’ aside: 

Fitzmaurice has made a number of high-intensity contributions in the Dáil, particularly during Leader’s Questions.

His preparation process?

“I’m not a person for reams of paper. I’m a ‘one pager’ – I put points down and that’s it. I’ll elaborate on the points because everything I’d have talked on, I’d have been dealing with it for a good while… I’d know it sort-of inside out.”

fitz1 Fitzmaurice is introduced to the Dáíl. Source: Oireachtas

And it would help if others did the same: 

“The thing that makes me tear my hair out is to see a minister coming in at priority questions, reading something that some civil servant wrote for him that they probably didn’t understand and don’t have a clue about.”

We need to talk about rural Ireland: 

In his by-election victory speech, last October, Fitzmaurice raised laughs in the count centre, saying the answer to rural Ireland’s problems wasn’t to move everyone to Dublin. “Sure the country would tip over,” he told supporters.

“Before I came into the Dáil there was nobody, upon nobody talking about rural Ireland – you can look back and you can check all the different debates, there was no instances whatsoever.” (This isn’t strictly true – but you get his point).

“Day in, day out now – I suppose for you in Dublin here you’re saying ‘would you ever shut up about it’ – but you know, there is a real emphasis in trying to regenerate it.

“And I know it’s slow and it will be slow but the more you keep hammering at the door or knocking at the door the more you will get listened to.”

raid The recent court case concerning the terrifying home raid at the Corcoran household in Tipperary has refocused attention on rural Ireland, and rural crime in particular. Source: TheJournal.ie

You need to keep your fighting in the ring

TDs are pretty used to parking their differences, once they get out of the chamber.

Even after scenes like this, Fitzmaurice says:

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“If you go into a boxing ring, you go in to win the fight,” he says.

“When you leave the boxing ring, you have to be able to be a person that can say hello to someone afterwards.

“I was on a board of management in a school. I had plenty of rows, but when we walked out through the door we were doing that for the betterment of the children

“When I’m in the Dáil I’m highlighting stuff for the betterment of our people.

“You can’t go around with a chip on your shoulder and not talking to anyone. You have to say hello to somebody, be courteous to somebody. That’s what you believe, that’s what they believe.”

He’s not around for the long-haul: 

With a young family, and long hours to be put in in the Dáil and in the constituency – his work/life balance hasn’t been the best since last October.

Fitzmaurice points out that with the amount of time taken up, both on the road and at work “if you were to go at it at that level for eight or nine years you’d be burnt out”.

“I’m lucky in that I was always used to rough and tumble and long hours. But there’s nights you go home and you’re worn out.”

He’ll have to step aside and make room for someone new eventually – and he’s no problem with that:

“If I keep using all my ideas for the next round or round and a half, eventually you’ll run out of ideas and you need to get someone young and enthusiastic in again.

“I don’t believe in being there to get a pension. I don’t believe in being there to be part of the furniture or to have a career – no way.

“You get in and box like hell, and get out.”

Read: The Man Who Would Be Ming: Meet the turf-cutter tipped to take a Dáil seat next month

Tough crowd: New TDs get 10 minutes of glory before Noonan unveils ‘Turning Point’ Budget

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