All of the above are statistically more likely to represent you than I am. You could also add Farmer, Teacher, Auctioneer, Publican, Company Director, Accountant and Solicitor to the list. Basically the odds on a PAYE worker, 9-5, commuting, wage earner, sitting on a council near you are quite slim.
What do the above occupations have in common? Principally they control their own time. With the exception of teacher (who is time if not cash rich) they are all self-employed and live, work and do their politics in the same area. There is a massive skew towards these type of occupations in local and national representation. The reason is very simple, they are the only people that can afford the time to do it.
Contrary to popular opinion, politicians are not all highly paid. TDs and Ministers have seen huge rises, surely, but up until very recently Councillors got paid nothing at all.. It actually seems crazy if you think about it, why would anyone put themselves through maybe a year of abuse, hardship, expense and personal sacrifice to end up, if they’re very lucky and do well, with an extra fulltime, unpaid job?! Of course you either have the bug or you don’t, and people who do run for local office don’t see it that way (I have the bug by the way!)
I’ve just finished reading ‘How Ireland Voted 2007′ by Mssrs. Marsh, Gallagher and Weeks. It is an excellent work, academic enough to stand up to scrutiny without being so numeric as to lose the reader’s focus. Strong analysis backed up with supporting facts and timely, relevant quotes from stakeholders, candidates, journalists etc across the board.
One observation of particular interest is the myth that Bertie Ahern is Fianna Fáil’s strongest electoral asset. Even before recent events began to tarnish the halo, the Taoiseach was perceived to win miracles for the party at the polling booths again and again. As Marsh points out in this work, while Ahern achieves a seat bounce and is more transfer-friendly, he has actually presided over the lowest share of first preference votes in absolute or even percentage terms than all his predecessors. In fact even in the diametric, with us or against us, days of Charlie Haughey, the party’s lowest nadir ever reached was 44%, whilst under Bertie Ahern, the record high was 41%. Interesting reading indeed.
Finally though, and back on topic, the book’s appendix lists occupations of all those elected to the 30th Dáil. Just one, and interestingly he’s a friend of mine, Dara Calleary (Mayo FF TD), lists his occupation as an employee (of Chambers Ireland). Just two more are similarly categorised and they are both Personell Managers (maybe the HR people have greater liberty with their own time!) but again it confirms the point above. And national representation, at least it does become the full time job when you do get there.
For Councillors, would-be and otherwise, hope lies in the green paper on local government reform, due out in the next weeks. Given the rate of attrition from Dublin city council in recent times (8 have now quit in the last year) some form of reform is surely expected. Whilst fulltime paid councillors may still be an electoral cycle or two away, I have suggested alternate measures such as making council meetings akin to jury service to allow ordinary citizens take up the mantle without fear of financial penalty. Something is needed though to make our “representatives” more representative…