From providing statues of Holy Mary to sorting sheepdogs, TDs get an incredible range of requests, says Elaine Loughlin.
Need a giant statue of Mary transported from France? Looking for a ticket for an All-Ireland final? Do you have a nasty ingrown toenail that needs to be dealt with?
Who do you call? Your local TD, who else?
The parochial nature of politics in this country has been much debated and criticised, and detractors often look to other countries where national representatives deal purely in drafting legislation and not with getting a passport at short notice or arranging shingles to fill a pothole.
But many TDs believe that not only is it their duty to deal with constituency queries, they simply would not be re-elected if they didn’t fulfill this part of the brief.
Independent TD Michael Collins, for example, holds an average of 20 to 25 clinics each week from Kinsale to Mizen Head.
“I believe firmly in having clinics, especially in rural Ireland because it shows people that their political has an interest in them,” says the Cork South-West TD.
Likewise, Government chief whip Regina Doherty claims to have knocked on around 3,000 doors since Christmas, and wouldn’t change the system, despite hearing the odd racist or sexist comment from constituents.
However, Kerry TD Brendan Griffin is among a small number who believe TDs would better serve the people if they steered clear of local politics.
“If you are constantly dealing with individual cases you are missing the opportunity of engaging with community groups or focusing on national issues,” says the Fine Gael TD.
Mr Griffin is keen to point out that he and his staff still deal with queries from constituents but believes that if the system was set up right local councillors could do this.
For Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, constituency requests are taken very seriously.
“I would have some funny ones but I treat the whole thing very seriously and I am very strict with it,” he says. “It’s the exact same as being in the confession box. You might as well be asking a priest.”
While being in constant touch with the voting public is important and necessary, sometimes voters can pose some difficult, obscure or simply crazy requests of their democratically elected representatives.
While every TD lucky enough to see their county reach the All-Ireland final is guaranteed a ticket for Croke Park, some constituents think they also get a number for loyal supporters.
When Mayo managed to get into the All-Ireland football final last year, Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary was inundated with calls.
“Last year we had around 20 [requests] and they were quite indignant that we didn’t have them for us,” he says.
More recently he was contacted by a constituent looking to sort out tickets for The Late Late Show’s country music special.
It was a case of moving statues for Eugene Murphy, a Fianna Fáil TD for Roscommon–Galway, when he was asked to source a giant Mary figure from Lourdes.
“The request came in from a man who is in a nursing home,” says Mr Murphy. “He kept on getting in touch about it as he wanted to it to go to his local church for a particular feast day.
“He was quite specific, he wanted three lambs at the bottom of the statue.”
Mr Murphy managed to ask a local woman who travels to Lourdes each year to bring back the giant statue.
“She rang me and said that the large statues only had roses at Our Lady’s feet, so we decided to get one large statue with roses and one small one with lambs,” he says.
When the statues were brought back to Ireland, Mr Murphy put them in his car — with the large one taking up the entire length of the boot — and brought them to the church. The statues have since been blessed by the bishop and stand proud in Croghan chapel.
Mr Murphy believes the fact that Ireland is a small nation ensures the unique interaction between the public and their representatives will never be broken.
“It’s not like the British parliament or the German parliament,” he says. “People are close and look to their local politician. It’s about having a balance between legislating and keeping in touch with your constituents.”
Tipperary Independent TD Mattie McGrath offers a unique service. He has become a supplier of crutches, walking aids, and wheelchairs, with many doctors referring patients to him.
He says his office began collecting used crutches and other aids as part of a charity campaign to recycle them. However, since the HSE deems crutches as “single use” items they wouldn’t accept them.
“We have old crutches and walking aids and a couple of wheelchairs,” says Mr McGrath. “So the doctors now send people down to me. If a person needs crutches, it can take weeks for them to be supplied, so we can supply them.”
Mr McGrath says funerals are also a very important part of being a TD.
“A lot of people are lonely and they just want to talk, but they want to talk to their TD directly,” he says. “ I met a woman on Monday, she wanted to see me, so I called out to her and it was an issue with a septic tank so I had to get down and dirty.
“There was another fellow, he would be well known around the town, but he called into the office one day as he had an ingrown toenail. The women in the office sat him down to listen to him and see how they might refer him on. He then proceeded to take off his wellington and big heavy sock and show off the toenail. He wanted them to see it.”
While Mr Griffin believes the people would be better served if the parish pump was taken out of politics, he still gets many odd and unusual requests.
“I was out canvassing one time and when I knocked on one door the woman told me she would vote for me if I could get her a good sheep dog,” he says.
“She was trying to buy a good well-trained sheep dog for some time.”
Mr Griffin managed to secure another vote by sourcing a suitable dog.
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