A Newstalk survey of the record 76 TDs elected for the first time five years ago has shown that many thought they would have more power to make changes.
One Fine Gael TD said that being in the Dáil is “a powerless and thankless role” while another has told us “I had assumed that it would be more hands on. In reality, decisions are made at the top and only minor alterations can be made from within a Government Party, unless you are in cabinet”.
That’s something that Social Democrat TD Stephen Donnelly says he has heard a lot from first timers in the bigger parties.
"49% of TDs think they don’t have enough speaking time in the Dáil"
Some of the first timers expressed frustration at the structures in their own party, and the cut-throat nature of politics.
A Fianna Fáil TD said it was tough “Dealing with people who have many more years of experience who don't share their experience as they feel you are competing with them”.
The survey showed that 49% of TDs think they don’t have enough speaking time in the Dáil, with a Labour TD saying they “didn't realise how frustratingly slow change is”.
It's something Independent TD John Halligan feels particularly strong about:
"95% of those elected for the first time in 2011 said that they enjoyed their first term"
Despite this, 95% of those elected for the first time in 2011 said that they enjoyed their first term, and 78% were confident of getting re-elected.
Among government TDs a large proportion said that the economic decisions that they had to make during the first few years in power were the toughest part of their term.
This was reflected across the opposition as well with one Independent saying it was difficult to vote for measures that they wouldn’t usually support. The Deputy also said it was “unfortunate timing for a first time TD. The country was banjaxed”.
A large amount of deputies said that time spent away from their family was the hardest part, particularly for rural TDs. Many believe it would be especially hard for people with young children to deal with the demands of the job.
The ones who found the change most striking were largely people who didn’t have a long background in politics, with those who’d spent years as councillors or in other aspects of public life finding the transition easier.
Of those surveyed most cited their ability to influence legislation or to deliver on issues for their constituents as their personal highlights of their time in office. While a significant number mentioned the Marriage Equality Referendum as an issue they were particularly proud to get over the line.
One of the TDs who thinks he won't have another term is Labour TD Robert Dowds, who felt that he was unlikely to retain his Dublin Mid-West seat and that his party colleague Joanna Tuffy would be more likely to hold on to a Labour seat.
Another first time TD not contesting the election is Sinn Fein’s Michael Colreavy, who entered the Dáil with the intention to only sit for a single term.
He even tried to get another candidate to run in his place in 2011.
“I couldn’t get anybody else to volunteer to run. I do quite enjoy the cut and thrust of politics.
“I won’t say I was mad keen to come to Leinster House because I was a student enough of politics to know that this place could be quite frustrating.”
He did run and won the seat, but says his experiences in the past five years haven’t convinced him to contest a second term.
"Stay calm, have conviction and sign nothing"
One Independent TD said “If elected to be prepared to give every hour of every day to serving the people and your politics. Never promise things you cannot follow through on.”
Others warned candidates to stay true to their own beliefs.
“Be realistic - you'll never keep all of the people happy all of the time! Be honest and passionate on the issues you make a priority” cautioned a Labour party TD while one Fine Gaeler said “don't lose yourself in all of it. Being a TD isn't worth becoming a pr*ck.”
Labour TD Robert Dowds said that your personality can pay a huge part in whether or not you succeed in politics.
“I suppose one of the things that has surprised me is how somebody’s personality can lead to their undoing. You can see that in for example Alan Shatter.
“In many respects he was an excellent minister, but his arrogance got the better of him and he had to go”.
Other advice to candidates was of a more practical nature.
This included getting advice from an experienced TD if you manage to get elected, establish a digital shut off time every night, and to get good shoes and a warm coat for the winter election.
Two TDs meanwhile had just one word of advice for candidates thinking of running - don’t!
"The abuse is constant"
According to a Fine Gael TD, "it is constant".
"Many people engage with public reps which is great and very welcome but there is a considerable, determined cohort of people who think it acceptable to engage in vitriolic, personal abuse, particularly through social media, but also in person, on the telephone or through the post.
"It can wear you down, cause stress and pressure, and distract from important tasks. Try not to let it do these things and get on with the job."
TD Eoghan Murphy said that he ended up in an argument with someone online on Christmas Day:
"I turned on Twitter when I didn't mean to... I got engaged when I shouldn't have and next thing it's Christmas Day and I'm completely stressed without even realising it."
More TDs expressed their concern about the abuse, saying you cannot “ take public anger or frustration personally - if you do it will affect you deeply emotionally and mentally and will distract you from the job in hand.”
Mary Murphy from the Department of Government in UCC carried out a similar survey when the crop of TDs elected for the first time were one and two years into their term.
They made similar complaints about abuse back then, which makes her believe that the support for inexperienced TDs hasn’t improved.
“There is a case to be made for the political parties or perhaps the institution of the Oireachtas itself to guide new TDs in terms of how to engage with all these new media forms.”
First time TDs need more support when they enter the Dáil
As we face into another election campaign, there’s a warning that those who are successful in getting to Dáil Eireann for the first time need more support.
There is training for first time TDs, however many say it takes months if not years to settle in to the job.
Social Democrat TD Stephen Donnelly says that when he was first elected, he wasn’t even sure where Leinster House was.
He says on his first day he “got off the DART at Pearse Street, walked up Merrion Street and there were two guards standing at the gate.
“I said how’re you doing, Stephen Donnelly reporting for duty … they didn’t crack a smile, but the eyes started to twinkle and they said congratulations deputy, it’s a great honour, this is the Museum of Natural History.”
Donnelly says it was more difficult for him as an Independent TD as there wasn’t the party support there to tell him what to do or where to go.
That’s something Waterford TD John Halligan also says was a problem: “You can quite easily get lost which I did. It’s a shock to the system for a new TD - there’s so many rules, regulations.
“I think there was a couple of meetings called to help us out. I probably didn’t go to them when I should have so I’d say it’s my own fault.”
Mary Murphy from the Department of Government in UCC says that there are a number of supports available when new TDs enter the Dáil.
“There is an induction and orientation programme for them. They’re given some information in relation to practical arrangements.
“There is also a form of mentoring available to them and they’re allocated a liason person who can assist them at any point in terms of any questions they have about their new role.”