Enda Kenny’s Four Decade Career In Politics Is An Argument For TD Term Limits

If anything proves the necessity for term limits on the political careers of Teachtaí Dála, Enda Kenny’s unbroken forty-two year presence within the environs of Leinster House must be it. From his election in 1975 as a glorified substitute for his late father Henry, a long-standing Fine Gael TD in the constituency of Mayo West, until the present day, the former primary school teacher has spent almost his entire adult life in politics. Admittedly in that time he has progressed from being a nondescript twenty-four year old backbencher to the leader of his party and holder of successive government offices, including two terms as Taoiseach. However that history has left him with scant knowledge of daily life outside of Dail Éireann, as he proved with alarming regularity during interactions with the press and general public.

Given that each Dáil is limited to a five year term by the Electoral Act of 1992, there is a strong argument to be made for a restriction on the number of times a person can stand for election to the legislature. A total of five Dáileanna, successive or otherwise, would be an eminently fair rule. This would allow an individual to spend some twenty-five years as a TD, in one stretch if repeatedly reelected or potentially over several electoral cycles if less successful at the ballot box. Certainly two and a half decades would be more than ample time to pursue whatever objectives they had in mind or to build up enough institutional knowledge and experience to be of public service to others (not to mention being financially rewarding as a “job” in its own right, a not inconsequential thing). Variations of the above rule could be suggested by others.

However, the day of a life-long, generational career in national elected politics should be a thing of the past.

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8 comments

  1. Twenty-five years is awfully generous. After even 5 years, one is less and less likely to represent the interests or perspectives of the people outside of the parliamentary club.

    1. Yes, but you have to take into consideration the need to build up knowledge and experience. And the value of establishing institutional memory within certain individuals and groups of individuals. Also, people foregoing other careers need an opportunity to earn money from their political one, simply in terms of pay and pension from being in public office.

  2. Term limits are a two edged sword. There is a long, steep learning curve upon election. Constantly having newbies makes them much more dependent on party infrastructure and donors. They end up being led around by the nose a lot. Which then ends up with a “tea party” revolution of true believers against the “corrupt” newbies.

    Besides we already have effective term limits. They are called elections. If the electorate choose to retain their TD, what legitimacy has any other group to overturn or prevent that choice?

    1. Sure, I agree with all that. On the other hand, while professional politicians are desirable and necessary, there has to be some cut-off point. Otherwise we simply have an Oireachtas filled with careerists and seat-warmers. Five terms of five years each, if not sequential, gives plenty of wriggle room.

      If not a limited number of terms then a mandatory retirement age?

      Or a restricted electoral age, as with the presidency. Age 30 and over before you can become a TD?

  3. I’ve mixed feelings on this. I think that there’s no question that ‘career’ TDs do – often – tend to wind up detached. I think this is more likely in parties where government is more likely for the simple reason that that provides its own support structures and means of advancement whereas when it’s not an option there’s more space for work in the community or wherever. I’m not sure that banning people from standing is the best way – gendjinn makes a lot of sense, but yet I know that term after term is a bad idea. Any ideas?

    1. It’s a difficult one and the instinct is to say no, that restrictions are an undemocratic solution. However… How else do you ensure a turnover of political representatives? Yes, voters can simply chose to vote politicians out but people vote as much for party as for candidate. If the party restricts the candidates you can vote for? And the incumbent always gets priority.

      I strongly favour mandatory 50/50 male/female splits for party candidates. That, in a sense, is undemocratic. Yet, paradoxically, its also a democratic corrective.

      If not term limits, then mandatory retirements? Age sixty-five?

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