Padraig's rocky road in politics

Padraig McCormack being held aloft by Eamon King and Mike Connor after he won his seat in 1989.

Padraig McCormack being held aloft by Eamon King and Mike Connor after he won his seat in 1989.

The memoir of former Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack, which will be launched in Galway on Monday night, will give the public an insight into how difficult it is to succeed in politics, he says.

Entitled The Rocky Road to the Dail the publication indicates that politics is a “tough process” and demands “passion, patience and perseverence”.

The former auctioneer, who lives in Renmore and who spent 37 years in all as a county and city councillor, TD, was twice chairperson of the parliamentary party and was mayor of Galway city, decided to write the book in 2011.

“I once heard that there is one book in everyone,” he says “so you could say this is an attempt to put that to the test. It was only in my retirement that I was able to devote the necessary time to putting this story on paper.”

He decided to write his memoir after the February 2011 general election when “for the first time in 37 years I was not a public representative”. He was reminiscing on his years in politics and thought maybe he should write his life story. He penned it in nine months between February and November of that year, then put it in a drawer and left it for a year. When he came across it again, he decided to show the draft to a few people and they encouraged him to publish it.

“It was only in my retirement that I was able to devote the necessary time to putting this story on paper,” he says. “I didn’t know if I was capable of writing a book but once I started it flowed. I found it therapeutic. I had no bother writing it but I had great effort editing it.”

Writing an autobiography is not easy, he outlines. “You have your own central character and you won’t please everyone. You have to be careful not to be overly critical of your enemies or opponents. You have to guard against boosting yourself or exaggerating your achievements. I hope the book is an honest account of my time in politics.”

Protected by a mask

He believes we go through life protected by a “mask” but this gets “dislodged” in a memoir and we are laid bare for all to see. He says he strived to be factual in his writing and is conscious of his failures as well as his successes.

Growing up in a small village in Kenagh near Ballymahon in Co Longford, he came from a solid Fine Gael background. He was drawn to politics because he wanted to improve the lives of constituents and because of the “buzz”, he says.

What impressed him most in 37 years in politics, 23 of which were spent as a TD? “The level of dedication politicians have for serving the electorate. The time and dedication that countless public representatives put into politics. It takes over lives at council and Dail level.”

And least? “The manoeuvring of unelected people in politics”. In his own party? “Yes. They would often be pursuing a different agenda than that of the elected person.”And then as he senses another question on the same lines he deftly moves on to his regret that “unfortunately I was never there when Fine Gael were elected to Government. That was something I did regret. In Government you can achieve a lot more than in opposition.”

There were huge highs along the way, being elected in successive general elections, becoming chairperson of the parliamentary party, and most of all being mayor of Galway city in 1992-’93 which he describes as the “highlight” of his political career and a “huge honour”.

A firm believer in the positive principle he states nothing stands out in terms of “lows” during his highly successful political career. “I was fortunate not to have had many lows in politics.”

As for dishing the dirt on politicians in his autobiography? Padraic McCormack, the veteran politician noted for his strong work ethic, determination and loyalty to Fine Gael, feigns mock shock, laughingly saying it is not that kind of book. But does it contain any surprises between the covers that might make some people blush or bristle? “Well, people will have to read it to find out,” he says with another hearty laugh. This is a man who knows a thing or two about whetting readers’ appetites.

Getting a break

He says the title of his book - The Rocky Road to the Dail - is apt because the journey can be bumpy at times. “The rockiest part is getting a break. There is no easy way to get a break, it’s down to dedication and hard work. You need a certain amount of luck in politics, a case of being in the right place at the right time. And the next rocky part is staying in! I was fortunate enough to have the benefit of a great back-up team, both at home and within the party.”

What politicians does he admire? Cork man Peter Barry, the former Fine Gael Minister for Foreign Affairs, stands out because he was very honest, Padraic says. The late Brian Lenihan junior impressed him too. “He worked under tremendous pressure in the last year of his life, he stuck to his task. A lot would not agree with some of the decisions he was involved in but he persevered under extremely difficult circumstances.”

Padraic McCormack rates An Taoiseach Enda Kenny highly, particularly for the “resilience he showed during the last leadership heave in 2010”. He says the steeliness he displayed came as a suprise to a lot of people. When asked about the Castlebar man’s current performance as leader he says he is “doing the best he can under very difficult circumstances”. And he leaves it at that. He will not be drawn on the treatment meted out to the Fine Gael politicians who had the party whip removed for voting against the abortion bill, simply saying that his book was written in 2011 and so only deals with politics up to that point, up to the election of the present Government.

He says two of the things he found frustrating was the fact that his party was in opposition in Government for such a long period of time and “not being able to achieve more for people”.

True to constituents

He would have loved to have been a candidate in the last General Election. “I knew we were going to be in Government [at the last general election] and I missed that opportunity. I achieved small things in politics but wished I had the opportunity of achieving bigger things.”

The main lesson that he learned from a life in politics is that you have to remain humble and true to your constituents, he says. His advice to rookie politicians is never to lose contact with the electorate. “Always guard against that”.

He is happily retired for the past two years. “It takes a good while to adjust when you’ve spent all your life in politics. But that’s an issue that applies to a lot of people when they retire from their jobs.”

He loves gardening, plays a little golf and is enjoying spending time with his six grandchildren. And now that he has been bitten by the writing bug there is no stopping him. He is working on a book of short stories. Non-political, he hastens to add with a chuckle, lest any of us conjure up visions of ghouls, goblins and leggedy beasties bearing a striking resemblance to politicians past or present adorning the pages.

He feels it was important to record the early part of his life in addition to giving an account of “politics from the inside” in his memoir. He hopes this will not bore people reading the book for its political content.

“To understand the present one must know the past and what made the individual the person they became and the forces and sources that made him.”

While he attends his local Fine Gael branch meetings he is no longer involved in politics, as such. He has been back to the Dail on a number of occasions but it did not feel the same, he says.

“I felt the place owed me something but I don’t know what. Perhaps I decided to compensate for what I was owed by writing this memoir.”

* Padraic McCormack’s book entitled The Rocky Road to the Dail will be launched at the Menlo Park Hotel on Monday night at 10pm by Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs Dinny McGinley. The public are invited to the launch. The book, which costs €18, will be on sale on the night. He also hopes to have it available from local bookshops.

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