The Dáil is back in plenary session on Wednesday. No doubt we will hear all the usual stuff about the politicians coming back from a twelve week summer holiday even though most people know this is not the case. Most of us take a week or two or maybe three in August. Within a few days, people will be pointing out that the Dáil chamber is often empty as if they had no noticed before. However, leaving aside the cynicism, there is a valid question to be answered. If TDs are not in the Dáil Chamber, what are they doing?
The answer is, I was not sure. So I did a ‘time audit’ in March to find out. At the end of each day I wrote down what I did for each half-hour period. I think March is a good month to pick as the Dail is in session for three weeks and in recess for one. There is also a bank holiday. It is fairly representative of the year.
Of course, my audit would probably not be representative of TDs in general. The job of an urban TD is different to that of a rural one and the job of a Front Bencher is different to that of a Minister or Backbencher or Committee Chairman. But it was an interesting exercise nonetheless.
In MARCH, there were 22 working days. I worked 230 hours making an average working day of 10.5 hours (not counting meal breaks etc). Of course, a TD’s hours are erratic and I would have had longer hours some days but not others and I would have worked some weekends but only a half-day on some week days.
Anyway, here’s how is breaks down in terms of activity
Meetings (50.5 hours or 22%)
These include Front Bench (8), Parliamentary Party (7.5), other party policy committees and party meetings (11.5), Briefings and Delegations usually to do with my brief (10.5), staff (7), public meetings on policy issues (3.5), public meetings on constituency issues (3.5). I spend way too much time at meetings and I wonder what is achieved by most of them but it’s hard to cut back. I have to go to some and many more people seek a meeting with me that I can accommodate
Correspondence (36.5 hours or 16%)
Mostly replying to e-mails (29.5). I get hundreds everyday. My assistant goes through them first and deals with the ones she can. She forwards the rest to me and I reply to them when I can, usually late at night. I don’t reply to circulars or e-mails that are not addressed to me. That would be impossible. The other (7) hours I spent on reading the post, writing letters or dictating them
Media (22.5 hours or 10%)
This would involve media interviews, preparing for them, writing press statements and briefing journalists etc. This is almost all national issues but there would be some constituency as well.
Paperwork (22.5 hours or 10%)
This includes preparing speeches, presentations, parliamentary questions, reading and writing policy papers and preparing constituency mailings.
Dail Chamber and Committee (19 hours or 8%)
There you have it. I admit it. I only spent 8% of my working time in the Dáil chamber or committee room though that would be about 20% of the hours in which the Dáil was actually in session. I’d mostly be in the Chamber for legislative debates to do with my brief, ministers questions, leader’s questions and occasionally order of business or an adjournment debate. It worked out as 14.5hours in the chamber and 4.5 in committee.
Travelling (17 hours or 7%)
This does not include travelling between my home and the Dail. That does not count. It is travelling in the course of my work either out to a studio, a factory or business, a constituents home, a school or hospital, to a meeting or conference down the country that I was invited to speak at etc It is for this sort of travel that Dublin TDs are alleged to receive ‘turning up money’ In truth, we have to go far for it but instead of clocking in to the Dail for it which makes no sense we should produce a mileage log instead
Conferences (16.5 hours or 7%)
This is higher than most months as the Fine Gael Ard Fheis was in March but I also spoke at the Industrial Relations News and Stock Exchange conference that month.
Public Engagements (16 hours or 7.5%)
This would include events to do with my brief like a Small Firms Association function, a workers rights campaign launch, an event in my constituency or a party launch or a charity event at which I was invited to participate as a TD to represent the community or party
Phone Calls (13 hours or 5.5%)
I must be on the phone more than this if my bill is anything to go by, but this is what I have in the log.
Canvass (6.5 hours or 3%)
This is not canvassing for votes. There was no election on. This is canvassing to keep in touch with the public and ones constituents and to offer them a voice in policy debates and human contact officialdom. It’s the only way politicians can keep in touch. On doors you meet people from all sorts of background and all sectors. Most are polite and reasonable even when they disagree with you or are angry about an issue. They are nothing like the ‘real people’ on Frontline or the people who ring up radio talk shows. The media’s perception of public opinion is so different to that of a politician’s and I think ours is more accurate. Commentators and journalists should do more canvassing!
Office (6hours or 2.5%)
I am not sure what I meant by this but I was probably in the office doing something or other. Of course, I’d also be in the office for much of the above.
Miscellaneous (4 hours or 2%)
Odd things that you have to do every now and them like getting photographs taken or training or something like that
Clinics and Funerals (0 hours)
I don’t do clinics but I do work from my constituency office on Fridays and meet people by appointment about constituency or personal issues but I don’t seem to have done so in March. I don’t go to funerals as a matter of course but I would if I know the person or family well so that does not count as work really.
Must do it again another month.
Edit: The title Events has been changed to Public Engagements.