Despite the upheaval caused by last Friday’s general election the political dynasty is still a factor of Irish political life.
Of the 158 TDs elected, 13.29% of them had a close family relative who served previously in the Dail. This is compared to a 13.25% figure after the previous election.
The most high profile beneficiary of this practice is Taoiseach Enda Kenny. His father was former Mayo footballer and Fine Gael TD Henry Kenny. Upon the elder Kenny’s death in 1975 he was immediately succeeded by his son in a by-election. The Dail seat that the current Taoiseach holds has thus been in the same family since 1954.
A loose party structure can contribute to dynastic politics in Ireland. Powerful politicians do not suffer much interference from their parties in local matters.
“Party names can sometimes be more of a brand name than anything else,” says Dr. Eoin O’Malley a political scientist at Dublin City University. “Many politicians have their own personal organisation loyal to them.”
“For example, the people behind Minister Alan Kelly in Tipperary North are very much a loyal Alan Kelly organisation rather than a strong Labour party organisation. This is the type of operation that he could pass onto his children when he retires,” he continues.
It is not all that unusual for children to follow their parents into a profession. Having a parent in your chosen industry will often provide otherwise unavailable opportunities and this is no different in politics.
“Politician’s children have an advantage in that they are exposed to the correct social networks and will often be more exposed to senior political figures which can help their career,” says Dr. O’Malley.
Dr. O’Malley claims that it is hard to tell whether these political families are having a negative impact of the electoral process. He does say that there is the potential for people to be held back if one family has a big presence in a local political party.
“If it is much too easy for somebody whose family are in politics to get on the ballot paper you might be excluding people who may be much better but just can’t get past party selection,” he says. “However if you assume that once you get your seat it’s a fair fight to the top then people such as Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny did so because of their own talent.”