Since being elected on his 48th birthday last year, TD Michael Collins hasn’t had a day off. What’s more, he has developed type 2 diabetes. But, as with all challenges, he is facing it head-on, he tells Jackie Keogh
ON the day of his 48th birthday – February 26th 2016 – 11,063 people voted to make Michael Collins (Ind) their man in the west.
Representing the people of West Cork is a role that Michael believes he has been preparing for all his life.
He left school at the age of 12 and is largely self-educated. It is not possible to mention all of the community organisations that he has become involved with over the last 25 years, but it would be prudent to mention his day jobs, which include: farming at his home in Lowertown, Schull; working as an undertaker; doing milk recording for farmers; and landscape gardening.
When out canvassing, a woman asked him ‘What do you do?’ He told her: ‘I look after the living and the dead.’
Running for the Dáil after just 18 months as a member of Cork County Council was a gamble – it meant that on the Monday after the election he would ‘either be in the Dáil or cutting lawns in Goleen.’
For the ‘at home with’ interview, Michael chose the Goleen and District Community Centre – a large, multifaceted building with six acres of community space and playing pitches all round it because it is here that Michael spends a lot of his down time.
In short, work is what he does for fun.
‘Some people enjoy swimming or tennis. That’s their fun. I don’t go to pubs much socially, but I do visit 15 or 16 or them weekly as part of my clinics.’
At this juncture, his daughter, Eileen, smilingly brings us a large pot of tea and all through the recorded interview you can hear the sounds of two people happily munching on iced buns and fruit scones.
Michael said: ‘It is pretty hectic. There is no doubt but I do have a very busy lifestyle. A lot of the jobs I had before entering politics I still do.’
Every day begins shortly before 6am and continues with clinics, volunteer hospital runs, constituency clinics, and anything else that might land on his desk until the day ends at midnight.
When it is pointed out that he is on recess from the Dáil, Michael replied: ‘There is no recess in my life. I don’t have a regular life. That’s the thing about being a politician. I’ve no holidays taken and no holidays planned.
‘I know farmers that haven’t had a holiday for years. Milking is so important to them. If they are away and one animal gets sick and dies, it can ruin their whole year.’
When the Dáil is sitting, his Tuesdays start at 4am, which means he is at his desk at 9.30am.
‘It can seem like a prison sometimes,’ said Michael, ‘you don’t get out and there is so much to be done.’
That is as close to a complaint as you will hear from Michael Collins because this man believes that his role as a TD is Cork South West is ‘exciting’ and that ‘every day is an adventure.’
As the furthest TD from the Dáil, Michael is asked about his expenses. He said he gets ‘360km up and 360km down’ and that is it as far as mileage is concerned.
There are no extras, no add-ons, for detours to meetings in Kinsale, or the like.
‘At the start, finding accommodation was difficult and expensive. In fact, it was an absolute nightmare. But now I’ve found a hotel in Rathmines and all it takes is a text to confirm I’ll be staying on a Tuesday and Wednesday night at a rate of €160 for both, with no breakfast.’
Michael said he likes being a TD because it means he can ‘give 100% to West Cork.
‘I get to spend a full day on Tuesday in the Dáil, sometimes up to 11pm and all day Wednesday, and the voting takes place on Thursdays. I never miss a vote and I never abstain.’
Sometimes his children come to Dublin with him to help – and no, he says, they are not on the payroll.
‘Time with my kids is hugely important to me. I involve them quite a lot in my political life, but I am mindful that I have to shield them somewhat too.’
Michael, specifically, is referring to his recent attendance at an anti-abortion rally, which sent his Facebook account into overdrive.
Commenting on the 39,000 views, likes, hates, comments, and whatnot, he said: ‘I am not afraid of criticism, but I do worry that my children would be hurt by it.’
As for his constituency, he’s all over the shop: he covers from the Mizen Peninsula to Kinsale and back to Beara.
‘Covering it well,’ he said, ‘would not be possible without a brilliant back-up team, which includes my children – Eileen, Marie and Michael – and brothers, John and Danny.’Michael said he has two part-time assistants who are paid: Mairin McGrath, who is Mattie McGrath’s daughter, and Ellen Barry from Lisheen in Skibbereen.
‘Both are based in West Cork because I don’t have any staff in Dublin. But I do have an office in the Dáil. Besides,’ he adds, ‘everyone has my mobile phone numbers – they are on the adverts that appear every week in The Southern Star.
‘I also have two part-time paid secretaries: Catherine McCarthy and my brother, John Collins. Fiona Cotter from the National Learning Network is also helping me part-time.’
But he said there can be anything up to 11 volunteers working with him on any given day.
‘Con McCarthy from Kilbrittain, who is the chairman of West Cork Rural Alliances, is a mainstay, but there are lots of other good contacts too that I have made in different communities over the years.
‘Then, of course, there’s Danny, who took over my Council seat. He keeps me abreast of what is happening on the Council.’
Healthy eating is always an issue for a busy person. ‘That is a huge issue,’ he said.
‘That is the one downside of my lifestyle because I have, since entering politics, developed type 2 diabetes.
‘You could be snacking on a piece of cake at a function, or, if you are running between meetings, you could skip a meal.
‘And sometimes I have my main meal of the day at 11pm at night.’
He said the doctors at the Mizen Medical Practice in Schull have their work cut out chasing him to do the right thing as far as his diet is concerned.
Michael’s admission came at the end of the conversation, but by then it was too late to be anything but guilty about all the cakes we’d consumed.
There is no avoiding the relentless enthusiasm that Michael has for the job. He truly believes it is ‘everybody’s dream,’ but there is no denying that being at the beck and call of constituents would be someone else’s idea of a nightmare.
‘I owe them and I intend to deliver,’ Michael said referring to the people of West Cork who placed their faith in him when the results of the count were made known on February 27th 2016.
How or why he ever got into politics first day can be explained by the example set by his late father and mother, Seamus and Patricia.
‘My father worked for 48 years in Drinagh and never took a holiday, and my mother, who died of liver cancer at the age of 55, was 100% involved in the community.’
Michael goes quiet and I look up from my scribbling. His face has gone all red and there are tears on his cheeks. He said: ‘I’m doing what she would have wanted me to do. I’d like to think she’d be proud.’