WEST Cork Independent TD Michael Collins has defended his decision to employ, not just his brother John Collins, but also his partner, Valerie Ward.
Deputy Collins described himself as being ‘never one to run away from the facts of a situation’ and has no regrets about appearing on the Claire Byrne radio programme on RTÉ last Thursday about TDs who employ family members.
‘Other TDs were invited on to the show but declined to do so,’ said the Independent TD. ‘I have nothing to hide – especially from the people who returned me to Dáil Eireann for a second term in February.’
He confirmed John’s salaried position is as a part-time parliamentary secretary, and Valerie’s position is as a part-time parliamentary assistant.
He pointed out that on no less than four occasions he has declined to take the incremental pay increases available to Dáil TDs because he finds it ‘outrageous that TD’s salaries are so protected while others find themselves either out of a job, due to the coronavirus, or the unpredictability of employment at this time.
‘This is not about jobs for the boys,’ he said. ‘John works hard for his salary as does Valerie. Their jobs – like the job of a TD – are demanding, not to mention the fact that it is open to public scrutiny, and a great deal of criticism too.’
The TD said he believes his work as a passionate advocate for the needs and rights of rural Ireland speaks for itself and that it will be the electorate and not the media who will be his judge.
He said he is aware of lots of politicians who employ family members. He said they don’t do it because it is a cushy number. ‘They do it because they will answer calls from 7am until midnight, which is way beyond the scope of a 9 to 5 job.
‘It’s hard work. The hours are punishing. It’s like being on call 24/7 but they do it without complaining.’
He cited the recent floods as one example. ‘While I was in Bantry, helping elderly people to sandbag their doors, John was helping people who were in crisis in Bandon.
‘As for Valerie, who is my partner and my part-time PA, we were together 24/7 when the Covid-19 restrictions came about. It was about that time Valerie – who previously worked as a tour operator – started working for me because I needed help getting people back to West Cork from Bolivia, Peru, Australia and America.’
The TD said: ‘No politician would take on anyone unless they were qualified enough, or committed to the task at hand. And every employee working for a TD must pass a strict qualification criterion set by the Oireachtas.’