‘Backbenchers can’t speak their minds like me’
‘I HAD TO BELIEVE (I could get elected). I don't think we could have worked as hard if I didn't,’ said Stephen Donnelly shortly before stepping into Dáil Eireann last Wednesday.
The Independent TD from Greystones came from nowhere to get elected to the final seat in Wicklow/East Carlow proving wrong all the pundits who said it couldn't be done.
‘I am feeling very excited and I was feeling hugely hugely honoured. I think that's my biggest emotion. It is such an honour to be here representing the people of Wicklow and East Carlow. We have quite the task ahead of us and it's clear something has to be done. I just have an incredible sense of honour that I have been sent up here to represent the electorate.
‘I came in early this morning and brought by mum Margaret and my brother Colm for breakfast. My wife Susan is here as well. I did an interview with Declan Meehan for East Coast FM and an interview with Ryan Tubridy and here I am.'
With a nod to the sense of occasion Stephen was wearing a tie for the first day of his new job in the 31st Dáil, and although it was blue he laughed off suggestions it was a tribute to the wave of blue currently sweeping the country.
Stephen said he is still getting used to get to his new title of Deputy. ‘ The first time I walked in here I came unannounced and I didn't really know what to do. I came in the visitor’s entrance last Tuesday for a meeting of the Independents and I just walked up to the glass door. The lady and gentleman who were behind the desk just said ‘Hello Deputy Donnelly' which was great.
‘ Then as I was having a conversation with journalist Sam Smyth a wonderful lady came up to me and said she was the liaison officer assigned to help me settle in. She is there to show me the ropes and help me figure out how things work.
‘I got to see all the offices. I didn't get my office yet. I think the Government Chief Whip divvies up the offices so there will probably be a lot of movement around the place for the next few days.'
Stephen said that with 16 deputies joining forces to form the technical group they will be allowed speaking time, question time and private members time.
He said that as a result, ‘ we will have the same ability to challenge' the Government as other main parties.
‘But as an Independent I can say what I like so it really is an amazing position. A lot of people have asked me what influence can I bring and that's my answer. When I put a question to the Minister it must be answered. I can speak my mind the way back benchers can't.
‘It is a very exciting time and I will enjoy today and then get down to business after that.'
Management consultant with McKinsey and Company Stephen said he had left his previous life behind and is, in fact, taking a pay cut to take up his seat in the Dáil. ‘ I'm gone.'
Thankfully he didn't have to give notice saying his employers ‘ knew' that if elected Stephen would be handing in his notice.
He also paid tribute to his wife Susan and all his family and friends. ‘I have had amazing support from people,’ he said.
Stephen went on to say that although he was more or less written off by pundits he always believed he could take a seat.
‘I think you have to believe. Even though every people who knows the system said we hadn't a hope. At times when you go out in the driving rain and after canvassing for three hours you might have met two people who said they would vote for you it was clear the size of the task facing us.
‘We only had five weeks to campaign and I think you have to believe (you can do it). I don't think I could have worked as hard as I did if I didn't. But certainty insiders said we hadn't a hope and laughed at us and something we had to dig really deep to keep going.'
Stephen Donnelly on the first day of the 31st Dáil in Leinster House.