Colm Burke: 'I don’t care who is in government, it’s about identifying the problem but also identifying the solution' 

Colm Burke: 'I don’t care who is in government, it’s about identifying the problem but also identifying the solution' 

Colm Burke (FG) celebrates with Simon Coveney, his wife Dr Mary McCaffrey, and Bernard Allen, at the Cork North Central Count Centre at Nemo Rangers GAA Club. Picture: Dan Linehan

AFTER his election to Dáil Éireann on Monday, Fine Gael’s Colm Burke has completed the Grand Slam of Irish politics.

He’s now served as a councillor, a senator, an MEP, and a TD, with a year as Lord Mayor of Cork thrown in to boot.

But the more interesting record he may have just set is the length of time between his first Dáil run and his first Dáil win — 38 years.

Colm Burke canvassing with Leo Varadkar in Blackpool Shopping Centre. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Colm Burke canvassing with Leo Varadkar in Blackpool Shopping Centre. Picture: Larry Cummins.

Mr Burke believes that it was worth the wait and the time was finally right for him.

“I ran in two elections,” he said. “One was when I was just out of college, which was the wrong time to run because I didn’t have the experience.

“I had been very involved in Young Fine Gael at the time and thought I could change the whole world.

“That’s not the way it happened.

“I was out of politics and had to deal with a major health issue, but I came back into it in 1994 and ran in a by-election when I wasn’t a local elected representative, which is a huge disadvantage.”

He was soon elected to Cork City Council, where his political career really began.

That saw him subbed in for Simon Coveney in 2007, when he returned from the European Parliament to the Dáil.

Mr Burke lost that seat two years later, but made it to Leinster House as a senator in 2011, from where he will now cross the building to the Dáil chamber.

Though he’s had to settle for smaller roles to date, that’s not something that he’s too bothered about, believing that change can be made anywhere.

“There’s a quote from Robert F Kennedy that we all can make a small contribution and it’s all the small contributions that each one of us makes that brings about change,” he said.

“No one person can change anything overnight.

“I can go across party in working with people. We all are here with the same idea, of getting change to make people’s lives better. We may have different ways of approaching it, but in my view we’re better working together and compromising to move forward.”

That’s the role he’s taken as a legislator to date, working on European-wide legislation in Brussels and being one of the few people outside of Cabinet to have their draft legislation adopted into Irish law.

“Take the treatment abroad scheme. I was very involved in developing that in Brussels and I was delighted to see after I left Brussels that that become law across Europe.

“Another issue I was working on was roaming charges. Everyone now takes it for granted that you’re not over-charged when using your phone abroad.

“In the Seanad I’ve been very proactive in drafting and publishing legislation and getting it through.

“That’s exactly what I did, publishing the legislation instead of calling on some department official to produce the legislation. I went away and did it myself,” he said.

That’s why he feels fine about heading into the Dáil as an opposition TD as Fine Gael looks like it will be out of government after nine years.

“The way I look at it now is that people would prefer that Fine Gael spend a period in opposition. You can be constructive. One of the things that really annoyed me over the last four years was the number of people who were negative all the time; who were identifying problems, but not identifying solutions.

“My view of politics is that, I don’t care who is in government, it’s about identifying the problem but also identifying the solution.”

He feels that it’s only right that Fine Gael go into opposition after the judgement it received on the doors. Though he believes his party had a message to sell, it was unable to sell it, as an impatient public wants more rapid change.

“I think the message from the electorate was that people accept that Fine Gael did a very good job in relation to stabilising the economy and in the creation of jobs.

“They weren’t happy that we couldn’t deliver on housing and the healthcare issue.

“The big challenge that even though there’s a lot of housing being done in Cork City, it was very hard to sell the message that we are proactive in delivering.

“It was brought home to me very strongly today. I was talking to an auctioneer and they said they have sold land to a developer who will be building social housing, but the problem now is that they won’t be able to get services in there fast enough to get the houses up.

“It’s not only about having a sufficient number of tradespeople, it’s about making sure you have a water connection and a sewer connection, and that’s not done overnight,” he said.

Whatever the message to Fine Gael, Mr Burke was visibly emotional at the message Cork North Central sent to him, vindicating his thwarted attempts to get on the Fine Gael ticket over the years.

Despite internal polls showing he could win a seat a few years ago, he was kept off the ticket and almost left politics entirely. But as he took his Dáil seat five years later, he thanked his family for sticking with him through the tough years.

“My family, they’re delighted,” he said. “I was put under a lot of pressure back in 2015 to leave politics because of the way I was kept off the ticket even though opinion polls showed I would get a seat. They felt at that stage that I should close the book.

“I think every family goes through it. There are challenges there, but my family have always been really supportive of me and that’s extremely important.”

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