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Thinking that if Arnie can do it, anyone can is not the right attitude. And coining your own version of an I’ll be back type catchphrase won’t cut it. The world of politics requires intelligence, personality, likeability and ambition. A way with people is essential – not just in terms of the public, but also in gaining the support of your peers. Most politicians tend to have had previous careers in other areas, and although there has been a modern trend of film stars and singers drifting in, there are people from all kinds of other industries pursuing a career in politics.

Brian Lenihan worked as a barrister, Enda Kenny and Mary Hanafin are teachers, and Albert Reynolds was involved in line-dancing and dog food. If the thought of the public eye scares the bejesus out you then perhaps taking a Robin (as in Batman &…) style role would be a better idea. Political parties, especially the larger ones, have a large number of employment opportunities available. Perhaps chief among these is the political researcher, who gathers and analyses all the political, economic and social data for politicians’ speeches. Researchers are also called upon to draft speeches and handle media enquiries.



Sadly image can often trump education in the political sphere; if the people like what you say, you could be voted in, even if the only qualification you have is from Krusty’s Clown College. That said, like most other careers these days, a third-level education will contribute greatly to your chances of success. Skills you learn at college, such as effective communication and critical analysis will prove extremely useful.

Several arts courses, such as Sociology, History, Economics and of course, Politics, will provide you with a good academic background for a career in politics. The best education for becoming a politician is to serve your time as an active member of a political party, trade union or pressure group, participating in debates, helping with elections and acquiring a position of responsibility. College is an ideal time to test and hone your skills, as many political parties and organisations there will be clamouring for you to join and take part in their debates and other activities.  Political researchers tend to be graduates of politics, economics or law disciplines. A particularly appropriate course is the Honours Bachelor Degree in Civil Law and Politics; a four-year, level eight course in UCD that was introduced in 2006.


Options After Qualification

Politicians attempt to win elections to enter County or City Councils, the Dáil and the European Parliament. However, it is advisable to gain experience and expertise in another career before committing to the world of politics on a full-time basis.

Independent political research organisations are not big employers; they tend to recruit applicants with postgraduate qualifications and graduate experience. Most Irish TDs cannot afford the services of a political researcher, so researchers must compete over a relatively small number of jobs and will need to give serious thought to progressing to fourth-level education after graduating. Work may also be found abroad, in Britain and Brussels in particular.


The Work

Focusing on relations with the media is increasingly becoming a huge part of everyday political life. Newspapers and television are the most regular communication a politician can have with the public and so it is important to nurture and maintain these associations.

Politicians must represent the views and concerns of the population that elected them; be that as a councillor at local government level, as a TD in the Dáil, or as an MEP in the European Parliament. As a member of a political party, a politician also helps to formulate and implement party policy. Politicians often serve in specially formed, single-issue bodies. Examples of these include an Oireachtas all-party committee, where TDs from various political parties examine government policy and spending on a certain issue (such as the environment or health), and then draw up a report on the issue. Similar committees, consisting of councillors from various parties, are also to be found at a local level. Politicians also run surgeries, the name for an office that receives visits from individual members of the local populace, who are seeking assistance from their political representative. Researchers provide politicians with all the relevant background information on current issues. This can often involve sifting through large tracts of complex economic and social information. Other duties can include drafting speeches, compiling reports, dealing with media enquiries and general office administration.


Personal Qualities & Work Environment

The skills needed to assist success in politics are often natural qualities such as likeability and communicating skills. Charisma is something that cannot be learnt yet it is fundamental in politics today as image continues to be a voting decider. Excellent interpersonal and debating skills are vital; not just for the purpose of winning over the public during an election, but also as a means of getting their work done. A passion for development and progress is rudimentary; politicians are expected to care about issues such as unemployment and the health service, and they should have a strong commitment to helping people. An ability to manage a large and diverse workload is also needed: TDs must concern themselves with both local constituency and national issues, and not fall behind in either. Politicians are often required to work long and irregular hours and must possess a neck thicker than your average oak tree, as facing accusations and arguments, whether fair or unfair, is inevitable. Political researchers should feel the same passion for current affairs as politicians if they are to succeed as part of a political team. Good organisational and information management skills are also essential, as politicians require the most statistically accurate and representative information to get their message across.


The Money

TDs in Ireland are among the best-paid politicians in the world (we also have one of the highest ratios for politicians per head of population); they earn a basic pay of at least a €100, 000 per year. Political researchers earn between €26, 000 and €32, 000 per year.


The Jargon

Proportional Representation: A system of voting that is based on a party’s or individual’s percentage of the popular vote, in an electoral area that requires at least two representatives. Candidates can also benefit from being voted as second choice, third choice, and so on


Coalition Government:

Where two or more parties combine to create a majority large enough to form a governmentThe Hustings: The campaign trail of a politician in the run-up to an election, involving the kissing of babies, pretending to play sports, ruffling the hair of children, and so on

Job Titles


TD (Teachta Dála)

MEP (Member of European Parliament)

Political Researcher


Further Resources


Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas

Leinster House

Dublin 2

Tel: 01 618 3000

Web: www.oireachtas.ie

Information on the Irish State

Web: www.irlgov.ie

Politics.ie – political discussion website

Web: www.politics.ie



Whichcollege.ie is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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