- 20 Dec 18
Fianna Fail’s Robert Troy first made headlines in 2016, when during a Dáil debate he discussed suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. In his first major national interview, the Longford-Westmeath TD opens up further about his mental health struggles after the last election; talks about his run-ins with Shane Ross; and being ‘snubbed’ by Leo Varadkar. Plus he discusses teenage strip-club visits, porn, religion – and drink-driving in his youth.
A man with a lot on his plate these days, Robert Troy is looking forward to putting his feet up over the Christmas break. As well as darting back and forth between his Longford-Westmeath constituency and Leinster House, the 36-year-old is also doing an MA in Business and Finance at the Institute of Public Administration.
“It is very difficult doing the job and, at the same time, trying to study for a Masters,” the Fianna Fáil frontbench spokesperson on Transport, Tourism and Sport says. “But I’ve got through the first year. It took me two years, but I did it in such a way to give myself that little bit more room. I’m now doing the second and final year. Again, it’s going to take me two years. But that’s okay.”
The paucity of time explains why we had to talk during Troy’s hour-long journey back home to Mullingar. The TD was visiting his dying aunt, which clearly had him in a very reflective mood.
Troy first came to national prominence back in 2016, when he stood up in the Dáil and revealed during a debate that he suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. That aside, however, very little is known about him. Indeed, this Hot Press Interview is his first major sit-down with a national publication…
Jason O’Toole: What type of character were you growing up?
Robert Troy: I was a bit spoilt, but, at the same time, a bit rebellious, because I could get away with more than my elder siblings. I was the youngest of 12, and I certainly pushed the boundaries a lot further than my older brothers or sisters. Ruth Coppinger said she was one of 12 too in her Hot Press Interview earlier this year. Such big families are very unusual now.
I was the youngest – there was a 20-year gap between myself and the eldest.
Did your mother stay at home, with so many children?
My mother was a full-time worker – she was a teacher and school principal. She had one of my brothers on a Friday and was back working Monday (laughs). There wasn’t the maternity and paternity leave that’s available now. My father was a local shopkeeper and postmaster for a time. He also worked as a farm manager for a while. So, both my parents worked full-time. They had to, because all of us went to boarding school. Most of us went to third level at a time when there was no such thing as free third level.
Did you have a very religious upbringing?
Yeah. My mother is very conservative. And so is my father, probably not as conservative as my mother. I served mass and all of us went to religious-run schools. Still, we’d have a very mixed family: a priest, an atheist, non-believer, non-practising and some practising. At the end of the day, you make the choice in terms of what way you want to lead your life. I would be a person of faith myself.
Do you believe in the Virgin Mary?
Which of us knows how earth was created, really and truly? Did the chicken or egg come first? It’s part of the religion. If you look at human nature, a woman can’t become pregnant without intercourse. So, you’d question it – but it’s part of the belief and I suppose I do… I accept it, put it that way.
Even though it doesn’t sound logical, you still accept it?
It may not sound logical, but I don’t know how the world was created. There is an ultimate creator. He’s maybe all-powerful, transcends all human beings. There’s something bigger out there, so maybe he has the power to do that. I don’t know. But it’s not something I go to sleep every night wondering: was the Virgin Mary really a virgin.
What about Noah’s Ark – would you accept that as being true as well?
Of course it could rain for 30 days and 30 nights. Sure many-a-time in Ireland, it fucking rains for 30 days consecutively. Now, we didn’t need Noah’s Ark to get out of it. But, of course, it could be true.
So Noah’s Ark could be a true story? You don’t dispute it?
It could be.
You basically take the Bible as gospel?
Like any writing, there may be exaggerations – but, for the most part, yes. Do I believe the Bible? Do I accept it? Yes.
Danny Healy-Rae told me Noah’s Ark was proof God is in charge of the weather.
Look, sure, if Danny believes that, isn’t he entitled to his beliefs?
He is – but do you believe God is in charge of the weather?
Somebody created the world. But we have a responsibility to respect the world and to acknowledge that our actions have consequences for the world. We’ve the benefit of it, and we have to protect it and leave it in a proper condition for the next generation. So, to try and alleviate your responsibility in terms of the environment by saying that the man above is responsible is a cop-out. He may believe that there’s an ultimate creator – I do too. But I also believe that we have a responsibility.
Do you believe in aliens?
I don’t think so.
Because John Halligan does! That’s a good enough reason not to believe in them.
You obviously believe in heaven…
I certainly believe there’s a next life. I hope the next life is a place that we’ll get to meet our loved ones who are departed. I lost a sister 21 years ago – she was only 34. I lost a brother 10 years ago. My sister had lung cancer and she never smoked a day in her life. My brother had testicular cancer, which moved up to his pancreas. I’d like to think I’ll meet them again. Maybe the loss of my sister and brother helped deepen my faith in the hope and belief that I’ll meet them again.
Did your siblings have any children?
My sister had four children. Her two eldest girls were twins. The first of them got married in August. So, that was a big family occasion. It was a very emotional day for my parents, because it was their first grandchild and it was also their first child’s child – and she wasn’t there.
It must’ve been tough losing two siblings.
I was only 14 when my sister died. My mother was the school principal and she went back to do her Masters when I was nine or 10, and I would’ve spent a lot of weekends with my sister when she was in St Pat’s doing her course. My sister was a teacher in Bray. She was like a second mother to me – we were very close.
What’s your position with regard to the Dáil prayer?
If the Business Committee decided to scrap the prayer, it wouldn’t worry me: if I want to say a prayer I’ll say it – I don’t need to say it on the floor of the Dáil. I wouldn’t campaign to scrap it and I wouldn’t campaign to retain it. It’s a sideshow really.
Did the Church get off lightly on the payments in relation to child sex abuse?
I think certainly they could pay more. They have the capacity to make greater contributions and that should be exploited and used. But I don’t believe either, on the flipside, that the Church should be left penniless either.
The Church has a huge land-bank – would it not be a good idea to requisition a lot of that?
That’s what I’m saying, like. I mean, where they have capacity and where they have wealth in their organisation, they should use that wealth to make contributions.
Is murder a greater sin than sexual abuse?
I think if you murder somebody you put them out of their misery. But, I think, if you abuse a child or sexually assault or abuse somebody, you’re scarring them for life. The person that you murder is gone and, hopefully, as I say, in a better place, at peace. Obviously their family is distraught. But if you sexually assault, remove the innocence of a child, I think, it’s the ultimate crime.
Ruth Coppinger said in her Hot Press Interview that the next big agenda is the separation of Church and State.
I’ve no problem with the separation of Church and State. None whatsoever. I don’t believe we need to have them integrated. I actually would welcome a separation of Church and State. It would make for a much stronger Church because, I believe, the people going to church then are doing so out of freedom of conscience – and not because it’s imposed on them.
What way did you vote in the Eighth Amendment?
I voted to repeal it. I have to say, I thought long and hard about it. In terms of repealing the Eighth, I would have no issue in terms of fatal foetal abnormalities, incest and rape. Other areas I’m uncomfortable with it. But when it came down to it, I asked myself the question: ‘By voting no, would it prevent one termination?’ And I then I said, ‘No, because what it does is, it victimises women and it forces them to go abroad.’ While I had concerns about the 12-week nature, I ultimately came down with the decision to vote Yes.
How did you vote in the marriage equality referendum?
I campaigned in the same sex marriage with the LGBT community in Mullingar and Athlone. My brother is a year married; he got married to his (male) partner in Spain. I suppose that would’ve influenced my decision. I had no problem with it. I believe in equality for all our citizens. I would’ve been campaigning many an evening with the local community at a time when Avril Power was claiming she was the only liberal voice in Fianna Fáil on the matter! She ignored the fact that there were many others out there doing probably more than she was.
But the Catholic Church says gay sex is a sin.
Sex isn’t a sin – it’s an expression of a person’s love for somebody else. But it’s also a gratification that people participate in – and I’ve no problem with it. Do I agree with everything the Church says? No. But I’m still a member of the Church. I get comfort from the Church. I’m comfortable with my faith – I don’t have to agree with everything they preach.
How did your very conservative mother feel about your brother coming out?
She came to the wedding in Spain. She gave him away – she walked him up the aisle. She’s very proud of him. Every mother loves their children and they don’t judge – and she hasn’t judged. He lives in Spain. I was home on Sunday night to visit my parents and she was saying he’d been on the phone to say he was coming home for Christmas, and she was so excited about it. I’m sure she’s just as proud of him as she was before he came out.
Did you ever question your own sexuality growing up?
I suppose everybody questions it, don’t they? I’ve always been in a heterosexual relationship.
You were never tempted to experiment?
(Laughs) No – not so far anyway!
Who was your teenage crush on?
As a teenager, it would’ve been very erotic to be watching Home and Away and them wearing bikinis!
Was chasing women and sex a big part of growing up for you?
I went to an all boys boarding school. But, yeah, I enjoy chasing women. I enjoy sex with women.
One of the Dáil pol corrs was telling me you’ve a reputation for being a bit of a ladies’ man!
Sometimes someone’s reputation can supercede them. Put it this way, if I was with all the women I was alleged to have been with, I would have had a very exciting number of years! I’m in a relationship about two years. For most of my adult life, I’ve been in relationships.
It might be a grim thought, but George Hook said he was turned on by wearing women’s knickers! Is there anything that turns you on?
Taking women’s knickers off!
How old were you when you lost virginity?
About 17, I’d say.
Was it all you hoped it would be?
Far from it. It was a drunken one-night stand.
How old were you before it was in a loving atmosphere?
I suppose first love was when I was 18/19.
Have you ever been to a strip club?
Yes. As a teenager, I went to a strip club at a friend’s brother’s stag party. What passes as fun and entertainment at 19 certainly wouldn’t pass as fun and entertainment now. Recently, I was in Amsterdam and walked through the red light district and I found it seedy and uninteresting.
Have you ever been with a hooker?
Pardon! Have I ever been with a hooker? No! I honestly believe if people want sex you shouldn’t need to pay for it. There’s many men and women out there and we’re not too dissimilar in terms of sexual need and gratification. Most times, if you go out and socialise and meet with people, you’ll find that sex is readily available from a willing adult (laughs). And it’s a little bit more pleasurable, I’d imagine, than having to pay for it.
Have you ever watched porn?
Of course I’ve watched porn.
Did you enjoy watching it?
Did I enjoy watching it (laughs)? It’s a while since I watched it. I can’t remember. No more than I said about the strip clubs: what you find enjoyable at 19 is totally different, and your mindset at 19 to now is worlds apart. Would I have watched a porn movie in the last number of years? Not at all.
It’s much more accessible these days – at a flick of a button you can switch on porn.
Jesus! Jason, what buttons are you switching? I’ve fucking none of them on my television anyway!
I mean on your computer.
I’ve an Oireachtas computer, so it would be a total ‘no-no’ to be looking at porn on that.
Hypothetically speaking, if you could become Taoiseach in the morning on the condition you’d have to give up sex – would you take the deal?
(Laughs) Who’d be checking if I had to give it up or not?
For argument’s sake, God gave you the deal.
I think I’d take the Taoiseach’s job and I’d chance my arm in terms of how I’d fare on the sex front thereafter!
What type of music were you into growing up?
I wasn’t very musical at all. I would listen to a variety of music. Last week I was at Andrea Bocelli, and I like the soundtrack to A Star Is Born. Basically, whatever’s in the charts. I’m not set on any one type of music. I read Hot Press an odd time. Funny, actually, it’s in the hairdressers that I go to get my hair cut and they always give it to me.
Did you ever smoke marijuana?
No. It’s funny, I never had the urge to do it. Even a couple of weeks ago, I was in a situation where somebody was smoking a joint and asked did I want a drag. I was at a party in Germany many years ago and the birthday cake was a hash cake – and I didn’t have any desire to have a slice. Even now, I don’t drink as much as I used to. I would’ve gone out and binged, drank excessively and had the fun, and all the rest. But I never had the urge to take a drug of any description.
What do you think about legalising marijuana?
Look it, there’s merit in it. It would appear that there’s a lot of people fucking smoking it anyway. I don’t know, sometimes you might be better off legalising something and at least getting tax off it than not.
How old were you when you first got pissed?
This would be a bone of contention in my house, because my mother is a pioneer 50 years and never drank. My father would be a very moderate drinker. The first time I got caught being drunk was when we were on a school tour to Italy in the year after my Junior Cert. We got very drunk. Funny enough, the night we were caught was the one night that I wasn’t drunk, but those who were gave the list of everyone who had drank over the previous couple of nights. So, the school wrote to my parents and, needless to say, that didn’t go down well. At another time, I got drunk on a Christmas Eve and I went to midnight mass. Again, I shouldn’t have been drunk because I was underage. My brother had to take me out of mass before it was over, put it that way.
Alan Kelly TD and Minister Jim Daily both confessed in their recent Hot Press Interviews to getting behind the wheel after a few pints. Did you ever do that?
I did. I suppose, given my current portfolio as spokesperson, I’d be embarrassed to say it now. I would have, as an immature person, maybe thought it was a kind of a manly thing that I was able to manage the car, and bring it home after four or five pints. It was stupid and it was immature. And now I wouldn’t take a drink at all and drive. It’s just not worth it.
Have you ever been totally plastered?
I wouldn’t say I was plastered, but certainly I drove a car when I shouldn’t go out – when I was in no fit state to drive a car.
Bertie Ahern boasted in Hot Press back in 1986 that he’d have no problem having a ‘fair few’ pints of Bass and driving home.
It was a different culture, but you don’t have to go back to the ’80s. I mean, if people are being honest, I drank and drove. I knew it was wrong, but I was immature and, at the same time, you got away with it. It’s changing. I know others in their early twenties and they would never consider drinking and driving. Not even a glass of wine. That’s good.
What about Danny Healy-Rae’s idea? A special driving licence for people in rural areas to be able to drink a couple of pints?
No. The game is over for drink driving.
What marks out of 10 would you give Shane Ross for his time as Transport Minister?
Can we go into the minus? I think he has been a very poor Minister. He’s done very little. We have serious problems with our public transport. Congestion is at an all-time high. I don’t think he can point to any major achievement in the last two years.
So what do you reckon he’s been up to?
I think what he’s doing is spending the time taking notes and keeping records, and as soon as he’s relieved of his duties as minister he’ll start writing a book. And the title of the book will be Despite His Best Effort, The System Beat Him – or something like that. I don’t believe he’s been a good Minister. And for all his pontificating when in opposition, he hasn’t followed through on anything. When he was a TD and Senator, he raged against the NTA as a quango that was there to protect its political masters. But have a look at Minister Ross’s parliamentary replies on kildarestreet.com – 90 percent of them will refer your query to the NTA. Whether it’s about congestion in Dublin, whether it’s about capacity uses on Dublin Bus, or the DART or the LUAS, or a ring road in Galway – he’ll respond that this is a matter for the NTA. So, to me, while a pleasant man, he has been a bitter disappointment.
Some people accuse him of being arrogant.
He was always arrogant! Shane always thought he had the answers! He had all the answers when he was in opposition – he has none of them now. In terms of insurance, in his own government’s report of January 2017, his department was the lead on seven recommendations to tackle the high cost of insurance. None of them have been implemented.
Do you like him on a personal level?
I used to get on quite well with him, but he now seems to take any criticism personally. A couple of times he would say to me, “I didn’t like what you said today.” And I said, “Shane, this is about me addressing the deficiencies within your department. You’re the person with responsibility to address them. And if you’re doing something positive and good, we’ll support you. And if you’re not, we won’t.” We’ve worked with the government – but it’s very hard to work with someone who is not even bringing forward legislation.
What do you make of Leo Varadkar?
I find him very standoffish and don’t find him that personable. After Brian Lenihan passed away, Leo made a statement in the Dáil. I went up to compliment him – and he just walked away! I thought it was rude. But he’s strategic. Everything he does and says, I think, he does for a reason.
Everybody appears to be dismissing the idea of going into coalition with Sinn Féin.
Our party leader has made our position quite clear in relation to that. The decision has been taken and I’m happy to stick by that.
Would you have any ideological objection to coalition with Sinn Féin?
The decision has been taken and I’m sticking by the decision (laughs). Could you ever see Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael going into coalition?
You can never say never about anything.
But yet you say ‘never’ to Sinn Féin!
No, I actually didn’t. If you read between the lines, I said the party has made a decision in relation to Sinn Féin and I’m a frontbench member of the party and I stick to that decision. I’m happy to stick to that decision. In relation to Fine Gael, in terms of the next general election, we have made our commitment that we won’t go into coalition with them. We said the same in advance of the last general election. We honoured that commitment. Who knows what’s down the road? You can only advocate it one election at a time – and for the next election we’ve said we won’t collate with either Fine Gael or Sinn Féin. We remained true to our word that time and we will after the next time. Our aim is to lead an alternative government. I’ve no doubt, at some stage into the future, Sinn Féin will be in government. But, as a party, we’ve taken the decision that won’t be after the next general election anyhow.
Would you consider running for Europe?
I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but my focus and attention at the moment is to be re-elected to the Dáil.
I heard you’ve completed a couple of marathons.
Jogging is something I find very good for my mental health. I’ve done two marathons and I have a goal to complete more. If I am successful in my application to do a number of marathons next year, one of the charities I will be fundraising for is a local one called Good 2 Talk. They’re a Mullingar counselling service who provide counselling free of charge and only ask for people to make a donation. I’ve never used that group myself, but I do know many people that it helped in a very meaningful way – and that’s why I’d like to give something back.
You’ve spoken in the past about suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.
I realised it was an issue around the time of the last election. I had been working very hard, long hours, seven days a week. I suppose I had anxiety. At times I didn’t want to get up, all of that. I would put it down to, “This is just nerves over the election”. But the election came, the election went, I topped the poll, I got one of the highest first preference votes ever in Longford-Westmeath – and I just literally crashed. I felt, “What is all this for?” And I felt very low. I felt inadequate. I felt that I wasn’t fit for purpose. I didn’t want to go out, more so than previously. I realised all’s not well and I went to see my GP and he made a referral to talk somebody, and I did.
Was there anything else leading up to this?
I had gone through two breakdowns of relationships previously, which I had found hard. And I had spoken with a counsellor at the time. I suppose I felt I was working my way through it. And how I worked my way through both breakdowns was by working hard. And the whole goal was this Holy Grail of being elected. But when I was elected there was no Holy Grail for me – and I just crashed and burned. I wish I could say I’ve learnt my lesson, but I still tend to put a lot of time and energy into my work, over and above everything else. And that’s something I should probably try and stop doing. But I’m addicted to my job. My current partner thinks I’m a workaholic. My mother thinks I work too hard.
Did loneliness play a part?
I think a lot of that came from the fact of relationship breakdowns. While an outgoing person, I wouldn’t have a huge amount of friends. I’ve some very good friends, some close friends, but I don’t make friends easily. Sometimes it can be lonely.
Did you ever have any suicidal thoughts?
I don’t want to get into it that deeply. It would be fair to say that the thought has crossed my mind, but I’ve never taken any action on it. Perhaps – while I thought of it – deep down I didn’t really want to do it. What I would emphasise is the importance of reaching out and speaking. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with a professional but someone who will listen.
Did you suffer from depression as well?
Well, anxiety more so than depression. My counsellor would say I was depressed at times. And I suppose you just try to work to address that. Thankfully, I am in a better place now than I was after the last general election, and that comes down to making a concerted effort to change. Thankfully, I’m able to go to a professional and talk. I’m lucky I’m in a position to do that. Unfortunately, there are many people who aren’t. I suppose that is a damning indictment of this government.
Did your sister’s death had an effect on your anxiety?
I don’t know. Who knows? They say that I am today the sum of my yesterdays. Without question, every event that happens in your life helps to shape the person you are and the person you go on to become. As I said, maybe the loss of my sister and my brother helped deepen my faith.
Are you seeing a therapist now?
I see a counsellor periodically, maybe once every three weeks.
Do you take meds?
No. Thankfully, never. They had asked me would I consider going on medication, but no, I don’t. The counsellor would encourage me to talk and would encourage reduced alcohol consumption and physical exercise. And he encourages me to allow for an element of downtime – three out of four isn’t bad!
Did you hit the bottle too much?
Look it, drink is a depressant. But I’m fortunate I’m not a heavy drinker. I’m a social drinker. Certainly, your mood would be lower, say, if you were out three nights in a row – even only having three or four pints, you would feel an awful lot lower than you would if you weren’t. I make a conscious decision every year for Lent and November to give up drink. I like a social drink, but I’m conscious that frequent drinking is a depressant – it’s not good.
When was the last time you cried?
After the last general election, I was feeling very anxious – I would’ve cried a lot at that stage. But thankfully not recently. I’m sure I’ll shed a tear on Saturday because of my aunt’s funeral.