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Death of Former Members: Expressions of Sympathy (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett] We need people like that, people who can change opinion by truly believing in a way of life. She is a great loss even though she had retired. The time I went over to her and asked her if she would come out of retirement, she thought about it and said she would. Lo and behold she stood and got re-elected. She was just unique. Very few people could do that. She had retired and she said she would stand again. She went her way and I went my way and she got elected. People often ask if there is a formula to get elected. The formula I learned from Monica was to be oneself and say what one truly believes in. May she rest in peace.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor): Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor Is mór an trua dom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann Paddy Harte, go háirithe lena bhean chéile agus le Jimmy Harte. Is mór an trua dom freisin comhbhrón ó chroí a dhéanamh le teaghlach, le cairde agus le comhghleacaithe Monica Barnes. Táim an-bhródúil as a bheith ag leanúint i gcoiscéim Mhonica; mar Teachta do dháilcheantar Dhún Laoghaire agus mar bhean.

  Monica Barnes was a great friend and mentor. She was a formidable politician, who fought for women's rights throughout her life. She was elected to this House in November 1982. It is easy now, 18 years into the 21st century to forget the Ireland of 1982, 36 years ago, when Monica first entered the Dáil. Then, she was a shining light within a small group of progressives in a conservative party.

  Monica Barnes became politicised leaving Mass one Sunday in the 1960s. She bought a copy of Chains of Change a pamphlet published by the Women's Liberation Movement. She became active in the second wave feminist movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. She was involved with the Council for the Status of Women and merged feminist politics with party politics when she joined Fine Gael in the early 1970s. She was one of a number of feminist women who joined the party because of its vision for a just society.

  She was one of two Fine Gael Deputies to vote against inserting the eighth amendment into the Constitution in 1983. She was quoted in the Sunday Tribune in 1983:

I decided I could only compromise myself up to a certain point. Women were the reason I was involved at all.

If I kept quiet, as far as I was concerned, I was redundant as a politician.

She received hate mail and verbal and physical abuse for her stance.

  She supported divorce in 1985. She regularly spoke on women's rights in the Dáil and was Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights from 1989 to 1992. In 1992, she famously wanted to put on the Dáil record her opposition to the fact that only party leaders and thus only men were able to make statements on the X case. On 18 February 1992 the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, stood in Dáil Éireann to outline details on Ireland’s injunction of a 14 year old girl. He was followed by a brief statement from each Opposition leader. As the Chair called time two Deputies from the backbenches rose to their feet - two of the 13 women who made up a Parliament of 166. Before both were ruled out of order, Monica Barnes remarked:

May I comment on behalf of the women of Ireland and the women in this forum who have been excluded from making statements on this issue, that this is a reflection of the exclusion of women in all structures of our society.

When the Leas-Cheann Comhairle stated it was not a point of order, Madeleine Taylor-Quinn said that it was a protest, but the House moved on.

  In an interview earlier this year Monica cheerfully admitted that Fine Gael’s old guard considered her a pain in the behind - I have slightly changed the quote. She also said:

I did not get elected to the Dáil after all those years of working for women to sell them out.

I had to stand up for women, and for the health and the future of women, that’s where I was in 1983.

In that year she voted against the eighth amendment. It is appropriate that we recognise her in the year when we repealed it. She was an outspoken advocate for women's rights and on occasion expressed disappointment and anger over issues dealing with women.

  Speaking in a Dáil committee in November 2001, Monica succinctly summarised her own outlook and role in public life:

I cannot emphasise enough that this country undermines and denies women's rights and status. This is not polemic and I am not making a political point. It is a personal, female perspective. I speak on behalf of half the population.

Monica spoke for the marginalised and excluded, often at a time when it was easier to stay silent. She always spoke her mind. Her life was dedicated to campaigning and fighting for the rights of those who did not have a voice in the Ireland of the time.

  As was mentioned, she was a member of the Women's Parliamentary Caucus right up to her death. She had attended and contributed wholeheartedly to the latest meeting held here in the House.

  The Irish Times once captured her with a headline that read "Propelled by principle". Monica's principles helped to propel this country to a better place. My deepest sympathies go to her husband Bob, daughter Sarah, granddaughter Ailbhe who is here, daughter Joanne and her extended family. Is mian liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh lena fear céile Bob, a hiníonacha Sarah agus Joanne, a gariníon Ailbhe, agus a teaghlach uilig. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Tugaim aitheantas don dhá theaghlach, teaghlach Barnes agus teaghlach Harte, atá linn inniu. Déanaim comhbhrón le teaghlach uilig Harte agus le teaghlach uilig Barnes as a gcailleadh ollmhór.

I acknowledge both families who are present. I do not want to go over ground that has already been commented on. My former colleague Paddy Harte was the standard-bearer for Fine Gael in my constituency for over three decades. I want to talk about the legacy he has left and impact he had on County Donegal. I contacted a number of former party stalwarts in the past week to pick up snippets of the extent of his impact and a measure of his contribution over those years. It came back to his major legacy which was one as a grassroots politician who was very much in touch with his local organisation in the constituency and very much hands on.

His door was always open and was often opened by Rosaleen and his sons and daughters. The door was open not just from Monday to Friday, but was also open on Saturday and Sunday. I believe the door even opened to a constituent one Christmas Day. While it was a different time that access as a politician shows the type of politics we need to embrace because a politician who is not rubbing shoulder to shoulder with people or being with them is not in tune with their needs.


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