Able, articulate TD with strong social conscience

Nicky McFadden: December 10th, 1962 - March 25th, 2014

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 00:58

Fine Gael TD Nicky McFadden, who has died aged 51 years after a two-year battle with motor neurone disease, was a Government backbencher who seemed destined for ministerial office.

Able, articulate, with a strong social conscience, McFadden might well have figured in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s proposed autumn reshuffle had she lived.

She was mentioned as a possible minister of state when the Coalition took over in Government in 2011.

Kenny, who paid an emotional tribute to her in the Dáil on Tuesday, visited her last week during the final stages of an illness that she battled with remarkable fortitude.

McFadden enjoyed cross- party popularity because of her affable personality and no-nonsense approach to politics.

But she could also be a tough and outspoken politician, particularly when advancing the cause of the marginalised.

She was steeped in Fine Gael politics and made her way into the Oireachtas through the traditional route of local councils.

She was elected to the Seanad in 2007 and finally made it to the Dáil for the Longford-Westmeath constituency in the 2011 general election, becoming the first female Fine Gael TD to represent Westmeath.

Born in Athlone, Co Westmeath, she was educated at St Joseph’s College, Summerhill, and Athlone Institute of Technology, where she secured a diploma in legal studies.

She worked with ESB Electric Ireland and as a legal secretary, before becoming a full- time politician.

McFadden was elected to Athlone Town Council in 1999, topping the poll.

When, in 2003, she was co- opted to Westmeath County Council to replace her father, Brendan McFadden, who retired, she was already seen within the party as a future TD.

An energetic community activist, she was chairperson of the county council’s strategic policy committee on planning and the county heritage forum, as well as a member of Westmeath VEC.

She was also a member of the governing body of Athlone Institute of Technology and chairperson of the board of management of Athlone Community College.

Throughout her career, she was a voice for those who frequently had no voice.

She was particularly vocal on behalf of those badly hit by the economic downturn, arguing at one time that Irish politicians had become “disconnected from the people’’ while vast sums of money were poured into the banks.

She highlighted the plight of a Westmeath family who kept up their mortgage repayments at the cost of electricity and food.

“They couldn’t pay their ESB bill, they hadn’t eaten for two days . . . yet they were keeping up their mortgage repayments . . . They spoke about the terror of losing their home.’’

As a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs, the then Senator McFadden confronted a senior civil servant over his perceived role in the abolition of the Combat Poverty Agency.

She accused him of using “flowery language’’ in his “aspirational’’ presentation. “It upset me,’’ she said.

McFadden continued to attend Leinster House and represent her constituents until her illness prevented her from doing so.

She is survived by her son Eoin, daughter Caren, granddaughter, Matilda, and sisters Gab and Áine.