French minister has strong Irish links

 

FRANCE’S NEW government will have a strong Irish link after Hélène Conway Mouret, who has lived in Ireland for the past 30 years, was appointed to a ministerial post by President François Hollande.

Ms Conway attended her first cabinet meeting at the Élysée Palace yesterday, just hours after being named minister of state at the foreign ministry, with responsibility for the French abroad.

“I was shocked,” she told The Irish Times of the phone call from prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Thursday evening. “I had to sit down. I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ There are very few opportunities like it.” The appointment caps a remarkable year for the 51-year-old Socialist Party member, who was elected to the French senate last September from a panel of voters representing the 2.5 million registered French citizens living overseas.

Ms Conway worked at Dublin Institute of Technology, and is a former head of the institute’s modern languages department. She has lived in Ireland for about 30 years, having come to Dublin to learn English.

“It’s hard to take in, but that’s life,” she said yesterday. “Politics is about surprises – some of them are bad, when you lose an election. And others are happy. This is one of them.” Between 1997 and 2011, Ms Conway was the elected representative of Ireland’s French community in an assembly of peers from around the world.

“I’m delighted because I’m assigned to the French abroad, and that’s what I know intimately. I’ve been working on it ever since I was elected locally to represent Ireland,” she said.

Ms Conway was one of four new ministers appointed yesterday in a mini-reshuffle in the wake of last week’s parliamentary elections, which resulted in a socialist majority in the lower house and completed a clean sweep of the major institutions for the left.

“It was very impressive to see all the ministers, and of course the president,” she said after her first cabinet meeting yesterday.

“François Hollande is very much in charge, giving directions as to what he wants in terms of the behaviour of his ministers and a coherent way of managing the country, knowing that we’re going through times of turmoil.”

When the post now occupied by Ms Conway was created by Nicolas Sarkozy, the Socialist Party criticised it as a manoeuvre to attract overseas votes for the right.

However, Ms Conway said the post sent an important signal. “It’s a recognition of France not being limited by its borders.”