Life as a female TD: ‘If I had a euro for every time I’ve been called the C word’

Regina Doherty, Katherine Zappone and Jan O’Sullivan not seeking to return to electoral politics

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said that she is retiring from electoral politics. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said that she is retiring from electoral politics. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said that she is retiring from electoral politics.

Ms Doherty was one of a number of high profile female casualties of last weekend’s general election. Others included Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, who is also retiring, as is former minister and Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan.

However, Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers, who also lost her Dáil seat, said she would like to continue in politics as she feels as if she is “only getting started”.

The four women were guests on RTÉ Radio’s Sunday with Miriam programme and all spoke of the abuse they received in their political careers, which they felt was more personalised because they were women.

Former Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.
Former Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Ms Chambers described it as “based on the tone of your voice, the colour of your hair, your dress”.

The former Mayo TD is expecting her first child and said “that was coming up as well. ‘Oh she’s taking maternity leave so there’s no point electing her.’”

She said a different standard was applied to female politicians which meant that “you have to be so careful about how you come across”.

“Being assertive for a woman is often being bossy or aggressive or whiney,” she said.

Ms Chambers suggested the best way to deal with the problem was to talk more about it and to elect more women to politics.

Ms Doherty said male politicians “get loads of abuse” but that the vitriol saved for female politicians was “very personal”.

“If I had a euro for every time I’ve been called the C word in the last month...,” she said.

Seanad run

The former Fine Gael TD for Meath East, whose seniority in the party could have led her to expect a party nomination to run for the Seanad, said she had no regrets about her decision.

She said her time in politics had been “a wonderful 10 years and what I would hate to do is to spend the next couple of years chasing something that might have been”.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. Photograph: Damien Eagers/The Irish Times.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. Photograph: Damien Eagers/The Irish Times.

“I’m only a young one in my head so I think I’ve something left to give. I don’t know what that is yet,” she said.

Acknowledging the impact of her political career on family life, Ms Doherty said: “I’ve four lovely kids, a great husband, a really good marriage, a mam and dad who live around the corner from me, a new little niece.

“There’s loads of stuff that I’ve been neglecting because you’re so busy on this treadmill, running forward all the time. I just want to have some time for me and see what’s next.”

Senior Fianna Fáil sources said this week that Ms Chambers would be prioritised to run for the Seanad to keep her in political life. Ms Chambers said she spent two years on the local council and four years in the Dáil “so it was a short enough stint in electoral politics”.

She said: “I feel like I have more to do. I don’t know what that is exactly I’m certainly not going to close the door on it this week.”

‘Wonderful years’

Ms Zappone said she felt sadness at losing her Dáil seat in Dublin South-West but insisted that she had “nine wonderful years in Irish political life”.

“Every single moment, especially being a Minister, was a privilege as well as an opportunity. I feel that’s completed now. I’m ready to move on. I’ve other ambitions and hopes.”

Ms O’Sullivan said she’d had 21 years as a TD and “it was a disappointment losing the seat but as I look to the future there is a sense of relief”.

She said she would be active in a different political role in helping to rebuild the Labour Party, which now has only six Dáil seats.

She said her political career had come “full circle” as her first election was in 1983 trying to prevent the Eighth Amendment being written in to the Constitution.

She noted that herself, Ms Chambers, former Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell and former Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger were all on the Oireachtas committee dealing with the Eighth Amendment and “we all lost our seats”.

Former Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.
Former Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

“Doing what you need to do as a legislator and what you’re passionate about is why you’re there in the first place and at the same time winning your seat is not always an easy balance to get right,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

All four women said when they lost their seats they were concerned too that the people who worked with them would also lose their jobs.

Ms O’Sullivan said that because she was out all the time canvassing with a team of people, the seat loss felt like “a communal experience”.

Ms Chambers said of her family and political team: “They’re devastated for you but equally you’re devastated for them. They’ve put as much into it as you have.

“You feel almost like you’ve let everyone else down.”