‘Not bad looking’ scrawl has Michael Lowry looking pretty bad

Everyday political sexism or a harmless compliment?

Neither the content nor the tone of the lobbying note that Independent TD Michael Lowry passed to the Taoiseach will have surprised anyone who spends much time in Leinster House.

The only slight source of wonder will have been over the Tipperary deputy committing the words "not bad looking" to paper when referring to his former public relations adviser, whom he wanted to see reappointed to a State board.

Nevertheless, the story obviously proved an eye- opener for many and prompted much discussion about the political system’s attitude to women, as well as the nature of appointments to State boards.

With characteristic brass neck, Lowry adopted the “no regrets” approach when questioned about the wisdom of his approach.


“I have to say to you people in the media who are politically correct, I have never had a situation where a woman took exception to a compliment on her appearance or a nice dress or a nice pair of shoes or a hairstyle,” he said.

The furthest he would go was to say that his “light-hearted” comment about Valerie O’Reilly’s appearance was “unnecessary”.

Of course, there was nothing untrue in Lowry’s note. O’Reilly is a “bright, intelligent” woman. His reference to her appearance was simply not meant to be sexist, he insisted.

His contention that the note had been picked up and leaked by a Labour Party member to the Sunday Independent for politically motivated purposes was interesting for those inside the Leinster House bubble, but still sounded like bluster.

O’Reilly reaction

Meanwhile, the woman at the centre of the controversy was caught in a tricky situation. O’Reilly is a PR professional, so some manner of reaction was expected from her.

Delivering a po-faced response when her former boss was crying “political correctness gone mad” was out of the question; defending his approach was not an option either.

Probably wisely, O'Reilly opted for humorous deflection. She tweeted a "selfie" of herself on a bracing walk in Wicklow, along with the message: "Glendalough's not bad looking today!"

And, in a statement in which she made no comment on Lowry’s reference to her appearance, O’Reilly said the ratio of women involved in public institutions was an issue.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times