'People were worried I wasn't tough enough for politics, after Dad's death'
THE politician daughter of the late minister Shane McEntee, who took his own life last December, has become the face of a major new mental health campaign.
Last week Fine Gael TD for Meath East Helen McEntee walked from Dublin to Navan to promote mental health as part of the See the Light campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the supports available to those coping with mental health issues.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, she spoke about coping after her father's tragic suicide, "horrible stuff" written about him online and having to have "tough skin".
Online abuse was cited by former Fine Gael deputy John Farrelly as a possible factor in her late father's suicide. And although Ms McEntee says that "people always want to talk about him and it's always positive", she has seen negative comments about him in the cyber world.
"You see horrible stuff written on Facebook and Twitter and all that but I've not spoken to one person who's had a bad word to say about him," Ms McEntee said.
Around the time of her election last March, Sinn Fein representative Seamus Morris said on Facebook: "Isn't it amazing how the McEntee family can put their grief to one side to keep their snouts in the trough?"
The North Tipperary councillor later apologised for his remarks, something that was welcomed by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. But Ms McEntee simply chose to ignore the controversy completely.
"To be honest something like that I wouldn't even respond to or give it air," she said.
Ms McEntee, who turned 27 in June, admits she finds it tough surviving in the Machiavellian world of politics.
"Politics is not easy. You work as a team but at the same time you always have to look out for yourself. You can't be upset if someone says they'll do something and they don't, that's politics," she said.
However, the young politician insists she is well able to cope with the rough and tumble of political life.
"I would have a tough skin but obviously everyone has their breaking point."
Among her main concerns are constituents who find themselves in mortgage arrears, and all of the stress that goes with it.
"I like to make sure it's personal in that I meet people but that I don't take it on board too much," Ms McEntee added.
"I have met a lot of people who are in a situation where they've either been told to sell their house or told they've to leave, horrible situations, but at the same time you do have to leave it at the door because you could get bogged down by a lot of it yourself and it could weigh on you a lot."
Ms McEntee is the youngest female TD in the Dail, but had already worked in Leinster House before she won the Meath seat left vacant by her father's death.
"I'd have been working with Dad three years this May," said Ms McEntee, who was her father's parliamentary assistant when he was a backbench TD in opposition, when he came into power and also during his time at the Department of Agriculture.
She has been serving as a public representative for seven months, and is working seven days a week and regularly puts in 13- and 14-hour days.
The 27-year-old is anxious to continue the work of her late father. Last week Transport Minister Leo Varadkar announced that he was including the M1 and M3 in the "toll holiday" research, a cause they had been lobbying Varadkar for. Ms McEntee says a petition for the Slane bypass is "something that would have been carried on from Dad".
She told the Sunday Independent: "I think initially when I said I was going forward people were worried that I wasn't tough enough for it and then obviously the whole thing that happened with Dad."
But Ms McEntee was always going to end up in politics. Even before her father became a politician she was studying politics in DCU, and two years before the minister's death she was having private conversations with him about running for the upcoming local elections.
Ms McEntee, who voted in favour of abolishing the Seanad, says there is always going to be a "connection" between her and her father.
"I'm in Leinster House and everywhere you look reminds you of him and everywhere you go in Meath something reminds you of him. You can hide away from it or you can take it and run with it and use it in a positive way."