Thursday 21 September 2017

Waking hours with Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty

Regina Doherty (43) is a Fine Gael TD for Meath East. Born in Dublin, she grew up in Ballymun and now lives in Ratoath with her husband Declan and their children - Jack (15), Grace (13), Ryan (10) and Kate (8)

Fine Gael TD for Meath East Regina Doherty. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Fine Gael TD for Meath East Regina Doherty. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Ciara Dwyer

I'm very lucky, because I get woken up with a cup of coffee every morning. My husband, Declan, is up before me, so he makes two cups of coffee and I get mine in bed. We look at the news together to see what's going on in the world. Then he leaves for work at 7.15am - he's a software engineer - and after that, I get up.

We have four children, and I get them up. There is the usual palaver in the morning time - breakfast, brushing hair and looking for school shirts. Being a TD isn't a hard job, but the hours are very long. When I got elected, almost four years ago, I decided that I couldn't be gone from 7am until midnight every single day. So, the deal was that I would do my two hours every morning with the kids, because I'm never there at night.

I have Rice Krispies for breakfast and the younger ones have porridge. Then I make the lunches and do the ponytails. The two older ones walk to school and the other two come with me in the car.

We live in Ratoath, and most places are only a kilometre away. In the local national school, I seem to start my clinics in the yard. I know everybody. I've lived in the village for 14 years. I'm from Finglas, and Declan is from Meath. I leave the school and then belt it into Leinster House.

I grew up being Fine Gael. Mam and Dad have always been very political. They are normal, working-class people, and my dad worked as a driver in the ESB when they got married. They didn't have their own house, so they lived with my Auntie Bess. After I was born, they got their first house, which was a council house, in Ballymun - years later, we moved to Finglas. Mam and Dad were so grateful to this Fine Gael councillor who helped them, that they asked what they could do for her. She told them that they could set up a branch of Fine Gael in Ballymun, and they did.

I was an only child for a good while. It was years before my brother came along. Apparently, this was because I was a walking bitch and my poor mother was so traumatised.

Everything in our house revolved around Fine Gael, and there was a huge sense of solidarity within our branch. I remember the joys of leaflet-dropping and election campaigns. As a child, I actually thought that we were related to Garret FitzGerald because we spent so much time following him through fields and on election trails. I was brought everywhere. I made my Communion on the same day as the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, so I was at that in my frock. I made a fortune.

All of this sparked an interest in politics, which a lot of my friends didn't share. I'd go into school talking about what happened on Today Tonight, while everyone else would have watched Knots Landing. I never had an aspiration to be a politician, because I didn't have the confidence to step out of my comfort zone. People used to laugh at this, because I studied marketing, and they'd ask how I could be shy and sell stuff, but that was because I wasn't selling me.

We had a young lady in Meath who was going to be our candidate, but she became pregnant and decided to pull out. We were left floundering. One of the members in my constituency asked if I would consider it. At first, I laughed, as I was pregnant with my fourth child, but after I discussed it with my family, we decided that it was a great idea. Our two boys have special needs and, at the time, we were going through the whole system of working with schools to get resources. Then I thought that if you were on the inside, you'd have more influence. So I said, 'let's give it a lash'.

But once you're in the Dail, you realise that it's not as simple as coming up with saying, 'We're going to change how to do things'. You have to buy into all the interested parties to make them believe and be trustful of why you're making the changes. When I come in here, I have two health committees a week. It was three years before I realised that you don't have to go to committees, but I love it and find it hugely interesting.

I never realised just how much you could influence policy decision as a lowly backbencher, but if you've got a big mouth and you push, you can. In the chamber, I probably don't speak as much as other people, but there's nothing worse than listening to 42 versions of 'Thanks very much, Ceann Comhairle, for the opportunity to speak'. I tend only to speak when I feel I can contribute, or it's something that directly affects the people I represent.

After I saw Mairia Cahill on Spotlight, I was very struck by her, so I rang her and asked what I could do to help. I was naive enough to think that Sinn Fein would put their arms around her, say what was done to her was awful and that they'd make it better. But none of that happened. In my Dail speech, I said that I wouldn't believe the Lord's Prayer coming out of Gerry Adams's mouth and I didn't mean that in a funny way. Sinn Fein locked down to protect themselves and, as a result, they alienated Mairia.

What I have learnt in the last couple of months is frightening, and it changes my view of the people in Sinn Fein. That's not because of their political views, but because of their personal responses to people in crisis. Sex abuse can rip a family to bits, and I have no tolerance for anybody who will cover it up. They know stuff about people in our areas and they do nothing about it. That's not politics; that's personal.

Sometimes I forget to eat when I'm in here, but that's only because it's a hugely interesting job. There are a lot of late nights. I have a half day on a Wednesday, which is a bit of a joke in our house, because I get home at 10pm, which is early for me. That's my night with Declan. We sit in the kitchen and chat over a glass of wine. On Saturday mornings, I do clinics, and then I try to stop in the afternoon. That's when I go to the supermarket, collect the dry cleaning and put the uniforms in the washing machine. Everyone here says, 'Why don't you have a cleaner?' Well, I like keeping my own house. I didn't stop being a mam because I started being a politician.

Then on Sundays, after Mass, my parents come around and we have a row - it's always about the latest political topic. We usually go out with the kids on Sunday afternoons, then we head home for dinner and get ready for Monday. I probably sound like a sad git, because there is no other life, but that's a choice, and it's fine by me. I choose to do it because I love it so much. The day you stop loving it, it's not worth it.

John Drennan's Guide to Politics - Spring 2015

The next election will change your life. In a special supplement with the Sunday Independent, John Drennan presents his guide to Irish politics.

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