Friday 21 October 2016

Truth is, Averil Power left Fianna Fail before it left her

Senator's departure from Fianna Fail is not the first time she has divided opinion

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

YOUNG BLOODS: Student leader Averil Power on the cover of ‘Trinty News’ in 2002
YOUNG BLOODS: Student leader Averil Power on the cover of ‘Trinty News’ in 2002

As a contentious student leader in Trinity College Dublin, she was portrayed as an arch-conservative who refused to support a student referendum on abortion.

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She later went to work for on of the most conservative ministers in the previous Government, Mary Hanafin, as a special adviser earning a salary of about €100,000 a year.

But since her election to the Seanad in 2011, Averil Power has become a leading liberal voice on social issues.

Her decision to resign from Fianna Fail last Monday amid scathing criticism of her leader, Micheal Martin, and other colleagues for their failure to properly campaign for the same-sex marriage referendum was the tipping point.

But just how did Power, go from being seen as the defender of the conservative line to the darling poster girl of the liberal Twitterati?

Remarkably, Renua leader Lucinda Creighton, was one of a group of pro-choice activists in Trinity who called themselves the Tarts (Trinity Abortion Referendum Taskforce), and who attacked Power hard for her refusal to adopt a pro-choice stance in a student abortion referendum.

Cuttings from the student papers at the time reveal how heated the criticism of Power - who was president of the Students' Union - was.

Creighton herself has gone on quite the journey since her college days having been expelled from Fine Gael in 2013 for opposing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill on abortion.

Creighton has since expressed regret for the "immature" nature of the attacks on Power and said she was swept up by the trendy liberal view of the world as many are in college.

It has been reported that one of the Tart's posters portrayed one of their political opponents as a Nazi.

Expressing her regret later, Creighton said: "The posters were an immature thing to do but then student politics would not be renowned for its maturity either."

She said: "I got caught up with the trendy and liberal view of the world that many young people believe in."

Power, for her part, has defended her position on the abortion referendum in college, saying her stance on abortion is "not black or white".

"As an adopted child myself, it is not black or white, and my position has not changed since," she told the Sunday Independent this weekend.

But she did say she found the attacks on her in Trinity deeply upsetting and personal.

She also rejected the portrayal of her as a conservative, insisting she has long campaigned for marriage equality.

When she finished up as the Students' Union President, Power went on to work for the newly appointed Government chief whip Mary Hanafin.

Power had known Hanafin since she was in school, and worked first as a parliamentary assistant but later as a special adviser when Hanafin was appointed education minister.

Even though Hanafin's conservatism is well-known, Power insists the pair often had different social views of the world, but that Hanafin never liked to surround herself with 'yes men'.

Power was tasked with developing plans to improve education access for disadvantaged children and was a key driver of the Deis schools model.

Power ran for the local elections in 2009 for Fianna Fail but was unsuccessful and she again missed out on a seat in the 2011 General Election.

However, Micheal Martin in 2011, saw her potential as a Dublin-based woman, in his bid to modernise the party.

He, against the wishes of many, drew up a list of candidates he wanted elected to the Senate and made a plea to many councillors to elect Power, who is married to Irish Independent editor Fionnan Sheahan.

She has enjoyed a very high profile since becoming a senator, but clearly isolated from her party colleagues, she walked after their "cowardly" approach to the referendum.

While she was a strong advocate for a Yes vote, many in the party did not share her enthusiasm and wasted no time in making their views known.

We have heard reports that she was scoffed at by colleagues when she pressed them to wear the campaign badges while out on the campaign trail in Carlow/Kilkenny.

They too have treated her decision to the leave the party and the manner in which she did so with derision. Many are puzzled as to her decision, given her high profile which many of them as TDs don't enjoy. Such attacks on her from former friends have wounded her. "It hurts to hear friends in the party say such things. Rather than focus on the substantive issue, they have attacked me, which is tough," she said.

Asked this weekend did she regret her decision, Power insisted that within 30 seconds of Martin's interview on RTE Radio 1 on Monday, she knew she had made the right call.

Power has also strongly rejected Martin's claims that her decision to walk was driven by local electoral politics, in that she was facing disappointment as to her selection hopes ahead of the next general election.

So, what she does next remains to be seen, but she has ruled out joining another party. Some say she may look at life in advocacy after her current term ends while others have suggested she may be eyeing up David Norris' seat on the Trinity Seanad panel at the next election, as Norris is believed to be heading for retirement.

Watch this space.

Sunday Independent

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