Independent Woman

Saturday 30 August 2014

Ireland's 20 most influential women

Kim Bielenberg

Published 10/09/2011 | 05:00

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THE SINGER: Imelda May

Forbes magazine has published a list of the world's most powerful women. There were no surprises when German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the top spot as the effective leader of the eurozone.

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Hillary Clinton was in second place, amid mutterings that she might have made a better US president than Barack Obama.

So who would make it on to an Irish list of the influential? The paltry figure of two women in the cabinet makes it seem as though Irish women are powerless, but from Brussels to the boardroom to the judicial benches, women are making their presence felt, sometimes with a low profile.

Samantha Power

Originally from Castleknock in Dublin, the 40-year-old (main picture and above) is one of the few Irish women who could lay claim to a place on a global list of the powerful. After leaving Dublin for America at the age of 10, she had a glittering career as a journalist and Harvard professor before becoming one of Barack Obama's most trusted advisers on foreign policy.

Married with a two-year-old son, the architect of the US policy on Libya is being widely tipped as a successor to Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Her career was in danger of going off the rails during Obama's election campaign when she described Hillary as a "monster'', but she was quickly rehabilitated.

Niall O'Dowd, publisher of The Irish Voice: "She was proven right in Libya intervention and she is now a definite possibility as a future secretary of state in a second Obama administration, replacing Hillary Clinton."

EUROPE'S TOP

CIVIL SERVANT

Catherine Day

Without attracting much attention in her home country, the woman from Mount Merrion in Dublin has quietly risen to the top of the tree in Brussels to become Europe's leading civil servant.

As secretary general of the European Commission, the influence of the 56-year-old UCD graduate far exceeds that of any Irish politician. Her job is to ensure that EU government runs smoothly, and to implement a job-creation strategy.

Day has not been afraid to criticise Irish attitudes to the EU. "The perception is that the more prosperous Ireland became, the more arrogant it became, and the less engaged.''

In a previous job, she oversaw the accession of former Eastern Bloc countries to the EU.

Noelle O'Connell, director of the European Movement, says: "Her commanding yet warm personality, along with her capacity for hard work, has allowed Catherine to rise steadily to the top of the European civil service.''

THE DESIGN GURU

Orla Kiely (below)

She started out working on post office uniforms before creating a design brand that is recognised across the world. Now, 14 years after she started, her company, co-owned with husband Dermott Rowan, Kiely (48) is estimated at close to €50m.

Her designs can be seen on everything from clothes and bed linen to lampshades and cars.

Bairbre Power, Fashion Editor, says: "She took the idea of having a simple print design and turned it into a global brand. She is becoming hugely popular in the Far East and is now breaking into America.''

THE CHIEF JUSTICE

Susan Denham

Denham (65) recently took over as the first female head of the judiciary.

Together with the recent appointment of Máire Whelan as attorney general, her ascent means the two most senior legal positions in the country are occupied by women.

Judge Denham (inset), the mother of four children, is regarded as a staunch liberal. Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Affairs Correspondent, says: "She is renowned as one the judiciary's leading progressives and a passionate law reformer.''

the TWEETER-IN-CHIEF

Sinead Duffy

She is by far the most popular Irish person on Twitter, with a following of 800,000 people. The Monaghan mother has built an enormous fanbase with her Twitter page Great Minds Quotes (@greatestquotes). She simply tweets uplifting quotes, mostly taken from her favourite books, and is able to use web traffic on her site to sell products and promote her work as a telephone life coach.

THE POLICE CHIEF

Noirin O'Sullivan

She smashed through the glass ceiling when she became second-in-command of the gardai earlier this year. The Dublin mother became the force's first female deputy commissioner. Tom Brady, Security Editor, says: "As a young detective, she played a key role in a team tackling drug-dealing gangs. She was in charge of security during the visits of Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama. She is seen as a likely candidate to become the first female head of the force.''

THE POLITICIANS

Frances Fitzgerald

The 61-year-old bided her time on the opposition benches, but has won positive plaudits as Fine Gael's Children's Minister.

Originally from Croom, Co Limerick, the Dublin Mid West TD cut her teeth as chairwoman of the Council for the Status of Women in the 1980s.

Fionnan Sheahan, Political Editor, says: "She has succeeded in getting her department moving. She gave a superb response to the Cloyne Report into clerical child abuse where she showed a broad depth of knowledge and a hitherto unseen steel. She has been involved in updating child-protection guidelines.''

Joan Burton

She overcame her bitter disappointment at not becoming Finance Minister to throw herself whole-heartedly into her job as Social Protection Minister. Burton (62) likes to unwind by reading Jane Austen and listening to Leonard Cohen.

Fionnan Sheahan, Political Editor, says: "She has made all the right noises about welfare fraud and reforming the system.''

THE POLITICAL SPOUSE

Fionnuala Kenny

She served Charles Haughey as a press secretary before Enda whisked her down the aisle in 1992.

The mother of three teenagers remains his closest political adviser and friends believe she played an enormous role in guiding him to the Taoiseach's office.

Fionnuala's principal tip for her husband is to deliver a clear and simple message in interviews. Hillary Clinton, Martin McAleese and Michelle Obama show that the role of political spouse should not be under-estimated.

THE BUSINESSWOMAN

Anne Heraty

Originally from Co Longford, 49-year-old Anne Heraty has become Ireland's recruitment queen through her company CPL after starting her career as a telesales worker at Xerox.

Together with her husband Paul Carroll, the former Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year has built up a fortune estimated at more than €60m.

THE WRITER'S AGENT

Marianne Gunn O'Connor

The Monaghan woman started out in the fashion business in the '80s, but hit the big time when she became the country's top literary agent.

Her role is to sign book deals for some of the country's leading writers, including Cecelia Ahern and Patrick McCabe.

It was her million-dollar deal for the Taoiseach's daughter in 2003 that grabbed the headlines.

Another client, Kathleen MacMahon of RTé, recently got €570,000 for her first novel.

Books Editor John Spain, says: "She is probably the best agent in Ireland. She has both the vision and the negotiating skills that are needed. She's best known for representing Cecelia, and has negotiated fantastic deals for her in film, TV and theatre, as well as with her publisher HarperCollins, that have made her millions.''

THE IMPRESARIO

Moya Doherty

The 53-year-old and her husband John McColgan struck it rich with their show Riverdance, which continues to tour around the world.

The show has so far made them a foot-tapping €60m. The couple also exert a powerful influence in the media through their TV company, Tyrone Productions.

THE BROADCASTERS

Miriam O'Callaghan

She is RTé's most prominent current affairs broadcaster as anchor of Prime Time. But O'Callaghan (50) has also shown versatility as a radio presenter and fill-in chatshow host.

The mum of eight and her second husband, Steve Carson, director of programmes, are the power couple of RTé.

If Ryan Tubridy ever falters, she is a likely candidate to be presenter of the Late Late Show. Don't rule out a run for the áras in the future, either.

Clare Duignan

The most influential figure in Irish radio, the managing director of RTE Radio has been tipped in the past to become the first female director-general of RTé. The Dún Laoghaire-based mother of three grown-up children took a gamble in moving Ryan Tubridy to 2fm after the death of Gerry Ryan. She has been outspoken in her criticism of the inflated salaries of top stars.

THE PRESIDENT

Mary McAleese

McAleese's hosting of Queen Elizabeth in May was the crowning achievement of a successful presidency. Our 60-year-old Head of State came across as composed, good-humoured and respectful, without ever appearing deferential. She can look forward to leaving office with a popularity unmatched in recent Irish political history.

A recent Irish Independent/ Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll showed a satisfaction rating of 92pc, a higher popularity score than any Taoiseach, minister or political leader on record.

Not bad for a woman who was described as a "tribal time bomb'' when she arrived in the áras 14 years ago.

THE GLOBE-TROTTING CAMPAIGNER

Mary Robinson

The 67-year-old has shown no inclination to retire since she left the áras and her subsequent job as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She now runs her own foundation, Climate Justice, and recently attracted international headlines when she travelled to Somalia to raise awareness of the famine there.

THE CHERNOBYL PATRON

Ali Hewson

Her fame may be based on her marriage to Bono, but she has carved out her own niche as a businesswoman and sponsor of worthy causes.

The Killiney-based 50-year-old is patron of Chernobyl Children's Project, where she works alongside her friend Adi Roche. The UCD graduate also founded EDUN, a fair trade fashion label.

THE CLASSROOM SUPREMO

Anne Looney

Hardly a household name, but Looney has a greater influence on what is taught in Irish classrooms than any other individual.

As chief executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the former teacher of religion and English sets the agenda in schools, offering advice to successive ministers.

Sister of the journalist and broadcaster Fiona Looney, the Dubliner has recently been involved in reforming the Junior Cert and wants some of the exams to be scrapped.

THE TECH QUEEN

Cathy Kearney

The success of Apple in Ireland over recent years has largely been attributed to the shrewd direction of Cathy Kearney, according to Southern Correspondent Ralph Riegel.

Kearney has risen up the ladder of the US computer giant to become senior director of European operations. Notoriously secretive, Apple refused to supply biographical details and a picture of their Cork-based senior executive.

An Apple spokesman said: "We focus on our products rather than individuals as we like to recognise the team effort at Apple.''

THE SINGER

Imelda May

Proof of the old adage that it can take decades to become an overnight success. The 37-year-old's charismatic performances and her signature quiff are turning heads across the world.

John Meagher, Irish Independent Rock Critic, says: "The singer from Dublin's Liberties toiled on the margins for years before her rockabilly music struck a chord with fans in the UK and America. Her fanbase is culled from all ages -- that's evident from her shows, must of which sell out quickly. Her growing popularity was no doubt helped by an appearance at the Grammy Awards last year.''

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