Business Irish

Thursday 23 January 2020

This Working Life: 'You become stronger when you push beyond what comes easy'


Helen McEntee

Minister of State for European Affairs and TD for Meath East

In conversation with Mary McCarthy

Passing the baton: Helen McEntee took over as Meath East TD in 2013. Photo: Dave Conachy
Passing the baton: Helen McEntee took over as Meath East TD in 2013. Photo: Dave Conachy

Mix of experience

I had a sense quite early that politics was for me, and studied economics, politics and law at DCU. I briefly joined Citibank before working with my father (the late Shane McEntee TD).

I then took a year out to do an MA in journalism and media at Griffith College, before returning to Leinster House.

Before I took over from my father as TD in Meath East in 2013, I had briefly discussed with him potentially running for local elections. But the truth is his unexpected death pushed these plans forward.

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My view is that what's for you in life won't pass you by - I felt I needed to give it my best shot.

The unwavering support of my extended family, and my husband Paul, spurred me on.

The deep end

With any job, you improve over time. You get stronger when you push yourself beyond what comes easy. Three years ago, I would not have had the confidence I now have. I always felt the speech and drama lessons I had as a child were good for me, and my parents instilled a strong sense of self-belief in myself and my three siblings.

A woman's world

It makes sense to have (gender) quotas at grassroots level, as this will feed upwards and be the catalyst for more female representation. Otherwise, change will happen too slowly. There is plenty of talent; it needs to be harnessed and developed.

A woman recently came up to me after a speech and told me the reality was it was difficult for women to have it all. It is tough to have a career and a family and that is why measures need to be put in place to make this more doable.

You don't see many young mothers in the Dáil, though there is a creche on site. That will be new territory for me and I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Age versus experience

I don't get so many comments on my age anymore. I feel I have proved myself. I do think it is important young women and girls see examples of what they can become. I recently met Finland's new prime minister, Sanna Marin.

At 34, she is the world's youngest PM and leads an all-female coalition which is very impressive.

But it was not her gender or age that got her elected - she won the trust of the electorate and it's great to see another young leader on the European stage.

Female TDs get to express themselves more in their appearance than men.

I love to wear bright colours; I own so many dresses, mostly from the high street. I still get people telling me I looked lovely on TV, with not a word about what I actually said.

Zoning out

I love to read but if I get home very late, and am thoroughly exhausted, I'm partial to trashy TV. I'm a fan of 'Masterchef' and have been known to switch on the Kardashians for 30 minutes, though this is when Paul leaves the room.

We took up horse riding last year. You really have to focus and forget what is on your mind when you are on a horse. We also joined the local tennis club. I know it will not always happen but we will aim to keep it up.

My family on both sides are into politics. This includes my grannies, who have always been quite political. Paul used to work in politics so it's wonderful to be able to discuss work with him. My friends, on the other hand, try to stay away from discussing politics but that doesn't always happen.

Brexit treadmill

There have been many cancelled weekends and dinners. It has been a long two and a half years dealing with Brexit, which is to be expected, as this is just so important to get right. However, politics will take all your hours and more, and I guess it is less about how much time you have, but rather how you use it.

I find it difficult to say no and I work long hours very willingly, but it is also so important for me to see the people I love. Every two or three months, I try to see old school and college friends, and my many cousins that I am close to.

Myself and Paul had a lovely weekend in Munich last year.

I had a lot on and would have got more work done if I had cancelled, but I wouldn't have felt happy about it. We enjoyed our couple of days and on the Monday morning, I was on 'Morning Ireland' at 7am, replenished and ready for whatever lay ahead.

Family memories

We buried my father on December 24th eight years ago. This should be a terrible time for us, but we make the most of Christmas because he would have not wanted us to wallow all month. Though he remains on our minds. He was so outgoing and took such joy in his job. And that is also what I love; working on issues of the day that will improve lives. I still get letters from people remembering him.

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