Sunday 17 December 2017

Cyber abuse not sole factor in dad's death

Helen McEntee on her campaign trail in Co Meath yesterday. Photo: Mark Condren
Helen McEntee on her campaign trail in Co Meath yesterday. Photo: Mark Condren
Helen McEntee on her campaign trail in Co Meath yesterday. Photo: Mark Condren
Helen McEntee on the campaign trail in Co Meath.

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE daughter of the late junior minister Shane McEntee says anonymous abuse directed towards her father cannot be blamed as the "sole factor" for his death.

In the first McEntee family interview since the former Meath East TD's passing, Helen (26), who is the Fine Gael candidate in the upcoming by-election in the constituency, told the Irish Independent: "I can't really say what happened to dad or what made him do what he did, but you know, you can't just blame that entirely."

At Mr McEntee's funeral, his brother Gerry singled out "faceless cowards" who sent anonymous online messages, and also mentioned opposition politicians who criticised the junior agriculture minister over comments he made about respite care grant cuts.

But Ms McEntee says she bears no ill will towards those political opponents who criticised her father, saying: "That's politics. Sometimes he had a habit of putting his foot in it and not explaining things how he wanted to and, unfortunately, it came out wrong."

And she doesn't believe social media abuse and political criticism were the main factors in her dad's death.

"It is getting a bit nastier and people are getting a bit tougher with politicians but that's always been there and dad was involved in politics for seven or eight years. You know, you can't make that one sole factor. There's always going to be a level of cynicism. That's never changed."


Ms McEntee, who worked as a parliamentary assistant for her father (left) and has a degree in economics, politics and law from Dublin City University (DCU) as well as a masters in journalism and media communications, said she decided to contest the by-election in the weeks after her father's death.

"I got a letter from somebody, a member down the country, saying that they'd help me and they'd come up and canvass for me if I decided to run. So I started thinking about it then and people started saying it to me. Then it was a case that I had to start talking about it because nobody really wanted to. People were a bit sensitive with dad and they wanted to wait for the Month's Mind and things like that."

She had spoken to her father last year about running in the local elections in 2014, and possibly taking over his Dail seat in years to come.

And she says her mother Kathleen and wider family are fully behind her, adding the campaign is giving them something to focus on while they still deal with their grief and shock.

"Mum is apprehensive and I know people are saying why the hell would she go into it considering what happened dad. But you have to put that aside. My mum thinks I'd be mad not to but obviously she has concerns. Any mother would," she said.

"Mum won't be out knocking on doors, she won't be out canvassing and that's completely fine."

Ms McEntee says she wants to run as a candidate in her own right, but also to carry on her father's legacy. She gets emotional when she thinks of her father, welling up when asked what her abiding memory of him is.

"God, there's loads. Somebody said he'd always bounce into a room. He'd fight with everybody but would never fall out with anybody. Yeah, just his energy and how much he loved everybody and he loved working for everybody and he would do anything for anybody. He had such a big heart, I can't really hone in on one."

Fianna Fail has selected Senator Thomas Byrne as its candidate;Labour has selected Slane councillor Eoin Holmes; while Sinn Fein is running Ashbourne-based councillor Darren O'Rourke.

James Downey

Irish Independent

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