Tuesday 20 November 2018

How power couple rose to pole position in public life

Brian McDonald and Fiach Kelly

AS power-broking couples go, the Labour Party boss and his wife occupy pole position in Irish life.

He's the most popular political leader in the country, heads up a party that commands strong support among voters and is campaigning to be the next Taoiseach.

As a TD, Eamon Gilmore earns a basic salary of around €98,000.

His partner in life, meanwhile, is anything other than just a politician's wife.

Carol Hanney is chief executive officer of Dun Laoghaire VEC, an organisation with a staff of 500, a multi-million euro annual budget and which caters for more than 2,500 pupils.

There are 33 VECs around the country and chief executives can earn up to €146,000.

Education Minister Mary Coughlan announced plans to halve the number of VECs last month, but the chief executives rejected the move.

Parents of two sons and a daughter, the couple live in the Corbawn area of Shankhill, one of the more affluent parts of the suburb.


It's a far cry from rural east Galway where both grew up in the 1960s. He lived in Caltra, better known for farming and football, while she hailed from Killimor -- hurling country and a busy village on the road to Portumna.

They met at University College Galway in the early 1970s. He was a student radical with aspirations of student leadership. Her administrative and management skills were already in evidence as she became secretary of the Students' Union.

Rising rapidly through the ranks of student politics Eamon Gilmore became President of UCG Students' Union in 1974 and kept a small coterie of loyal supporters, including Ms Hanney, by his side as he went on to become President of the Union of Students in Ireland two years later.

Following student politics, Mr Gilmore worked as a trade union official with the ITGWU, now SIPTU, until he was first elected as a TD in 1989 for the Workers' Party.

Joining Democratic Left in 1992, he became Junior Minister for the Marine, with special responsibility for port development, pollution and nuclear hazards when the party entered the rainbow government with Fine Gael and Labour in 1994.

Then in 1998 Mr Gilmore helped negotiate the merger of Democratic Left and Labour when Ruairi Quinn was leader.

He ran for the Labour leadership in 2002 and finished third behind Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin.

Mr Gilmore's vote was poor, but this was largely attributed to his being close to Mr Rabbitte, who he subsequently succeeded as leader.

And as Mr Gilmore forged his way to the top of the Labour Party, his partnership with Ms Hanney became permanent when they married and, though having headed in different directions career-wise, both had acquired the nous to make it all the way to the top.

Irish Independent

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