Friday 24 November 2017

Golfing rookie Mary Hanafin back on political fairway

The former Education Minister marks Ruairi Quinn's cards on exam reform and honours maths

SWING OUT SISTER: Mary Hanafin took up golf lessons this year but hasn’t broken any course records. Photo: Gerry Mooney
SWING OUT SISTER: Mary Hanafin took up golf lessons this year but hasn’t broken any course records. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Ian Morris

Ian Morris

She shone like a good deed in a naughty classroom earlier this month, on RTE Radio 1's Marian Finucane Show. Her sharp, informed competence on every issue reminded us of why Mary Hanafin had been a household name for more than 20 years.

Naturally, speculation began as to whether a return to politics was on the cards.

Then last Monday on the station's Sean O'Rourke programme, she answered that question. She intends to run in the general election. No apologies from this Fianna Fail politician.

I found her style little changed from the former Minister for Education who never had to endure the kind of abuse Ruairi Quinn got from teachers' unions last week.

But first to politics. What did she mean by agreeing with Bertie Ahern's description of Fianna Fail's current performance in Dublin as "brutal"?

"I actually wasn't agreeing with him, I was asked what did I think of the opinion poll in the Sunday independent which said Dublin was on 9 per cent. Now it's a fact that that's not a good situation for the party to be in. I'm not criticising the party leader, I'm not criticising the members of Fianna Fail, I'm a member of Fianna Fail, I'm a member of the last government and I take responsibility for it, but it is not a good situation".

But what does she think of Micheal Martin as a leader?

"He has worked very hard. He has literally gone all over the place trying to get candidates, trying to build back-up support and to improve the morale of the party members."

So does he approve of her as a candidate?

"On The Week in Politics with Aine Lawlor recently, he said that whenever he is out door-knocking in Dublin, people constantly say to him how they hold me in high regard, particularly as Minister for Education.

"I noticed recently that he has gone out of his way to say it on television."

Micheal Martin is nothing if not pragmatic and he undoubtedly values her ability to pull votes.

"It's going to be a very tough constituency because it might only be a three-seater. You need someone who has the potential of getting 10,000-12,000 votes, and on a bad day I had 9,000 votes on the last count and on a very good day I had nearly 12,000 votes on the first count."

Unlike most politicians she doesn't go in for criticising the other side.

"I think the Government has a very tough job. The strains are beginning to show now between the two competing parties as we are coming closer to the elections."

Not even the current Education Minister?

"The education system is always changing at all levels. You have to meet the demands of new people; you have to make sure you're focusing on disadvantaged young people and special needs. I was delighted to see that he [Ruairi Quinn] continued the Deis scheme that I started, which is focused on disadvantaged students, because it has been shown to work and the increase in the number going on to higher education is very encouraging.

"I am not happy with the Junior Cert proposals. I have no doubt that if it's left to schools to mark their own, that parents, students and public will not have the same degree of respect for a Junior Cert coming from two different schools. Not having history as a core subject, I think, is a fundamental mistake also."

But what about Ruairi Quinn's comments about the feminisation of the teaching profession and the honours maths issue?

"I really don't want to get into an argument. He said, 'it came out wrong'.

"It is a feminised profession but he just shouldn't have linked that to the maths.

"When I was Minister for Education we actually launched a campaign to attract men into the teaching profession because I think all students need role models that are both male and female and there are areas where there are no men."

And the Leaving Cert changes?

"It's actually coming full circle. When I did my Leaving Cert there were seven grades, then it jumped to 14, now it's going back to eight. If it removes pressure very good, but keep an eye to make sure you don't end up with too much of a lottery system for people getting into courses because that was the reason the A1, A2, B1 etc were brought in in the first place, because parents and students were fed up with the fact that they could be getting equal numbers of marks but not coming out of the lottery, which is very unfair."

She is and always was a consummate politician.

"I loved it. I never saw it as a job. I worked 24/7."

So what has she been doing for the past three years then?

Fittingly for a former Education Minister, she's doing a masters in American studies in UCD, has taught at Notre Dame University in Indiana, in the US, has been invited to speak at at Abu Dhabi and New York universities and is on the committee of the Orchard Day Care Centre in Blackrock.

But there has been time for play, too.

"My friend Geraldine and I took up golf lessons this year and we went on the golf course for the first time last week.

"I ended up in the rough, the sand, the water and lost two balls and we only played three holes.

"So that's not where I'm heading."

No. We know where she's heading.

Sunday Independent

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