Sunday 22 April 2018

Mary Mitchell O'Connor on first Father's Day without her dad: 'Think back at the wisdom and love'

Mary Mitchell O'Connor Picture: David Conachy
Mary Mitchell O'Connor Picture: David Conachy
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

It has been a tough, tough week for Mary Mitchell O'Connor. She was caught in the maelstrom of Leo Varadkar's Cabinet reshuffle at a time when she was still coming to terms with the loss of her beloved dad.

Her father, a farmer in rural Co Galway, died eight weeks ago and that wound is still raw. Today is her first Father's Day without him.

Waiting to walk into the new Taoiseach's office to find out her fate in the reshuffle, Ms O'Connor was painfully aware that this weekend was always going to be hard emotionally.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent moments before she went inside to meet Mr Varadkar, she said: "You know, I passed by the Father's Day cards in the newsagents and I went toward them to buy him one. I had to stop myself in my clogs.

"I thought to myself 'but sure I have no dad to send it to this year'. It will be a very sad day without him."

For a moment she considered the idea of forgetting the significance of today altogether. But then she quickly brushed it off.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor's father, the late Paddy O’Connor
Mary Mitchell O’Connor's father, the late Paddy O’Connor

"No, I won't be able to ignore it. I will leave a card at his grave," she said.

She is philosophical despite the rawness of her loss. "All I'd say to people is to spend as much time as they can with their parents. Think back at the wisdom and love they gave you. Take it all in because one day they won't be around."

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In the past year, it was Ms O'Connor's father who mostly took the criticism of her to heart.

When she was criticised and derided as an enterprise minister who wore inappropriate nail colour and dismissed as not being up to the task, Ms O'Connor took it all on the chin. "It comes with the job, ministers get criticism all the time, I can take that," she told reporters.

But she added: "The people who it really hurts are my parents."

She described receiving pre-dawn phone calls from them after they had endured sleepless nights.

She would continually reassure them and pushed through the criticism.

The cabinet reshuffle did not go well for Ms O'Connor. She was appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for higher education in last Wednesday's announcement.

It was a demotion from her full ministry and it has since emerged that she might be forced to forego a pay increase to keep her role as a super junior minister.

The position does allow her to sit at the Cabinet table and should give her an extra €16,288-a-year allowance.

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But special legislation would be required if she was to accept the pay increase for the position and both Fianna Fail and the Labour Party have signalled strongly that they will attempt to block the appointment of a third super junior minister and the pay hike for Ms O'Connor.

But today she will set aside politics and the fall-out from the Cabinet reshuffle to spend the day reflecting on her father's life, and his words of wisdom which still provide a touchstone in the tumult of the corridors of power.

Sunday Independent

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