Saturday 21 September 2019

Mary Mitchell O'Connor reveals interest in European seat being vacated by Brian Hayes

TD is 'exploring' role as MEP

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister for State for Higher Education, in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister for State for Higher Education, in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Picture: Frank McGrath
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Mary Mitchell O'Connor has revealed her interest in swapping Leinster House for Europe, contesting the Dublin MEP seat being vacated by her party colleague Brian Hayes.

The Minister of State for Higher Education, who holds a seat at the cabinet table, told the Sunday Independent that she has "heard her name mentioned" in connection with the European elections in May and has been "encouraged to explore the possibility".

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"It's an intriguing prospect that deserves due time, thought and attention.

"However, I want to spend some time talking to family, supporters and constituents and will discuss it with An Taoiseach and party colleagues," she said.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor, who represents Dun Laoghaire, is the first senior Fine Gael figure to reveal an interest in running for Europe.

She said she believes Fine Gael "needs a high-profile party figure who has experience at the highest level, domestically and internationally. One who understands the importance of the EU to Ireland, and how Europe works.

"We cannot take the EU for granted. FG has a proud track record of sending senior and high-calibre FG members to the European Parliament. This reflects FG's position as the true party of Europe. This is an approach which has benefited Ireland greatly in recent times and is one that must continue."

Brian Hayes, a long-standing Fine Gael politician, is bowing out as MEP to take up a post in the private banking sector next year. Mary Hanafin, a former Fianna Fail minister, announced earlier this month that she is seeking Fianna Fail's nomination to contest the seat in Dublin.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent today, Ms Mitchell O'Connor also outlined her plans for educating students about sexual consent, as research revealed alarming levels of inappropriate behaviour in colleges.

Under new plans to be unveiled early next year, third-level institutions will be required to run workshops on consent for first-year students, but the minister is expected to row back from making the classes compulsory.

The workshops are expected to be built into orientation programmes designed to introduce new students to college life. "I am awaiting my expert report back," she said. "I want safe campuses for our students. I think we are coming up with something very innovative."

The minister also revealed plans to advertise the first of the 45 women-only professorship posts in third-level institutions in the first quarter of next year. The minister said that universities and colleges will have to apply for the posts, and argue the case for a gender-specific job in their universities. The Higher Education Authority will decide.

In another initiative, Ms Mitchell O'Connor said she wants apprenticeships to be included on CAO forms for students alongside third-level institutions.

"I think that would be the really empowering message, first of all from the department that it is a recognised qualification, and then for students and parents that it's just as valid as any other CAO course," she said.

Read the full interview in the Sunday Independent

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