Friday 20 September 2019

Tributes paid as veteran FG politician and champion of women's rights Barnes dies

Former Fine Gael TD Monica Barnes last month with letters she received during the previous abortion referendum in 1983
Former Fine Gael TD Monica Barnes last month with letters she received during the previous abortion referendum in 1983
Monica Barnes (centre left) with TDs Marian McGennis, Brendan Howlin and Alan Shatter during their 2001 investigation into the killing of John Carthy in Abbeylara. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Monica Barnes, a long-time Fine Gael politician and life-time advocate for human rights, has died aged 82.

Ms Barnes was a campaigner for women's rights from the late 1960s and was a founder member of the Council for the Status of Women in 1973. She was a native of Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, where she was educated at the St Louis Convent school, but lived most of her life in Dún Laoghaire, which she also represented in Dáil Éireann for 15 years.

Ms Barnes was originally a lecturer and an administrator before opting for full-time politics.

She was among a number of women's rights activists, including former minister Frances Fitzgerald, who were encouraged to involve themselves in national politics by Fine Gael leader Dr Garret FitzGerald after the party had been devastated in the 1977 general election.

Ms Barnes was finally elected to the Dáil in 1982, having been a senator for a short time before that, and she also unsuccessfully contested European Parliament elections twice.

She served as a TD for her adopted Dún Laoghaire in Dublin from 1982 to 1992 when she lost out.

Ms Barnes regained the seat in 1997 but did not contest the election in May 2002, opting to retire from national politics.

As a TD she was Opposition spokeswoman on women's rights and chaired the Oireachtas committee on women's rights.

Ms Barnes was an outspoken advocate for women's rights and on occasion expressed disappointment and anger at the handling cases of sexual assault against women.

In 1983 she was a strident opponent of the Eighth Amendment banning abortion, and she admitted in a recent interview with the 'Sunday Independent' that many fellow Fine Gael members thought her "a pain in the arse" at that time.

Still she made it clear that her views had not changed and she was a passionate advocate of repealing the Eighth in this month's referendum.

The Fine Gael politician was on the FitzGerald liberal wing of the party and was its first woman vice-president.

She was a member of the Irish Association of Civil Liberty; Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

President Michael D Higgins led tributes to Ms Barnes last night, extending his sympathy to the family, friends and supporters.

"Ms Barnes was a proud feminist and championed women's rights throughout her parliamentary career and beyond. She was a pioneer in the struggle for a space for women's rights to be discussed," he said in a statement.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also paid tributes to her and these have been echoed by politicians in all parties.

"Monica gave great service to Fine Gael and to the people of Dún Laoghaire, whom she served as a TD for some 15 years," Mr Varadkar said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also praised her contribution to public life.

Irish Independent

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