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Saturday 16 December 2017

Poster girl for late-vocation women shakes off cartoon slur


Sam Smyth

MARY Mitchell O'Connor emerged from the cartoon name-calling in the Dail this week as the kind of soap opera heroine other women rally around.

Elsie Tanner was the prototype on 'Coronation Street': a glamorous, handsome woman with a high-flying career who raised a family on her own.

If Kermit the Frog found it wasn't easy being green, it is even harder for an attractive woman in public life tiptoeing up to a big birthday.

On the last day of July, Mary Mitchell O'Connor will celebrate her 60th birthday -- just six months after winning a seat in the Dail.

A late vocation in politics was a tribute to the single-minded dedication of a divorced woman who raised two sons in their home in Cabinteely, Dublin.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor is the only one of the 76 new TDs who many people might recognise and her instant celebrity has its own rewards. Yesterday, she hosted a command performance in Leinster House, where Oireachtas members dressed in pink and did her bidding in aid of breast cancer.

Mick Wallace's 'Miss Piggy' reference clearly stung her this week but broadcasting and reporting it added public ridicule to her private embarrassment.

Although she was a very successful school principal, no one who knows her would describe her as a coy schoolmarm. She has a sense of mischief and humour which has propelled her on a political journey through the PDs to win a seat for Fine Gael.

Before her transfer to Fine Gael, she had a tense relationship with TD Fiona O'Malley after being elected to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown county council in 2004.

When the PDs were disintegrating, Fine Gael party headquarters believed that a popular local school principal would take a seat with their veteran Sean Barrett.

When she joined, party fixer Phil Hogan insisted on a woman being on the ticket with Sean Barrett. And when the next general election rolls around, she will be the first lady of Fine Gael in Dun Laoghaire, the party's queen and kingmaker in the constituency.

While no one in Fine Gael expects her to be offered the chair of a committee or promotion to the ministerial class, she is one of the party's best-known members, a poster girl for all of those late vocation women who vote more often than their younger sisters.

Irish Independent

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