| 3.3°C Dublin

'Prim aunt' alienates colleagues with her finger-wagging

POLITICS and Fianna Fail consume the life of Mary Hanafin.

But the twice-demoted minister now faces the mammoth task of saving her seriously endangered seat in the competitive constituency of Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, where she is battling with Junior Minister Barry Andrews for the same diminishing pool of Fianna Fail votes.

Hanafin has little chance of claiming the Fianna Fail throne, but her involvement in a high-profile leadership bid just weeks out from a general election should be hugely advantageous when it comes to fighting for her seat.

A non-smoking, non-drinking, non-swearing, committed Catholic, Hanafin has cultivated an image as a conservative party stalwart.

But it hasn't gone down well with some of her colleagues who perceive her as a "bossy head girl", prone to finger waving and a "holier-than-thou attitude".

Backbencher Mary O'Rourke raised eyebrows last week when she compared Hanafin's television performance to that of a "prim aunt" in a Terence Rattigan play.

It seems Fianna Fail TDs fear an Angela Merkel-style of leadership if Hanafin were to become their first female leader.


She is, after all, a decisive, strong-minded, incisive, determined, confident and stubbornly resilient woman.

Through the years, she has courted controversy over her insistence on holding on to her teaching post, opposing third-level league tables, publishing inspectorate reports, rowing back on class-size commitments and overseeing savage welfare cuts when she took charge of the largest spending department in Government.

Since suffering the sudden loss of her husband in 2003, Hanafin has commented that she has "come to expect the unexpected, the way my life has gone".

"Politics is my life. Fianna Fail is my life. I devote all of my time and energy to it. I don't have anything else," she said on Sunday when launching her leadership bid.

Previously a minister for children, a government chief whip and an Education Minister, she seemed destined for an economic profile when Fianna Fail was returned to power in 2007.

Instead, she was demoted to Social Welfare Minister and Tourism Minister when Brian Cowen took over the Fianna Fail leadership.

She could yet receive a boost this week if Micheal Martin is crowned leader of FF and she is appointed his deputy leader.

Such an appointment would mark a turnaround in her recent fortunes and position her to start rebuilding the party she allows herself to be consumed by.

Irish Independent