Thursday 22 March 2018

Daddy politicians juggle work and fatherhood

Family time: Thomas Byrne with his children Sinéad (5), Tomás (4) and Daithi (2)
Family time: Thomas Byrne with his children Sinéad (5), Tomás (4) and Daithi (2)
Hands full: Damien English with his children Harvey (4), Karla 2 and twins Andrea and Darcie aged four months
Family time: Thomas Byrne with his children Sinead (5) Daithi (2) and Tomás (4)

By Geraldine Lynagh

How do politicans juggle work and fatherhood?

Politics has never had a reputation of being family-friendly, but a number of our TDs and senators have been finding out the hard way that combining their job with their duties as a dad is a never-ending juggling act. As the Dáil and Seanad get back to business after the summer break, we ask some of them how they make it work – and why they wouldn't have it any other way.


Damien English

Fine Gael TD

Father of four

Damien English lives in Meath with his wife Laura and their children Harvey (4), Karla (2) and twins Andrea and Darcie (four months). He's been a Fine Gael TD for Meath West since 2002.

When he was first elected to the Dáil, Damien was single and childless. Life now with four kids under four is very different.

"We get through about a hundred nappies a week," he laughs. "Things are fairly hectic. I'm very hands-on with the kids, so I'm always trying to fit the job in around that. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I would be up in Dublin at the Dáil and I could be working day and night. The other days, I'd be working in Meath. But if I can at all, I try to get home for the evening rush. Feeding four kids can be fairly manic!

"I think my job is a lot like running a business," Damien continues. "I make calls and check emails on the move. I've just developed better time-management skills.

"Even with four mad kids, you'd hope to have them down and asleep by 9pm, so I can catch up on work then, too."

Damien goes out of his way to make sure he doesn't miss big events like birthdays, and treats weekends as family time. "I try to keep Sundays free from work," he says. "I bring them to various fairs, and swimming is a big hit with the older two."

He explains to his children why he's sometimes not around, but keeps it simple. "Everything I do is 'a meeting', so they know that," he says. "They've been up to the Dáil and they know I have an office in Navan. Sometimes Harvey will ask why I have to go to work and I just tell him it's a fact of life. I have to earn money to pay the bills.

"I always make a point of being there at breakfast'' continues Damien. "When I first started in the Dáil, I might have stayed in Dublin some nights, but now I always try to get home."

Damien and Laura's families live nearby and are a great help. A busy Dáil term lies ahead, but Damien plans on doing his fair share around the house, as Laura works full-time too.

"We try to split the duties right down the middle. I will definitely do some of the bedtimes. That's important," he insists. "Some weeks I could work up to 80 hours, but so do other people. I don't see politics as being majorly different to other jobs with long hours.

"When I finish up in politics at some stage, I always say I might get a career in logistics or time-management," he laughs. "But it's all great. It's hectic, but it's great."


Michael McCarthy

Labour TD

Father of three

Michael McCarthy lives in Dunmanway, Co Cork, with his wife Nollagh and their children Odhran (4), Fionnan (2) and Aideen (seven months). He was elected as a Labour Party TD for Cork SW in 2011.

Geography dictates that Michael has to spend quite a bit of time away from his family. He travels to Dublin on a Tuesday, often not returning until the Thursday night.

"It is hard to leave the kids," he admits. "Odhran has just completed his first year in pre-school. Sometimes I drop him off there before I leave on a Tuesday morning. I'd like to be around more for those kinds of things, but that's not the way the job operates.

"I think they're too young yet to be aware of what I do," he continues. "They know daddy goes to Dublin, but that's it.

"I'm going to miss birthdays, so now we just celebrate them when I'm around," he says. "If one of their birthdays falls on a Wednesday, for example, we just celebrate it on a Monday or a Friday. I did miss Odhran's graduation day from pre-school this year and I did feel that," he continues.

"But there's no guarantee that anyone in any job would get time off for something like that."

Michael's conscious of spending quality time with his family when he's at home. "The boys are really into tractors and cars at the moment, so we go to a lot of agricultural shows together. You make a determined effort to say today's a day for the kids and spend as much time as you can with them."

Michael enjoys being a TD but freely admits it's not a family-friendly way of life.

"The debate around public life tends to centre on female participation, but it's as difficult for young fathers as it is for young mothers," he says. "Political life and family life are almost incompatible."

Although his children are young, Michael tries to explain his absences as best he can to them. "I tell them I'll be away for a certain amount of days and try to explain why. They know that daddy works in Dublin," he says. "Odhran is at the stage where everything is 'why?' When you think you have an answer that would satisfy the curiosity of a four-year-old, you finish and he asks 'why?' You're constantly looking for more answers!" Michael laughs.

He says he couldn't do his job without the support of his wife Nollagh. "It takes a giant effort. It's difficult, not just at election time, but in the time in between. You just have to get your whole family involved. It would be extremely difficult if you didn't have the support of a partner," he acknowledges.


Thomas Byrne

Fianna Fail senator

Father of three

Thomas Byrne lives in Meath with his wife Ann and their children Sinéad (5), Tomás (4) and Daithi (2). He was elected to the Seanad in April 2011 and also served as a Fianna Fáil TD for Meath East from 2007-2011.

Thomas concedes that it's difficult to combine family life with politics, especially in the run-up to an election.

"It's a very demanding job. We had a by-election here this year and I hardly saw the kids for weeks on end. Only my mother is so close and helps out with the childcare, I wouldn't be able to continue really.

"Ann works as a nurse full-time and I'm often called to meetings at the last minute.

"Thankfully, I can call my mother at short notice and she can help out if something comes up," he continues.

Although politics takes up much of his time, Thomas makes a special effort not to miss important events.

"Sinéad's in senior infants and during the by-election I took time off to go to a school concert. I just said, 'I'm not missing that'," he remembers. "But I suspect it's the same for a lot of families in commuter belts. I wouldn't say politicians are unique in that regard, so I don't want to overplay it. Some people in my area travel 60 or 70 miles away to work in Dublin five days a week. They'd have a harder time than politicians," continues Thomas.

"The only thing with my job is I can be called on at very short notice. You can be up in Leinster House and get delayed by an extended sitting."

Thomas tries to combine family time with the job.

"If there are events on in the community at the weekend, I'd usually bring the kids with me," he says. "It becomes just another family day out.

"They have an idea of what I do," Thomas continues. "Before they went to school, they would have been up in Leinster House a lot more frequently. They recognise me on TV and they know I'm a senator, but I'm not sure they know much more than that.

"No matter where I go, it's always 'daddy's going to a meeting'. That's code for 'daddy won't be around'," Thomas says. "It's just a way of life for them."

As Leinster House swings back into business again after the summer recess, Thomas knows he'll be missing a lot of the children's bedtimes from now on.

"It is difficult," he admits. "You just have to try to compensate (for) it in some way.

"Like a lot of families in Meath, we have a season ticket to Tayto Park and the kids are always looking to go there. You definitely try to do as much as you can with them when you are together."

Irish Independent

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