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Sinead Moriarty: Michelle and Cherie know score on life in not-so-fast lane

The news that Eamon Gilmore's wife has got a new job is causing consternation and irate questioning from opposition leaders. Why? Let's look at the facts and while we're at it, let's give the woman her own name, Carol Hanney. She has been appointed to the role of policy specialist at the Department of Education.

This is a job that she is more than qualified for. Ms Hanney is currently the chief executive of the Vocational Education Committee which is being disbanded next year. Having worked in the education system for 37 years, Ms Hanney is not exactly a blow-in.

Were she going from being a nurse to CEO of the HSE, we may understand the uproar. But with 33 VECs being merged into 16 education and training boards, it's obvious that some of those CEOs were going to be redeployed to new positions.

Isn't a politician's wife entitled to an independent career unhindered by that of her husband? In our enlightened world you would think so, but on closer inspection it doesn't seem to be the case.

Look at Michelle Obama, who sweated and toiled to go to college, and not just any college, she went to the Ivy League Princeton.

She then went on to become a fully qualified and accomplished lawyer, but now she spends her time digging vegetable patches in the White House garden and telling fat kids to stop eating McDonald's.

When her husband decided to run for office, her career took a back seat, because the truth is that voters want to see the first ladies of politics standing by their men and not out-working and out-earning them.

Look at how Hillary Clinton was pilloried for getting so actively involved in public policy. The public were unaccustomed to the first lady having a central role in the running of the country, and her involvement was thought to be inappropriate.

Poor Eleanor Roosevelt must be turning in her grave as first ladies around the world give up their long and often illustrious careers to support their husbands.

Roosevelt was determined not to be sidelined when her husband was elected to the White House in 1933. Unusual and trail blazing for the time, she insisted on having a role that was not merely ceremonial. In an era when few women had careers, Eleanor was heavily criticised for continuing with hers. During her 12 years in the White House, she maintained a heavy work schedule, speaking out on the rights of women and minorities.

Sadly, we seem to have gone backwards in our thinking. Instead of supporting first ladies having careers, voters have shown, time and again, that they do not approve. Cherie Blair was criticised for continuing to work as a barrister while she lived at Downing Street. She constantly had to explain and justify her decision. Why?

Any intelligent woman, and these are by and large very smart women, knows that their husband's tenure as leader of the country, or indeed the party, will only last a few years. And then what?

If she has given up her successful and lucrative career to stay at home and support him, what does she do when it's all over and she finds herself at home with an unemployed husband?

Can you imagine living in the same house as the former leader of the free world when the phone stops ringing?! You'd be running out of the house as fast as your legs could carry you to take any job going.

The other problem is that the 'position' of first lady now involves being scrutinised as much for what you look like and the clothes you wear as for what you actually have to say. It is the media that have dumbed down the role. It is the people that have forced these women to wear fashionable clothes and look groomed and poised at all times.

Will anyone ever forget Cherie Blair answering the front door of Downing Street in her pyjamas the day after the election? Should we not have guessed then, how wholly unprepared she was for what lay ahead and how difficult she would find the transition.

It is not easy to live under a microscope, having you, your husband and your family scrutinised on a daily basis. No wonder Cherie Blair wanted to maintain her career. As she explained: "I knew the decisions I was making in the legal world would only affect me. In the political world, if I made a gaffe Tony took the consequences, and it is always worse to hurt the ones you love than hurt yourself."

Instead of criticising these women, we should applaud them, whatever they choose to do. But let's not make it difficult for them to work.

Some of them need it for their sanity and well-being . . . and to pay the mortgage when their husbands get voted out.

Irish Independent