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PROFILE: rebel who rejected her parents' political party and stood up to authority

Roisin Shortall has always been a bit of a rebel. As a schoolgirl in the Dominican College on Eccles Street in Dublin, she sometimes got into trouble for not wearing her uniform. When the head nun asked for a guarantee that the girls would behave, Roisin's response was, "I can only promise that I'll try."

Now Shortall has proved once again that she is not a woman to be easily pushed around. Last night's resignation may have sent shockwaves throughout the Labour Party -- but, given her past history, perhaps the really surprising thing is that she stuck it out so long.

Born in 1954, Shortall comes from a strong Fianna Fail family in Drumcondra. Her father had fought on the republican side in the Civil War and later served as a Dublin city councillor. She was passionately interested in politics from a young age, but rejected her parents' party.

Shortall attended UCD, where she says that she felt alienated because she was a northsider and a loner. She trained as a primary school teacher and spent many years educating deaf children.

Shortall did not join Labour until she was 33, but after that her progress was swift. She was first elected to Dublin Corporation in 1991 and became a TD for Dublin North-West in the 'Spring Tide' just one year later.

Shortall strongly opposed Labour's merger with Democratic Left in 1999, the move that brought Eamon Gilmore into the party. After the general election defeat of 2002, she openly criticised Ruairi Quinn's leadership and refused to serve on the front bench. She then ran for the top job herself, but came last.

When Labour entered government last year, Shortall desperately wanted to be in the cabinet. Instead, she became a junior health minister under James Reilly -- but it soon became clear that this would not be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

In office, Shortall's two pet projects were the introduction of free primary care and breaking the sponsorship link between alcohol companies and sport. On both issues she clearly felt that her boss was not giving her the support she deserved. By the end, relations had become so bad that the two ministers barely spoke to each other.

Roisin Shortall has decided to go out with a bang, not a whimper. Now the big question is whether or not she will succeed in taking anyone else down with her.


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