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'The possibility of losing my seat is on my mind nearly all the time'

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FOCUSED: Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe with journalist Kevin Doyle

FOCUSED: Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe with journalist Kevin Doyle

FOCUSED: Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe with journalist Kevin Doyle

THERE are many things that people might associate with Minister for European Affairs Paschal Donohoe but Kanye West and Jay Z probably aren't two of them.

It's now over six months since he took over his friend Lucinda Creighton's desk inside Government Buildings but while his background music might be different, the decorating has been limited.

A packed bookshelf, a few personal photographs and some bobble-head Star Wars figurines on the window sill is all he uses to mark his territory, but he certainly looks at home.

In many ways it's an uncomfortable time for the 39-year-old. In his political base of Dublin Central he openly admits that he is fighting for survival. Abroad he is fighting Ireland's cause in Europe. And then there is a wife and two young children to think about.

"Most people expect me to lose my seat in the next General Election," he says when asked about the recently redrawn constituency boundaries.

JOBS

"It is on my mind nearly all the time because I worked so hard to get elected to the Dail in the first place. And then with the whim of a pen I lost 54pc of my first preference vote. Far worse things have happened and are happening. Hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Public life is no different."

After the 2011 election, Donohoe thought he had built up a strong support base and never contemplated losing it in one go, but on the flip side neither had he expected to be a minister by now.

"If you had said to me last year 'your constituency is going to look like this in six months time', I'd have said 'that's impossible because all these other things would have to happen'. They all happened. If you also said to me a year ago that I'd end up doing this job, I'd have said that clearly that's not going to happen. I never thought either of these things would happen."

Now he is out of the country most weeks, at a time when he needs more than ever to be seen locally.

Sacrifices have to be made and he says that when it comes to family it can be particularly hard. Donohoe has a boy and girl, aged six and eight.

"When I'm at home in Ireland I drop my kids into school every day and I do all I can to make sure I'm home at dinner times and available at the weekends," he says.

"There are trade-offs in it all. The time that you would have had to do things with your family in the past is not there. But I'm only going to be in this job for a while. You never know how long you're going to be in politics for.

"As corny as it all sounds, I really feel I have a responsibility to the country to do this job as well as I can. I have great responsibility as a dad to my young kids and I do all I can to do that as well."

He concludes that the only way is to "try and keep all the balls up in the air".

"Your kids are then used to seeing you around and that changes when you do this job," he says. That's tough."

But even if his family can adjust to the new lifestyle, can his constituents?

PRESSURE

"The time pressure on you goes through the roof when you come into a role like this, because of the amount of representation and travel abroad you need to do and then the work that needs to be done at home to prepare for that," he adds.

"The biggest transition is going from being a backbencher talking about policy to suddenly having responsibility for it. When you go into meeting rooms, across and right in front of you is an Irish flag and you're sitting behind it representing Ireland."

But he has no qualms about admitting that he still goes canvassing three to four nights a week despite his national, and now international, role.

"I think it's an essential part of my job, not just as a TD, but also as a minister," he says. The voices I have ringing in my ears are the voices of the people who have made terrible sacrifices but also the voices of people who like Europe and have worries about it.

"The best way to be aware of the impact of the bigger picture and the lives of the people we represent is to talk with them."

Having worked on a variety of Oireachtas committees relating to Europe, he says this was his ideal ministry and one that is more relevant than many people realise.

He points to recent EU legislation on mobile phone roaming charges, cigarette packaging and the ongoing debate over a banking union.

"The additional role that Europe has acquired means it is now involved in decisions that change the lives of people in Ireland," he adds.

"Mistakes were made here at home in Ireland during the boom but mistakes were made elsewhere and they were made in terms of the design of things. We are now working on creating things that mean those mistakes won't be repeated or if they are that they won't be as costly for the taxpayer."

He says that without the EU, the past five years of cutbacks and tax hikes would have been inflicted in the space of weeks.

"That would have made an awful situation even worse," he says, adding that his biggest focus now is the formation of the new banking union while trying to maintain balance at home.

"I'm still the ordinary guy living in my constituency," he says.

"I came into politics by choice. I've worked as hard as I can. It's up to the ordinary people to decide whether they want to keep me or not."


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