FORMER Westmeath TD Mary O’Rourke has revealed how some of her male ministerial colleagues sniggered when she sought extra funding for education schemes when she was a government minister.
O’Rourke is one of 17 former female government ministers and two former female presidents of Ireland interviewed by RTÉ’s political correspondent Martina Fitzgerald for her new book Madam Politician.
In the book the 19 women collectively reveal for the first time the challenges and triumphs of getting to the top table of Irish political life.
Ms Fitzgerald said: “As a female political correspondent working in Leinster House over the last few years, I’ve been conscious that there are very few women in national politics.
“In writing this book I set out to explore issues such as the enduring focus on women’s appearance, overcoming prejudice and sexism and juggling a career and family life.”
Only 10% of those who have sat at the cabinet table in Ireland in almost 100 years have been women, totalling just 19 female politicians. Ms O’Rourke was first appointed to cabinet by Charlie Haughey in 1987 as Minister for Education.
She told Ms Fitzgerald that she did not mind being the only woman minister although on occasion she had to deal with boyish behaviour.
The 1987-89 minority Fianna Fáil government oversaw a policy of severe austerity politics including in education although Ms O’Rourke also wanted to develop other services including appointing some teachers to liaise with the parents of children who were struggling in the classroom or having trouble with attendance.
When Haughey asked O’Rourke to outline the proposal one Fianna Fáil minister started to snigger at what he thought was O’Rourke’s naivety.
“They were like boys in a school yard,” the former Westmeath politician says.
Looking back, she believes some of her male colleagues thought she would ‘get her comeuppance’ for seeking funding when resources were limited.
But Haughey allowed O’Rourke to proceed to make her case and the cabinet eventually approved two pilot schemes.
Ms Fitzgerald works in Leinster House as RTÉ’s political correspondent.
Earlier this year, she was named as one of the most influential Irish journalists on Twitter. Madam Politician is her first book.
In endorsing the book, Emily O’Reilly, European ombudsman, said Fitzgerald has written “a timely and important contribution to the contemporary reflection on women’s historic and future place in Irish society and public life”.
Miriam O’Callaghan, Prime Time presenter, described the book as “a fascinating and compelling read that couldn’t be more timely”.
Martina Fitzgerald works in Leinster House as political correspondent for RTÉ News and Current Affairs. She has reported on all major political news stories in recent years including general elections in 2011 and 2016, and the marriage equality referendum in 2015 and Eighth Amendment referendum in 2018.
She studied history and politics at UCD, where she was auditor of the Politics Society. The interviewees for the book are Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese, Máire Geoghegan Quinn, Gemma Hussey, Mary O’Rourke, Nora Owen, Niamh Bhreathnach, Mary Harney, Síle de Valera, Mary Coughlan, Mary Hanafin, Joan Burton, Frances Fitzgerald, Jan O’Sullivan, Heather Humphreys, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Katherine Zappone, Regina Doherty and Josepha Madigan.