Monday, January 23, 2012


I don’t think I had ever stood in the Upper Castle Yard of Dublin Castle before. As I entered into the hugely atmospheric space last Friday, images from various presidential inaugurations, the Royal Visit and the iconic scene in the movie Michael Collins crowded into my mind. These fleeting images mixed with the echoes of the Castle’s troubled history but neither took from the understated grandeur of the place.

About two years ago I took a deep breath and decided to publicly disagree with journalist and businesswoman Margaret Ward on the issue of gender quotas in politics, a concept to which I was fundamentally opposed. It was a bloody encounter on Twitter which ended in silence when Margaret asked if I had read the literature on the subject. Needless to say I hadn’t.

I still haven’t read any literature but I have opened my ears to the debate and listened to the rationale in proposing this artificial method of ensuring more women at least make it onto the ballot paper. By the time I arrived at the Castle Conference Centre to attend the How To Elect More Women event I had more or less accepted the (seemingly) consensus view that this is the only way we are going to get more women into Dail Eireann.

The conference, organised by the Dept of Justice and Equality, had lined up an impressive cohort of speakers and was moderated by the wonderful Olivia O Leary. This is not a review of the day’s proceedings but there were a few themes that resonated, a few speakers that were outstanding and a few things that occurred to me.

In the first session we were expecting to hear from (amongst others) Susan McKay, CEO of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI). She didn’t appear – apparently this was in protest at the 30% reduction in funding to the NWCI by the Government. This display of redundant protest struck me as more petulant than effective, particularly as a colleague of McKay’s came along to speak in her place.

Fintan O Toole, was for me, the star of the first session delivering as he did a thoughtful, articulate and engaging speech. He spoke of Ireland being at a critical point in our history. It is time, he told us, to re-imagine a new republic and to begin the process of having an elected parliament that looks like us, with relative representation of women, immigrants etc. He referenced how many women were involved in the foundation of this state with the stark statistic that in the first Dail (95 years ago) there were 23 elected women TD’s ; today there are 25. Fintan finished by stating that the problem of How To Elect More Women is not a case of making women fit the system but rather making the system fit for women.

In the afternoon we heard from Ailbhe Smith, representing the People Before Profit Alliance, who pointed out that along with more women in politics we also need far more women’s voices in media and Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Fein) who finished her rousing speech with a call to arms “quotas are just the first small step.. what we need sisters is a revolution.”

There was one theme of the day’s proceedings that really shocked me. One of the reasons, repeatedly put forward for women’s non involvement in political life is because they weren’t asked? What? I hear you say. Yep, political, smart women including Ailbhe Smith do not enter politics because they were not asked. Dublin South Central TD Catherine Byrne said she only got into politics because she was asked. Ditto with Sandra McLellan (Sinn Fein TD for Cork East). For what other job would women wait to be asked before applying? It’s no wonder our political landscape is so turgid if entry is by invitation only.

The good news is that there are now two active groups working to assist in getting more women elected to our Dail – The 5050 Group and Women for Election and I am sure that this issue of women waiting to be asked is something they will both be addressing.

So what do I think? Well one of the things that stuck me overwhelmingly have listened to all the contributions is that the Irish (and probably British) system of politics is no place for a parent of young children. Sandra McLelland (Sinn Fein) herself a mother, outlined her life. She is in Dublin Tuesday through Thursday (and sometimes Friday) with weekends spent on Constituency work. Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also spoke about the time commitment involved in an election campaign along with the invasion of privacy. It’s a mad system which squeezes a huge amount of energy out of the participants for relatively modest returns. In other words TDs spend a huge amount of time in Dublin, attending functions, meetings etc and ‘debating’ in the Dail chamber. One wonders about time management.

This system must change if we are to work towards the vision of a new Republic with a Dail that ‘looks like us’ as outlined by Fintan O’Toole. But I think it will take a strong cohort of women in the corridors of power to effect this change. So it’s a chicken and egg situation.

One of the possible solutions might be a campaign to target older women to encourage them to enter politics. Women whose children are older are more likely to be able to give the crazy time commitment that’s currently required. Once elected, they could then work to dismantle the archaic system we have and begin to make Dail Eireann a more productive and family friendly workplace which would benefit both men and women. This I am sure would result in our having no further need for quotas as women would see entering politics as something that would fit far more comfortably with their family commitments. So we need the big sisters to do some spade work in order that all sisters may participate.

Almost 100 years ago Ireland was to the fore of women’s involvement in politics. Constance Markievicz won a seat in the 1918 General Election making her the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons (she never took her seat in line with Sinn Fein policy and was unable to attend the 1st Dail either due to her imprisonment). She was re-elected in the 1921 General Election and served as Minister for Labour. She was the first Irish female Cabinet Minister and only the 2nd female Government Minister in Europe. In order to achieve political freedom, the suffragette movement in Ireland were asked to join in the cause of Irish freedom first and that's women's emancipation would follow. It didn't.

100 years later it is time that this debt is repaid. It is long overdue.

with thanks to journalist Carol Hunt for filling in a gap in my own education on women and politics in the early Dail.

Friday, January 13, 2012


For the last two weeks or so I have been struggling to come up with a blog post to mark 50th Birthday. I wanted to write something particularly insightful, witty and wise. Something that would make my readers, think, smile and most of all remember. I wanted to come up with some gems of wisdom which you, dear readers could quote and perhaps use as positive affirmations. I waited for this flash of inspirational wisdom which should accompany great age.

I sat down a number of times and I have about 5 half arsed pieces of nonsense – all sitting in a folder on my PC which is euphemistically titled Fabulous 50. The essays were a lot short of fabulous. It just shows you doesn’t it – good writing just comes – spontaneously... it can’t be forced to arrive to coincide with a particular occasion, birthday or otherwise.

So may I apologise for not having something beautifully moving and insightful to share with you at this juncture. I remain hopeful that the muse will return some time over this coming year and perhaps then I shall write what I wanted to share with you on the 11th of January to mark my half century.

However in the meantime, let me tell you that I am happy to be 50 – unlike last year when I definitely did not like being 49. But 50 is a kind of fulcrum like birthday – not a midpoint clearly, unless I live to be 100 but a kind of peak place from where I can look back over the last five decades and from where I look forward to the next. It is at this point that I could head off into self absorbed baloney... but I will resist that as it would bore you to tears. I will not talk about my journey thus far, or about all the things I have to be grateful for. But I will share with you a couple of small observations which I feel are important!

Life can change in the matter of a couple of minutes. One phone call, one meeting with someone and the entire scenery of your life can be transformed. I know this to be a fact. It happened to me at least twice. So – no matter how bleak things can look, hang on to hope. That old cliché about not knowing what is coming around the corner is true and has as much chance of being positive as negative.

Be open to all the possibilities life can present you. Sometimes the most wonderful opportunities can be hidden in what may not look very cool or interesting at all – think diamonds hidden in a lump of coal. Again – another cliché ‘suck it and see’ works well here. You are far more likely to regret chances not taken than ones taken that didn’t work out.

Never lose your sense of humour. I am firmly convinced that our ability to laugh especially at ourselves is one of the most precious gifts God has given us. If you haven’t laughed in a week you are in trouble. Even in the middle of the most awful crisis and traumas there can be humour. Never, ever be afraid to laugh.

Ok, this is beginning to sound like a sermon, although I seem to be on a roll all of a sudden (hello Muse – where the hell have you been?). Final thought for you and it’s a biggie. Always remember that you are in control of your emotions. We choose how we feel. Get into the habit of taking your emotional temperature throughout the day. Ask yourself ‘how am I feeling’ and if you don’t like it, change it. Choose to smile. Choose to rise above the bullshit. Choose to be optimistic. Choose NOT to be a victim... of the past, or the economy or of your current circumstances.

OK – I could actually go on for ages now... but relax I won’t.

Suffice to say....

My name is Barbara.

I choose to be optimistic and positive (most of the time – sometimes I forget!!)

Life is funny.

I am 50!

By the way - photo is of the very best card I have ever received. It is from Roisin and Mia and was made entirely by Mia, 11. Photo doesn't do it justice!

Monday, January 2, 2012


On Friday it will be January 6th – the feast of the Epiphany, or in the Spanish world Dia de Los Reyes marking the visit of the Three Wise Men to the stable in Bethlehem. Mmmm, I will resist making the obvious witty aside about the improbability of not one, not two but three wise men together, but how ridiculous is it that Mary gave birth in the company of lots of men? Joseph, shepherds and kings? Not woman in sight. Like as if? Perhaps the wise men were originally wise women – although if they were, they definitely would have brought better and more useful gifts.

Here in Ireland, the 6th of January is Nollaig na mBan. A day to celebrate what we women contribute to our loved ones over the festive period. A day when traditionally women would get together, for tea and cake and probably a bit of a gossip!

2011 has brought me many opportunities and has generally been quite a good year. As I looked back I realised that, for me, it was the year of wise women! I am very lucky to have always managed to surround myself with brilliant women, from my mother through to my great girlfriends. These women are without exception clever, funny and intelligent but more than anything they are hugely supportive. These are the friends who have stood shoulder to shoulder with me as life threw flowers and sometimes tomatoes my way. They are there to celebrate successes and pick me up when I fall down!

But in 2011 I seem to have added significantly to my harem of fabulous women. These new Wise Women of 2011 have brought me one precious gift – that of self confidence. Having been at home with young children for ten years, I had the title of Housewife indelibly inked on my forehead and on my psyche. There were numerous occasions when I had to remember that I had designated 2011 as my year of fearless living. Regularly I had to fight to silence the voice in my head which constantly asked me “what the hell do you think you are doing? You’re not a writer. You are not a radio contributor. You are a deluded housewife.” I hear that voice less and less, thanks to some fantastic women who I am going to name check now!

The very first person to take a chance on me was East Coast Radio's Morning Show producer Claire Darmody who got me to come into studio to shoot the breeze on various news topics with presenter Declan Meehan; himself a source of encouragement and regular dispenser of sage advice.

Vanessa O Loughlin of Inkwell Writers and is someone that anyone who is interested in writing should check out. She offers great courses, runs the best writing resource website and is an amazing motivator. She’ll happily and charmingly deliver a kick in the ass to move you on when necessary but never fails to applaud your efforts when you do get writing.

Last but most of all I want to thank the FANTASTIC WOMEN ON AIR COMMITTEE. Let me single out three of said committee for particular mention.

Helen McCormack who also risked me on the Tom McGurk programme on 4FM and who a year ago gave me a regular slot on the (then) Gareth O Callaghan Saturday programme which ran for four months and was a wonderful experience.

Eleanor Fitzsimons befriended me when I knew absolutely no one and has since become a great pal and colleague.

And of course the mighty impressive Margaret E Ward, who terrified me until I met her and realised that she was actually a pussy cat and in true American fashion, a total ‘Can Do’ person. She was saying “yes, we can” way before a certain Mr Obama, I am sure of it.

These Wise Women of 2011 are all professional, busy people. But they all have open minds and a generosity of spirit which allowed me to benefit from their experience and wisdom. They also never failed to cheer me on as I took my tentative steps into the media.

As we head towards the beautiful of Nollaig na mBan I want to publicly salute these amazing women. Mile buíochas dhaoibh go léir.

I recently stumbled across a lovely blog called Sanctuary of Women run by a woman called Jan Richardson in Florida. She wrote this beautiful poem and has graciously allowed me to reproduce it here. I humbly offer it to you my Wise Women of 2011.


Wise women also came.
The fire burned
in their wombs
long before they saw
the flaming star
in the sky.
They walked in shadows,
trusting the path
would open
under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came,
seeking no directions,
no permission
from any king.
They came
by their own authority,
their own desire,
their own longing.
They came in quiet,
spreading no rumors,
sparking no fears
to lead
to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s
inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came,
and they brought
useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came,
at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labor,
crying out with her
in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings
into her ear.

Wise women also came,
and they went,
as wise women always do,
home a different way.


My bad.... things got a bit hectic and exciting immediately before Christmas and I am only now realising that I never picked two winners for my All The Perfumes of Arabia blog post competition.

They are Chris Power Smith and Eleanor Fitz.

If you guys can email me ( your addresses I will despatch your smellies.


Normal blogging service will resume in the next day or so (when the hangover clears!)