This week I asked Fine Gael TD in Meath Helen McEntee to be my guest blogger. Her story is interesting because not only did she complete the MA in Journalism and Media Communications in Griffith College Dublin, but she then went on to take a seat in Dail Eireann where she now represents the people of Meath. This is her story.
I am an elected representative two years now. It only seems like yesterday when I was walking through the gates of Griffith College, full of hopes and aspirations about what might follow. I was studying a Masters in Journalism and Media Communications and although I was late starting the course I soon found my feet. I had studied Economics, Politics and Law in DCU and English had always been my favorite subject in school so Journalism and Media seemed like a natural progression. I really enjoyed my year in Griffith and although it seemed incredibly short it equipped me with new skills that I have continued to use and develop to this day. I soon found myself at the end of the course and moving on to the next stage of my life.
From a young age I had always had an interest in politics. Growing up both my mum and dad’s families were actively involved in local and national politics, my dad especially. He was a director of elections for several general election campaigns and having put himself forward on more than one occasion he was finally elected to the Dail in 2005. It wasn’t that I consciously decided as a teenager that I wanted to be a politician, but I was always interested in public issues and I used to worry about the world around me! I represented my classmates in Mercy Convent Navan on the school’s Student Council. So, when my dad was elected to represent Meath in Dail Eireann, I took a very active interest in supporting his campaigns and work. Before I had even finished in Griffith College I was working with him. My role as his Parliamentary Assistant was a challenging and exciting role and one that required me to use all the skills I had learned in both DCU and Griffith. The one thing about politics however, is that no amount of study can prepare you for it in real life. I began working in politics during a very difficult period for people in Ireland. The recession was in full force by 2010 and while I was never unemployed myself I was extremely lucky as many of my generation were forced to emigrate as thousands of jobs were being lost every day. The outlook for people leaving college in 2011 was somewhat different to when I first graduated from DCU in 2007.
The recession was a major assault on the aspirations and expectations of people my age, but we were not the only generation that took a hit. The generation ahead of us, many of who bought homes at the height of the boom, were left with huge debts and properties that had halved in value. As a Parliamentary Assistant, I worked on this issue, helping people who found themselves in trouble or assisting my dad in his bid to find a solution to help first time buyers. I was immediately thrust into a public campaign led by my dad to secure support for a different kind of housing problem affecting homeowners in Meath, North Dublin, Kildare and Offaly. The issue was pyrite, a mineral that expands when moist or when exposed to air and which had been used as part of the infill in thousands of homes. The homes were cracking and falling apart, they were worthless and their owners were helpless. This was the first time I would see first hand how sheer determination and will power could get something done. My dad insisted that these people were helped. This has been a priority for me since being elected to the Dail and I was honored to pass into law the Pyrite Remediation Act just over a year ago.
I was very lucky to have worked with someone who was so passionate about what he did. He fought hard for the people he represented and for this reason he was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture following the 2011 general election. This election was the first election I had campaigned on while working with dad and the skills and knowledge I had acquired while in Griffith were definitely put to the test. Part of my duty as a Parliamentary Assistant was to manage my dad’s media and during the election I spent a lot of time writing press releases, putting together election literature and making sure he was prepared for media interviews. Election campaigns are long and they can be very tough, but they are also very exciting and I think perhaps it was during this campaign that I began to start thinking about some day running myself.
I remember very vividly having a conversation with my dad in his Ministerial office in 2012. He asked me if I wanted to run in the next local election in 2014 and said that he would give me all the support he could if it was something I wanted. I had said that I thought it was a bit too soon and that I wanted to have more experience, I had also decided that I wanted to travel. Politics is not something you dip in and out of, well not intentionally anyway and if I were to be successful and get elected that would be me for the long haul. As far as I was concerned my dad had a long life in politics ahead of him and I certainly wasn’t going to be looking to take his place any time soon.
Unfortunately my dad died suddenly on 21st December 2012. My life has changed forever since that day and I very quickly found myself in the middle of another Dail election campaign, only this time I was the one running. The way I saw it I had two options, I could walk away and not have any more to do with politics or I could run and if successful continue the fantastic work he had carried out over eight years. It was an extremely tough campaign for so many reasons but I don’t regret doing it for a second.