By Owen Ryan
THE only sitting female county councillor in Clare has announced she will not be running in May’s local elections.
Councillor Patricia McCarthy has been a fixture on Clare County Council for 35 years and has been on the soon-to-be-scrapped Shannon Town Council since it was founded in 1982.
On Wednesday she announced she won’t be running again and speaking to The Clare Champion she said that when she retained her seats in 2007, she suspected it would be her last time her name would appear on a ballot paper. “It’s been on my mind. After the last election I had indicated to my campaign team that I was standing them down, that I most likely wouldn’t contest the next election.”
She left it late to make an announcement in case she had a rethink. “I suppose I had my mind made up but I was just making sure that I wasn’t going to change it, I was leaving it to the last minute just in case I did decide to contest.”
She ran for the Labour party in the 1977 general election and represented it locally until the mid 80s, when she became an independent. While she was involved with Michael McNamara’s successful Dáil bid, she says she never considered returning to Labour herself, or joining another party.
Society has changed dramatically over the course of her career and she said that an early highlight was seeing a single parent housed by the local authority for the first time.
At that stage rights of single mothers weren’t very high up the agenda. “Oh God no, you were a non-person, you were stigmatised if you kept your child. There have been significant milestones along the way, things that are now taken for granted.”
One thing that hasn’t changed much is that women remain hugely underrepresented in politics, both locally and nationally. “That is the one thing. We’ve been making progress on the Town Councils but not the County Council. We went to six at one stage and you thought we’ve broken through and it’ll be kept up, but it fell back again to where I was the only one.”
She feels many women are put off by the verbosity of politics. “Women like to get things done, not to spend hours talking about it, they just want to deliver.”
Councillor McCarthy said she felt privileged each time she was elected. “As far as I’m concerned the highlight was being elected and being able to represent and serve the people. I was mayor of Shannon and being mayor of the county was an honour that I never thought would fall to me.”
Another highlight was my role in the leisure centre and keeping that open and going from strength to strength, where it’s now a major employer in the area. That was done with the support of the other board members, you’re never doing something on your own it’s always with the support of others and I think we tend to forget that. You never achieve anything on your own you always have to have support.”
In 2008 a complaint about her was made to the Standards in Public Office Commission and even though she was exonerated, it still rankles and she questions the motives of those who made the allegations. “There’s no doubt that being reported to SIPO was what I considered to be one of the low points in my life. My name is always very important to me, my standing and what I do. I’ve always been above reproach as far as I was concerned and it was pettiness that drove that one.”
Not long after she was elected mayor of Clare in 2007 Aer Lingus announced it was pulling its Shannon-Heathrow services, a move which it was feared would devastate Clare’s industry and tourism.
She was in the vanguard of the fight for a rethink, and while the routes were scrapped in January 2008, the airline restored the link subsequently. She says she was very engaged with the campaign at the time, while Shannon Airport has always been important to her. “The airport has always been a major concern of mine. If you have a strong airport you’ll have a strong area and a strong western seaboard. If you’re strong the airport won’t be used as an emigrant departure point. That has always concerned me, I came from Kilrush originally and I saw large numbers of people that I grew up with having to go to England and further afield for employment. My father took the decision to come to Sixmilebridge to be close to the airport where he felt there would be a future for us.”
She says she won’t miss politics that much, although she will miss some of the friends she made through it. She summed up her approach to public representation saying “I’ve always been very grateful and honoured that people have voted for me and stuck with me over the years. I’m a person who speaks my mind and sometimes people mightn’t like that but I have to say what I have to say and get on with it. I try not to insult or hurt people, I try to be mindful and that’s the way I live my life.”