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Pat Breen, T.D. at the Eighth referendum count at the Oakwood Arms Hotel, Shannon. Photograph by John Kelly.

Breen retiring from politics

EVEN as it was apparent that he was going to lose his seat, Pat Breen cut a relaxed figure at the General Election count centre and this week he announced that he will not be returning to political life in any guise.

The Senate is very often the next target for those who don’t get to the Dáil but the Ballynacally man said it’s not for him. “There was huge pressure on me to run for the Senate from party members in Clare and from colleagues but I kind of made my mind up. “Here I am, at this stage of my life and if I don’t do something different now, I’ll never do it. I want to do something different, rather than stay in a political career. I’ve served 20 years in politics, 18 years in the Dáil, and I’ve left my mark on the county. I think it was Barack Obama who said once, ‘Never fear the future, shape the future’.

“I hope over the last 20 years I shaped something in Clare. I think I helped shape the county in the work I’ve done on jobs and infrastructure and my other work. I think I leave a good record after me and I’m proud of it.”

He first won a Dáil seat in 2002, while he retained it in 2007, 2011 and 2016, before falling short earlier this month.

With the Dáil arithmetic as it is, there is a good chance that there will be another election within months. Mr Breen believes he would win a seat if he ran again but says he won’t put his name forward. “People were urging me to stay on and saying if there was an election again in a short period of time, I’d have no problem in getting back. I believe myself I would win my seat again if I stood but sometimes you have to make these decisions, look at what’s in the best interests of your family and yourself and what you want to do in life.

“I made the decision a few days after the election that I wanted to do something different in life. I’ve a lot of experience gained in my roles as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as Minister for Trade and Business. I’ve met a lot of people down through the years and I think all that stands to me.”

He said he leaves politics with no regrets at all, other than that the two women who worked in his constituency office are now also out of a job.

While he lost his seat less than a fortnight ago, he said people have already made approaches to him about taking up a new role. “I’m looking at all the options at the moment; a few people have been on to me. I’m weighing up those options and at the moment, I just want to get a bit of a breather after the election.”

While he was not returned to the Dáil, he says he is proud of his time there and feels he delivered for the county. “As far as I am concerned, I worked very hard, my office worked very hard. I worked very hard as a minister for four years and I enjoyed every bit of it. But there comes a time in your life when you need to step off the stage. I thought now is the opportunity for me.

“I regret the fact that I’m not a minister any more because I know while I was there, I delivered a lot into the county in terms of infrastructure projects and jobs. I hope there will be a [Clare] minister in the new government but I’m not sure there will be.”

In the days since losing his seat, he said he has been very active and is adjusting to a fairly big change in lifestyle. “Since the election, I’ve been quite busy actually. First of all working to close down the office; 18 years of working there, you don’t clear that in two days. There’s a lot of regret for my clients. The two women working there are very upset that people are still ringing but, unfortunately, I’m not an Oireachtas member any more and I can’t deal with people’s queries.

“I’m spending more time with the family. There’s not as much pressure on me, even though I’m still a minister. I’m travelling to Brussels next week to represent Ireland at an EU meeting. It’ll probably be my last one in Brussels.

“I felt I made a big difference with the task I got from Leo Varadkar in preparing companies for GDPR; getting companies to embrace digital technology was part of my portfolio, I’ve gained a huge amount of knowledge and experience in trade and business on a global stage. It’s something I hope to use,” he concluded.

About Owen Ryan

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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.