Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
There was no direct family link with political life however her father as she described was a very active and strong trade union representative. While she would say this did him no favors in his career Deputy Barnes attributes her sense of the need to right things and her activism to his Trade Union background. She would describe Dr Garret Fitzgerald a past leader of Fine Gael as someone she strongly admires and someone who was a strong supporter of her when she tried to break into politics. Other role models were women activists such as Betty de Van and Bella Abzug.
It was through her direct knowledge of women's needs, in particular through the informal gathering of a women's group during her time running a playgroup from her home when her first child was 2 years old, that Deputy Barnes became politically active. She would attribute her time on CSW - Council for the Status of Women (since 1995 National Women's Council of Ireland) as a turning point in her career path where she had to decided between doing a Teacher Training course or become more active in the CSW.
There have been no disruptions in the Deputy's career aside from initial difficulties in getting on the ticket and passing at convention and then being elected in a constituency where FG already had very strong candidates. Her perseverance, she says, simply paid off. She is now 64 years of age and describes this as her final season in politics.
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When she first became active in the party Deputy Barnes was strongly supported by the then leader Dr Fitzgerald. He felt it was essential to have diversity in your representation. Fine Gael would see female candidates as crucial in political life.
While mentoring is not a formal process within Fine Gael supports are in place for new candidates etc. Deputy Barnes also points out to the supports extended by other women politicians, from other parties. Women do it differently and sometimes this can threaten the male approach. "What scheme or plan are you women hatching there" etc.
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A scholarship student Deputy Barnes had first hand experience of exam stress and the pressure on young people to achieve. The examination for Mathematics was her direct experience of "going blank" however she believes that all happens for a reason and obviously third level academic career was not for her. She pursued a course in journalism, business studies which also provided for secretarial skills and moved to London where she was working in in-company training. She appreciated the money and attitudes of London and following a brief time back in Ireland she returned to London to work on the Stock Exchange - a time when women were not allowed on its floor. Deputy Barnes briefly worked in publishing and when offered a post as reader she decided to return to Ireland at a point of Now or never.
Back in Dublin Deputy Barnes worked in a Fish Merchants where her language and secretarial skills were fully used. During this time she was one of the co-founders of the National development Trust that ran a lottery to raise money for Cottage Industries. She also worked with a printers that to this day publishes the Dail Reports. While unusual for the time, she was allowed to stay on even after getting married however she had to leave this position when she was 5 months pregnant.
As a mother working in the home she became involved in women's discussion groups and ran an at home playgroup. Having direct experience of post-natal depression and being told by her doctor to "pull yourself together woman" she believes support groups and the opportunity to speak and swap stories is crucial. She launched the Support Group for women with Post Natal Depression.
Her career path then led to the Council for the Status of Women (now the National Women's Council of Ireland) which offered an opportunity to influence change on women's issues such as childcare, education, health, access and violence.
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In addition on the inside to ensure visibility and the critical mass Deputy Barnes believes that Positive Action is crucial. While she has seen many changes over the years with women making great strides in other areas of life she describes politics as almost the "Cinderella". She would attribute this to the model of political life of the past where male politicians have had "wives" as a crucial support system not just for home and family but central in the local constituency and political work. In addition women find this a hostile environment which is still male dominated - examples such as the members bar and the adversarial approach with partisan attitudes. Deputy Barnes says that while this is improving in Irish politics she likens the past approach to "bold boys in a school yard". There certainly is much more order now. This approach of scoring points is not acceptable and women are totally alienated from that. Women are not hecklers or insult traders.
If the critical mass of 1/3 is achieved change will follow. While we are seeing improvement Ireland is as yet a far cry from this critical mass. Visibility in the parliament is key.
There has been an attempt to mainstream gender equality and women's rights across all political decision-making. This is a positive move but only alongside positive or affirmative action. For example Women's Rights is only a sub-committee in Ireland. Deputy Barnes feels that we still need the gender focus. An initiative in the European Parliament spearheaded by Belgium and Germany promotes Women's Rights committees to be committees in their own right and have established an EU wide Network to promote this strategy. She is hopeful that this will be the case in Ireland following the election of the next Government.
The pressure needs to be maintained by National Organisations and those organisations supported under EU or other projects - need positive action alongside mainstreaming approach. NOW was one major mechanism, the National Development Plan Equality proofing strategy has enormous potential. The Employment Action plans and the Fourth Pillar are magic words. However words are not enough and it is the weakest pillar at present. There is a need to keep pressing to strengthen it.
Gender proofing of Structural funds with each Government Department will be crucial. UN and Beijing +5 are also critical. This Beijing Platform for Action has been a sharp learning curve for Ireland but the value of like-minded countries networking cannot be underestimated. Deputy Barnes says that the Women's Rights sub-committee plan to go to Beijing +5 in New York in June 2000, funding pending and following approval.
In an ideal world - one of the biggest blocks are the hours and how we do the business. She would remove the late night sittings. She respects the fact that rural politicians prefer to sit late and have 3 days but there must be an alternative approach.
Deputy Barnes says that the Committee system is improving this gradually. However to attract young people into politics Ireland needs to explore other models. For Example in South Africa there is one week committees/one week in assembly/ on week local/one week for briefings etc. Time each week in National chamber is seen as essential. A possible approach could be specified segments of time, or where delegates from each party are represented at crucial times. There is a need to study Scandinavian and the new Scottish model which has glowing reports about its success. They seem to be getting it right.
Deputy Barnes is very optimistic about the future. Change is happening at a greater speed that she ever imagined when she started in the 70's and 80's. Women will be the architects of this future. We have pushed flexi-time which was rejected initially until the benefits were noticed. Then Job-sharing the same. Such changes in a working world where a value is now placed on quality of life and where family friendly partnerships are crucial are all being pushed by the next generation. Models are being created that have never been created before. The Quality of life and focus on priorities are far different now. The power share between men and women in relationships is becoming much more balanced. 2010 will be a very different world - for the better.
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