PATRICIA MC KENNA
Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
Patricia Mc Kenna
Patricia Mc Kenna is an MEP and is a member of the small Green Party. She is young,
married with 1 small child and is based in the Dublin constituency. She is known
as an anti- establishment voice who cannot be described as the "traditional Irish
MEP". She is viewed as young, outspoken and anti-establishment. She doesn't fit
into the mould of the traditional female politician either. She does not come from
a political family, nor did she rise to the position of MEP after long service to
the party either in local or national politics.
Her interest in politics began
in 1986 when she joined the Crotty - led Constitutional Rights campaign which
successfully demanded that a referendum be held on the Single European Act. From
this, her friendship and consequent membership of the relatively new Irish Green
Party came about. She quickly devoted a large amount of her free time to working
on the Party's issues and campaigns. Being a single, part -time teacher at that
time gave her the necessary flexibility to develop her political involvement. She
quickly rose to being a member of the Green's National co-ordinating committee and
in time became the overall coordinator for the Party. She attributes her rapid
and relatively easy ascent in the Party to the fact that the Party was relatively
small, having bases of support in clusters throughout the country. She went on to
be the first Irish Green elected to the Executive of the European Greens.
unsuccessfully stood for election in the local and Dail elections of 1991 and 1992.
However, her main ambition was to represent the Greens in the European Parliament.
She had long since arrived at the conclusion that a critical MEP was needed in
Ireland. After campaigning for another "critical" candidate, Raymond Crotty in
1989 who failed to get elected, she decided she would run herself in 1994. She
admits that by this stage she had the necessary confidence and belief in her
opinions to put herself forward.
She successfully got selected by her Party,
overwhelmingly beating off three male party members. She points out that she put
in an enormous amount of energy lobbying her party colleagues to select her. She
states that in 1994 on the wave of Mary Robinson's Presidential election, being a
woman was an advantage to her candidature. Also, she believes that her high
profile within the Party due to her longtime commitment to working on the Party's
policies aided her selection.
Patricia then went on and astounded all political
observers and opinion polls into topping the 1994 poll for Dublin having secured
14.5% of the vote. When asked how did she achieve this, she ruefully admits to not
really knowing what happened. She does say that she was helped by her earlier
involvement with various issue-groups across Dublin which added to her credibility
as a serious and long-term candidate. She received huge voluntary commitments from
supporters who erected a very effective poster campaign to those who canvassed
tirelessly on her behalf. While the average European campaign costs in the region
on £70,000, she estimates that she spent the grand sum of £7,000, having taking
out what was at the time, to her a huge loan of £3,000 to cover her costs. In the
1999 campaign, her election costs will total £32,000 approximately, having spent
£10,000 on 1,000 posters alone. The voluntary practical help that was the key to
her success in 1994 wasn't that visible in this election, as people now felt she
could well afford to pay them for their services.
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Patricia joined her Party at a time when it itself was getting off the ground.
While this helped her to rise quickly within the Party, it meant that she had to
learn things for herself. There was no one in the Party to provide her with
mentoring or advice - she had to work for 7 years, campaigning for others,
learning the system before pushing herself forward to be a candidate.
campaign was more terrifying than her debut in 1994. As she says herself, in 1994
she had nothing to lose and everything to gamble. She felt under great personal
pressure to retain her seat. Patricia, along with her party colleague, Nuala Ahern
were the first Irish Greens to be elected to the Parliament in 1994. In 1994,
Patricia along with 2 other women, took three out of the four Dublin European
seats. After this election, Patricia is one of 2 Dublin female MEP's. In her 5
years in the Parliament, she has the best working record of the 15 Irish MEP's.
She has definitely being a critical voice of the European Union in Ireland.
how did she successfully pull off her reelection? Was it the "environmentally
friendly bus" she campaigned in the last days of the election, or was it her
poster which made her look friendly, approachable and efficient, or was it due to
an anti-establishment protest vote by the electorate, or was it her past record as
an MEP that counted in the end ? Who knows! She's not sure herself.
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Patricia states that the life of an MEP is a demanding one, that its a 24 hour, 7
day a week job. She is lucky that her husband's work enables him to look after
their young son Oisin. She states that the main problems of being an MEP is the
enormous amount of travel and overnight stays that it requires. She would like to
be in the same position of the majority of working mothers, to be able to come
home to her family every night. She feels that with all the new technology
available, more of her work, especially for her group's committee meetings could
take place via e-mail, while it would still be necessary to be present for votes
and Parliamentary sessions. She argues that the Parliament's work could be more
efficiently organized than it currently is, and could allow for a constituency
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Her main issues range from protecting women and children's rights and putting
issues such as violence against women at the top of the European agenda, to
arguing for greater subsidiarity for decision-making. She is opposed to
Partnership for Peace, GM foods and nuclear power and wants to improve public
transport to solve Dublin's traffic problem.
Her advice to women choosing a
career in politics would be as follows:
- Devote a large amount of your time to working for the Party - this raises your profile
in the Party and increases your credibility with Party colleagues.
- Joining a relatively new and small political party enabled Patricia to rise quickly
within the ranks of the party.
- Need to have confidence and belief in your own opinions, before putting yourself forward
for party selection and election.
- An enormous amount of lobbying of fellow party members before Party's selection
conventions is required to ensure that you get selected by your Party to represent them
in a forthcoming election.
- In some instances, being a women can aid your candidature.
- In order to get elected , your candidature will be helped by earlier involvement with
various issue groups and community groups in your constituency - it increases your
profile and credibility of being a long term serious candidate with your constituents.
- Voluntary practical help from family, friends and party colleagues is an absolute must -
it can make the difference between getting elected or not. Patricia states that because
the help is offered voluntarily it is often better than paid help.
- Media coverage is vital and its effect enormous. Patricia urges future women candidates
to access as much media coverage as possible. As she says the media plays a huge role in
determining which candidates have serious chances of getting elected. And therefore,
which are worthy of being profiled.
- Being an MEP is a round the clock and demanding job. If you have children you need good
backup from your partner or family members, to provide you with the necessary free time
and flexibility to devote to your career. She adds, you will miss out on a large amount
of your child's development.
- There is no mentoring system within political parties - you are expected to learn how
your party and the political system work through your own "trial and error".
- Standing for re-election for the first time is more nerve racking than your first
election - this is because the threat of losing your seat looms over you, whereas in
your first election you have everything to gamble for and little to lose.
- It is important that your canvassers are well informed on your policy opinions.
- Local party groups would need to organise around specific issues that would bring women
into politics and encourage them to run for election. All the women candidates profiled
stated that there are really good and active women in the party. But when it comes to
getting women to run there is a reluctance on the women's part due to:
- lack of confidence;
- not wanting to take on a job they think they might not be able to live up to, and;
- the fact that they may find it difficult to combine a career in politics with their
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