Patricia Mc Kenna
PATRICIA MC KENNA

Political Development

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Profession/ Current priorities

Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments




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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Patricia Mc Kenna

Political Development

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.
She 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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Party Affiliation

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.
The 1999 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.
So 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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Profession/ Current priorities

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 week.

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Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments

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:
    1. lack of confidence;
    2. not wanting to take on a job they think they might not be able to live up to, and;
    3. the fact that they may find it difficult to combine a career in politics with their family commitments.


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