Pauline Flanagan is seeking a number of firsts in the upcoming General Election – as she bids not only to be the first female TD to ever represent Laois but also the first female to win a seat for Fianna Fáil in the Laois-Offaly constituency.
She’s also hoping to be the first ever Portlaoise-based Fianna Fáil TD.
After lining up alongside her running mates Sean Fleming, Barry Cowen and Peter Ormond at the party’s official launch in the Tullamore Court Hotel last Saturday, she held her own launch in O’Loughlin’s Hotel in Portlaoise on Thursday evening.
And there was a good buzz in the room as former President of the GAA Liam O’Neill and chairman of the Portlaoise Fianna Fáil cumann Tony Flanagan spoke highly of Pauline and urged her supporters to put everything behind her campaign in the remaining couple of weeks.
Her son Frank – a member of the Laois senior hurling team and a dual player with Portlaoise – acted as MC while she was also joined by her husband Gerry (a teacher in Portlaoise CBS) and her other son Paul. Her daughter Meghan was unable to attend due to her college commitments in NUI Galway.
Her brother, Fr Seamus Madigan, who is chaplain of the Irish Defence Forces was also in attendance.
A native of Croagh, just beyond Adare in West Limerick, Pauline has been living in Portlaoise for the last number of years and works as a lecturer in Public Relations in IT Carlow.
She first entered the political space when she was co-opted to Laois County Council in 2018 following the death of the long-serving councillor Jerry Lodge. That followed a long and fractured battle in the Portlaoise cumann and she duly failed to win the seat in last year’s Local Elections.
That loss was referenced by Liam O’Neill in his address, who was also an unsuccessful candidate for the party in those elections.
“Portlaoise hasn’t had the representation over the years in Fianna Fáil it. It has batted below its weight.
“Over the years we have consistently voted for people in the other half of the constituency to our own detriment. It’s about time Laois Fianna Fáil asserted itself and elected two Laois candidates (for Fianna Fáil).
“We have a candidate who has embraced her Laoisness … we need people who will stand up for Laois.
“Pauline you have shown yourself to be resilient and this country needs people who are strong and resilient. Pauline has had her knocks in the last 12 months, as I have had, but you need to get up and get going.
“And what I really admire about this woman is that she has put that behind here and says she has learned from it. I bet she has. Because there is no better school day than election count day when you find out.”
Ms Flanagan said it was “a privilege” to be in a position to run for Fianna Fáil and praised party leader Micheal Martin for his support of women in politics.
A total of 160 women are running in this election (31% of all candidates) with Fianna Fáil leading the way with 26, up from 22 four years ago.
Female candidates must make up 30% of a party’s team or they will lose funding. And this figure is to rise to 40% in 2023. The main parties only scraped over the 30%.
At the last election in 2016, Fianna Fáil elected six first-time female TDs – Fiona O’Loughlin from nearby Kildare South, Niamh Smyth in Cavan-Monaghan, Lisa Chambers in Mayo, Mary Butler in Waterford, Anne Rabbitte in Galway and Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony in Cork South West.
Although O’Loughlin had been a councillor for over 20 years and Smyth for seven, the other four had only been elected to their local county council two years earlier.
Pauline Flanagan is hoping to follow in their footsteps.
“I am absolutely passionate about this campaign,” she said, “but passion and pride can only take you so far. You also need ability and ladies and gentlemen, I am able.”
Addressing the issue of Portlaoise Hospital – when she hit out at the failure of her namesake and Fine Gael rival Minister Charlie Flanagan to secure the hospital’s future – she also said an opportunity exists to develop a university in the midlands.
And she dismissed references to her being a ‘sweeper’ candidate for the party.
“There has also been reference to maybe that my role is as a sweeper and to sweep up to the votes for the other three Fianna Fáil candidates to get in. Let me be very clear about one thing … I’m definitely no sweeper”.
“The time is now for us all to put Fianna Fáil into its rightful place in Government. Put the pedal to the metal to get elected so we can truly make it an Ireland for all.”