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joan burton on sexism in the dail and.... her love OF PHOTOGRAPHY

TANAISTE Joan Burton really is a keen photographer.

Her hobby was revealed in the wake of her Dail comments on water protesters using expensive phones to record demonstrations.

But photography isn't a new subject to her, it started when she lived in Africa. Her husband, Pat, gifted her an SLR camera at the time.

She moved to Tanzania with Pat and her then young daughter for three years during the 1980s as part of a development project for Irish Aid which saw her lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam.

"I have quite a number of films from that period," she said.

"In fact recently someone was asking me for photographs of myself in Africa but actually, because I was always the photographer I'm not really in very many of them."

Sitting in the Tanaiste's office in Leinster House, where incidentally, photographers are banned, she laughed as she discussed camera phones once again following her comments regarding water meter protesters and their smartphones last month.

"I'm thrilled to see everybody on their camera," she said laughing.

"I do it all the time myself, obviously not in things like cabinet meetings".

She stood over her point that she was merely outlining to Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger that if there were queries about garda behaviour during protests, it could be easily checked online.

"I was simply being factual to her," she pointed out.

The backlash that built up on social media after those comments she said, opened her eyes.

"I'll tell you what it has really brought home to me is, I see comments on social media and I certainly don't recognise the person I am," she said.

But it did raise concerns for her about how teenagers deal with similar "sharp" words online and she really feels for those who, like she was, might not be the most confident teenagers.

"My own niece was, for instance, really upset about some of the stuff she was reading (online) and I said what was said to me years ago: 'it's like the chatter in the pub at the end of the night'."

Comparisons between the Labour leader and Marie Antoinette have been made more than once.

"I think to myself I'm a politician, I can deal with that," she told the Herald and said she leaves political sniping very much behind her at work.

ABUSE

The Tanaiste touched briefly on the tragic sudden death of Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee who died by suicide in 2012. He had been the subject of severe online abuse in the weeks before his passing.

"I know that Shane McEntee got a lot of this. I remember he mentioned it to me a number of weeks or a couple of months before his very sad death, the intensity [of being a public representative]," she commented.

"There have been quite a few politicians in the Dail who have been quite badly affected by it".

The last election saw a lot of first-timers in the chamber targeted.

"I think it was a surprise just how people, particularly in other parties or groups can be, lets be honest, mean, to other people without thinking about it".

Unfairly described as shrill or sometimes as overly ambitious, she admits it probably has something to do with the fact that she is a woman in what is traditionally a man's world.

Taking up residence in the Tanaiste's office in July was a huge success for the mum-of-one. Her office in the heart of Leinster House is bright and airy.

"It's very... yellow," she said diplomatically. But she has put her own stamp on it to open the spacious room up.

"It was a bit gloomy," she admitted.

Holding down one of themost powerful jobs in Irish politics gives her little down time, but she has learned along the way to make the most of her time off.

"I don't sleep with my iPad under my pillow any more," she joked. "I've learned to deal with it now. But it's still around though - close".

bubble

Leinster House is relentless.

"There area couple of things that I enjoy and that are a bit of a break from politics and the bubble of Leinster house because it is a bit of a bubble," she said.

Fresh air and long walks are her way to clear her head.

"Two weeks ago I walked the canal from Coolmine to Maynooth, not back I must say, I cheated and took the train back".

"One of my styles as Tanaiste and leader is that I live a very normal, ordinary life."

She shops for her own food and clothes like everyone else - and tunes in to RTE crime drama Love/Hate.

"Since I've become Tanaiste watching a full episode of Love/Hate has taken a bit of a back seat," she quipped but said she often spots the crew filming in nearby Castleknock.

The Minister for Social Protection is also an avid reader - on her desk is a copy of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.

The 65-year-old has spoken openly about her adoption at an early age and her subsequent search for her real mother.

She feels blessed to have landed on her feet with her loving family, the Burtons.

Taking the step to search for her birth mother was something that she needed to build up to.

It was about answering that basic Irish question of who you are and were you're from she recalled.

"I know in my own case it took a long time to work up the courage to start that search and I don't think I'm unusual," she said.

"I think you are also worried about what you are going to find out, but at the end of the day what you really just want to know is what's my story? What part didn't I hear?"

For her it was tragically too late - her real mother from a farming family in Carlow, had passed away. But the difficult search has strengthened her resolve to see legislation that will introduce a tracing mechanism for people to find out about their origins.

The veteran politician has a daughter herself, Aoife, who has always been a great support for her and reserves Wednesday for dinner dates with 'mom'.

And what is on the horizon for the Tanaiste? She is going nowhere despite having reached an acceptable age to retire gracefully.

"I'm enjoying this job and as long as I have something to contribute I'll keep doing this job."

hnews@herald.ie


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