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Miriam Donohoe: As a political correspondent I saw first hand Dail mums' hell

I FULLY understand the pressures of life for women inside Leinster House from my time there as a political correspondent.

I started covering politics when my children were aged 10 and eight. I never anticipated the toll it would have on family life. I had moved from a nine-to-five desk job in a Sunday newspaper to a job which started at ten-ish, and didn't end sometimes until 10pm, often five days a week.

I remember many a night calling childminders to plead with them to stay late, and juggling schedules so I could fulfil my job commitments.

There was one evening in Leinster House when a male colleague announced he was going home early to mind the kids. Guess who kept her mouth shut and was left holding the fort? Simply because I felt if I asked to go home to be with my children it would have been a black mark against me.

It's a shame to lose such a young and able woman as Olwyn Enright from politics.

Her decision is a huge loss to Fine Gael -- which needs as much talent as it can get right now. But crucially, we need more women in politics in this country because they are so outnumbered by men.

But it is no big surprise to me that she has opted out.

The truth is, Dail politics is not a family-friendly profession whether you are a man or woman.

But being a mother creates a plethora of dilemmas for women in politics. Despite the commitment of many dedicated house husbands, women continue to be the primary carers when it comes to rearing children.

Deputy Enright's circumstances are a bit different to other female TDs. She is married to another rural deputy and the geographical issues compound matters with them both serving constituencies hundreds of miles apart.

But she is by no means the first talented female politician to fall by the wayside for family reasons. Mildred Fox, Independent TD for Wicklow, didn't run for election in 2007 as she had three young children.

Former PD TD Liz O'Donnell has spoken about the pressures she felt rearing teenage children when she was a busy Minister for State at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Tanaiste and mother-of-two Mary Coughlan is only able to manage her hectic political schedule as her husband is based near home and does a lot of the child minding.



CHANGE

What a refreshing change it would have been if Deputy Joe McHugh, the Fine Gael TD for Donegal North East, announced yesterday he would not be standing at the next general election for family reasons, rather than his missus?

It would have made more political sense for Deputy McHugh to take the bold step to become a full-time house husband as his wife enjoys a much higher profile than he, and has made a significant contribution to political debate in the Dail.

Dream on. Of course this was never going to happen and once again we are facing the tired old question -- can you be a mother and hold down a job in Irish politics?

So what's to be done?

Some basic reform of the Dail would take away the late nights and the toll that takes on family life.

The Dail does not sit on Mondays and Fridays and sits until 10pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays -- a throw-back to the days when many TDs also held council seats. The dual system is gone and there is no reason why the Dail could not sit from 10am to 6pm Monday to Thursday.

Deputy Enright made it clear that being a rural TD and the mother of a ten-month-old baby with one more due in December was just not compatible.

"Whatever I do I want to do it right and give 100pc. And I can't give 100pc to both," she said.

Her honesty is admirable.