This week marks the first anniversary of the election of the 25th Seanad. Recently, the Advertiser spoke with Athlone-based Senator, Gabrielle McFadden, about her experience of the election and of life in the Upper House.
Senator McFadden began by speaking about her loss in the General Election.
“I was quite devastated, to be honest," she said. "Politics is like no other occupation, you can work your hardest and still lose your job. What’s worse was that the count was on my birthday. But my family were great, they all rallied round and we had a nice family day.
"Then I licked my wounds for a couple of days until it struck me that over the previous 18 months life had dealt me more severe blows than the loss of an election. So, remembering the advice that my dad had often offered - ‘Keep your head up and keep going' - I decided to move on with my life.”
How then did she decide to run for the Seanad?
“In the days that followed there was much comment in the media about the future of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. I texted all my friends in the Parliamentary Party to say that it was not the time to wash our linen in public. Several of the contributors at their meeting referred to my text, in particular Leo Varadkar, who said ‘I have a text here from Gab McFadden and I’m going to read it out - because she’s right’. That night I got loads of texts and calls from my former colleagues urging me to run for the Seanad.
"I was also conscious that there was now no Fine Gael representative at national level to look out for Athlone. I had been working on a number of projects, such as the cycleway, the new Garda barracks, Centerparcs, and Coosan School, and I wanted to ensure that they were delivered. So, I spoke with my husband, Brian, and within days we were on the campaign trail.
"By coincidence, Brian had broken his shoulder and couldn’t work, so we both headed off to meet the electorate - all the County and City councillors in the country. We spent a month on the road, visiting every corner of the country, with Brian as navigator and me driving. We were like Thelma and Louise!
"Although it‘s a very tiring campaign we thoroughly enjoyed it. We met some fantastic people, saw some amazing places and had some great experiences. I even remember one evening where we ended up herding goats out of a community centre.
"In the end, I was honoured to be elected to the Cultural and Educational Panel. Seanad Éireann is different from the Dáil – you can speak more passionately and on a greater variety of subjects because you’re not just confined to local issues. I also feel that legislation that starts in the Seanad tends to be stronger as it gets a better level of debate."
Senator McFadden says she was further honoured when Enda Kenny asked her to be Government Chief Whip.
"Perhaps he saw in me someone who could build relationships," she says. "The Whip is responsible for negotiating with other parties and Senators to ensure that legislation gets through the House appropriately and on time, for scheduling what is debated, for ensuring that there is a quorum and that Government Senators are present whenever there is a vote, as well as serving on procedural committees.
"It is a full-time job in itself on sitting days. I was also delighted to be appointed as Spokesperson on Defence as I have always had a particular ‘grá’ for the Defence Forces. My grandfather was a Sergeant Major in Custume Barracks and when I was growing up, our kitchen on Connaught Street overlooked the parade ground.
"The past year has been a busy one, but I have really enjoyed it and I look forward to the future. My passion in life, even before I was in politics, was Athlone and that has not changed. From pioneering ‘Destination Athlone’ to working for city status and for a technological university, I want to be there, in whatever capacity I can, to fight for my home town – to fight for Athlone.”