Long serving TD Connaughton bows out after thirty years

Paul Connaughton, one of Co Galway’s longest serving TDs, will bring down the curtain on a political career of more than 30 years, when he retires at the next election.

Dep Connaughton, who is a Fine Gael TD in Galway East, announced that he will be standing down on Tuesday. He is the longest serving of all Galway’s current TDs - in either Galway East or Galway West - and he is second only to Bobby Molloy in terms of the longevity of his political career.

“I am retiring from politics,” Dep Connaughton told the Galway Advertiser. “I decided on Monday night, but it is something I have been thinking about for a couple of weeks. I have been there since 1977 and that is a long time.”

Dep Connaughton became a senator in 1977 and in 1981 was elected TD for Galway East, holding his seat in every subsequent election. In Garret FitzGerald’s 1982-1987 coalition with Labour he was minister of state for land structure and development.

He also served as Opposition spokesperson in numerous areas including agriculture, social welfare, regional development, defence, and tourism, and was an elected member of the Galway County Council for many years.

Fine Gael stands on the verge of being elected to Government for the first time in almost 25 years and in some respects, there will never be a better time to be an FG candidate than in Election 2011.

“I would have loved to have helped Enda Kenny become taoiseach,” he said. “The Dáil and politics will be a tough place to be but it’s where Fine Gael should be.”

However Dep Connaughton feels that in the current climate, a younger generation of activists and politically minded individuals need to step forward to tackle the problems which are afflicting Ireland.

“The vast majority of the electorate now are younger and they are the ones who are facing such problems as emigration, unemployment, and high mortgages,” he says. “People who are of that generation will understand and be able to deal with those kinds of problems a lot more, so they are the ones who should be seeking election.”

Fine Gael was due to hold its Galway East election selection convention on January 30. However Monday’s announcement by Brian Cowen that he will seek to dissolve the Dáil once the vote on the budget is taken, has meant a change of date to early December is essential. Dep Connaughton’s son, county councillor Paul Connaughton jr, will be seeking the nomination to take his father’s place on the FG ticket.

As Dep Connaughton looks forward to his retirement, what does he view as his achievements in politics?

“In Dr FitzGerald’s government I was a junior minister for agriculture for five years and I had a lot to do with land policy,” he says. “I had personal responsibility for bringing in the installation aid for young farmers, which Fianna Fáil got rid of last year. It might not seem like much now but it was big at the time.”

Dep Connaughton said he has “enjoyed every day” of his political career and enjoyed meeting people at his clinics.

“I enjoyed hearing the stories they would tell you and the way they would tell them,” he said. “I come from a farming background and look forward to doing more of that. I would also like to write down the stories I have heard from people and my own memories of rural life.”

So does this mean Paul Connaughton the politician might be come Paul Connaughton the author? “I wouldn’t go as far as that,” he laughs.

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