'I think he’s here somehow' - TD Helen McEntee opens up about losing her father to suicide

Newly re-elected TD Helen McEntee has spoken of her heartbreak at the suicide of her politician father Shane in 2012.

The Fine Gael deputy for Meath East said her family often wondered where they might be today if the Junior Agriculture Minister had got over his moment of crisis.

Fine Gael's Helen McEntee talks to RTÉ at the Meath East count centre in Ashbourne. Picture: Kinlan Photography.
Fine Gael's Helen McEntee talks to RTÉ at the Meath East count centre in Ashbourne. Picture: Kinlan Photography.

Mr McEntee took his own life at the age of 56 when he was under huge public pressure after the Fine Gael-led government voted to cut funding for a range of public services during the recession.

Shortly after his death daughter Helen, 33, announced she would stand for his seat and got elected in 2013.

Speaking to former President Mary McAleese for RTÉ series All Walks of Life, which will be broadcast Friday, Ms McEntee said: “I think the election itself was – I wouldn’t say a haze – but I decided quite quickly that that’s what I wanted to do. It wasn’t forced upon me.

I just knew before anyone even asked me that’s what I wanted to do.

“The election was hard because you are meeting people and they are telling you stories but as time went on I actually found it very comforting.

“It was probably a challenge because it was so soon afterwards.

“We all talk about him a bit and we have our moments and I know I could certainly talk about him for hours and hours and be absolutely fine and then another day I could think of him and tears will start welling

I think it’s more difficult for some people to talk about when they have lost a loved one particularly when its suicide. For me, I like to talk about him.

Asked if it bothered her that some people might say her dad gave up on life, she said: “I don’t see it that way at all because he’s someone who loved life and that moment, whatever happened, was overwhelming.

“That’s the challenge for us – if he had got over that moment where would we be now?

“He loved life, he loved people, he loved celebrations. I wouldn’t for a second want him to be remembered for anything other than that.”

The former Minister of State for European Affairs, from Castletown, Co Meath, said her mother Kathleen had been a rock during the tragedy.

“Over the years mum has become more of a friend to me as I’ve gotten older.

“She’s been a very, very strong figure in my life always, particularly with dad dying and she’s not someone who has given up on life because she has lost her partner.

She’s someone who gets on with life in the way that she can.

“For me, that’s the way I see I have to do it as well. We can’t change what’s happened but we can be there for each other and once we have our family that’s everything.”

Ms MeEntee, one of four siblings, said she still felt a connection to her father.

“I think he’s here somehow…and I think it’s more if I see a beautiful sunset.

“I visit the grave sometimes and (I talk to him) a little bit if I have something difficult in work or if there’s something going on.

“I have a great team around me and that makes a big, big difference. And I suppose I would feel that dad is there somewhere.”

Wiping away tears she said: “I think of him as part of that team as I’m only there because of him. Yes, he’s part of the team, he’s what started the team.”

Talking about her job as a TD Ms McEntee said: “It can be difficult and you don’t always get the result you want.

“At the same time, when you do it’s a fantastic feeling. It’s an interesting life as well.”

The TD, who made the TV documentary before last Saturday’s general election, chatted to Mary McAleese as they walked along St Feichin’s Way near Fore, Co Westmeath

The deputy asked the former president if she had ever lost anyone close to suicide.

Mrs McAleese replied: “Unfortunately, yes. Too many.”

All Walks of Life is on RTÉ One Friday night at 8.30pm

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