AT the centre of Irish politics for over three decades, veteran politician Máirín Quill was honoured with a civic reception last night ahead of her retirement from public life.
Handpicked by former taoiseach Jack Lynch, the Kerry-born Cork city councillor became one of the first women to win a Dáil seat in Cork for Fianna Fáil before going on to become a founder member of the Progressive Democrats.
She also played a pivotal role in the educational, artistic and civic life of her adopted city, while all the time promoting the role of women in politics.
Máirín Quill was born on a farm in Kilgarvan, Co Kerry, in September 1936, into a family of staunch Fianna Fáil supporters.
One of four children, she later moved to Cork where she taught English and history in St Vincent’s girls’ school on the city’s north side.
She joined a Fianna Fáil cumann sonn after Jack Lynch was elected taoiseach. With the 1977 general election looming, Lynch was anxious to bring young people and new blood — particularly women — into the party.
After impressing him with her performance on the current affairs programme, Seven Days, and thanks to a new Fianna Fáil candidate selection process, he backed what would ultimately became her controversial addition to the party ticket to contest the election in the Cork city constituency.
She was up against political heavyweights like Peter Barry and the then lord mayor, Sean French, Gus Healy, Pearse Wyse and Lynch himself.
Not surprisingly, she failed to win a seat but came sixth in the five-seat constituency. Using that experience, she contested the 1979 local elections and won a seat in the North East Ward — a seat she has retained ever since.
She contested the 1981 general election in Cork North Central but again failed to win a Dáil seat. But within four years, she would shoot to national prominence.
Following talks with Des O’Malley and Mary Harney, both of whom had been expelled from Fianna Fáil, they would set up a new political party, the Progressive Democrats, in 1985.
She stood as a PD candidate in Cork North Central in 1987 and was one of 14 PDs who were elected to the 25th Dáil.
Other prominent party members included Michael McDowell, Geraldine Kennedy, Stephen O’Byrne and Pat Cox, the party’s first general secretary.
She retained her seat in 1989 and 1992, but lost out to Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher in 1997.
She was subsequently nominated by former taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to the 21st Seanad.
She won her council seat in Cork North East again in 1999 and 2004. She will not contest the forthcoming June local elections.
Ms Quill cheated death in 2006 when an-out-of-control bus careered into the car in which she and her sister were driving along Cork’s Wellington Road, close to Ms Quill’s home.
She suffered multiple fractures and spent several weeks in hospital and received a standing ovation when she returned to City Hall four months later, walking with the aid of a crutch.
Her few regrets include the demise of the Progressive Democrats and never having served as lord mayor — because of a pact between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour — which sees the chain of office rotate between the three main parties.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved