|Theresa (Scott) Ahearn|
Theresa Ahearn, who died on September 20th aged 51, caused a major surprise when she emerged on the national political scene in 1989. Not only was she a woman TD for the rural Tipperary South constituency, at a time when women politicians were still attempting to establish themselves in the Dáil, but in addition she had unseated the long-serving sitting Fine Gael TD - Brendan Griffin. She went on to make her mark in a number of frontbench positions, and, had she lived, would almost certainly have served in ministerial office if Fine Gael returned to power.|
Theresa Ahearn was one of a new breed of female politicians in the 1990s, committed to a feminist agenda of equality, but also concerned with a wide range of social and economic issues. She was an assiduous constituency worker and an impressive Dáil speaker, using public speaking skills nurtured while a member of Macra na Feirme.
She was born Theresa Scott, from Golden, Co Tipperary, the youngest of three boys and three girls. Her parents, John and Catherine Scott, were farmers and strong supporters of Fine Gael with a background of involvement in the Blueshirts. Michael Collins was a family hero. Theresa Ahearn was the product of a tranquil, Catholic Church-dominated rural life of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which she would later recall as secure but with the disadvantage of being unquestioning. Her mother believed her daughters should have careers, which they would retain when married, and Theresa Ahearn became a teacher after graduating from UCD with a BA in history, economics and mathematics.
She taught in Navan while studying for her Higher Diploma in Education in St Patrick's College, Maynooth, before returning to Tipperary to teach mathematics at the Central Technical School in Clonmel. She joined Macra na Feirme, mainly because she loved debating, and she met her husband, Liam Ahearn, a farmer from Grange, near Clonmel, at a debate in the local hall in Bansha, Co Tipperary, in December, 1973. They were married three years later. When she thought of joining a political party, it was, inevitably, Fine Gael. Apart from her family background, she was impressed by Dr Garret FitzGerald, who had been her tutor in UCD. She attended her first party meeting in the local hall in Grange, in 1979, and was soon a constituency officer.
The following year, she sought a seat on the Fine Gael national executive, a decision which led to what Liam Ahearn described in an interview with The Irish Times in 1989 as "one of the wickedest campaigns that ever hit south Tipperary".
In the same interview, Theresa Ahearn recalled: "The reception was warm for me as long as I was doing the secretarial work, letterwriting and things like that. But I also began to organise functions, invite guest speakers - things that secretaries had never done in the past."
She won a seat on the executive, with two votes to spare, and went on to become constituency organiser. She was co-opted to Tipperary South Riding County Council in 1983, retaining her seat in the 1985 local elections. In January 1989, she broke with tradition and announced that she intended seeking the Fine Gael nomination for the next general election, which came in June of that year. The six-month campaign paid off: she headed the poll at the selection convention and went on to win a seat, dislodging the sitting Fine Gael TD, Brendan Griffin. She was reelected at every subsequent general election.
Theresa Ahearn found her early days in Leinster House traumatic. In an interview with RTÉ's political correspondent, Una Claffey, for the 1993 book, The Women Who Won, she recalled: "I just couldn't describe to you the loneliness of being in Leinster House when I came here first. The isolation. You'd have to experience it to understand it. One of the main difficulties is finding out what the place is all about. You just have to learn by yourself."
Over the years, Theresa Ahearn was party spokeswoman on energy, labour, women's affairs, women's rights, equality and disabilities. She was chairwoman of the Oireachtas Committee on Women's Rights between 1993 and 1995, and also served on the foreign affairs and procedure and privileges committees. She might have achieved ministerial office in 1994, when the Rainbow Government took over, had she not supported an earlier unsuccessful leadership heave against John Bruton. She later healed the rift with the party leader.
Despite bouts of ill-health in recent years, Theresa Ahearn remained politically active until her final illness. A non-drinker, she rarely socialised with her colleagues. She told Una Claffey that her one indulgence was clothes. She said she loved fashion and thought she spent "too much" on clothes, but added that as a public representative she felt that those she represented, especially women, liked her to look well.
Theresa Ahearn is survived by her husband, Liam, and her sons, Patrick, Garret, Liam and Scott, sisters, Anne and Mary (McGrane) and brothers, John, Eddie and Gus.
Theresa Ahearn TD: born 1949; died, September 2000
| The Irish Times 23 September 2000|