Media blamed as Ireland's first woman cabinet minister quits

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The Independent Online
Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Ireland's first woman cabinet minister since independence in 1921, yesterday stunned the Dail by abandoning her high-flying political career, blaming media intrusions into the lives of her children.

The woman many expected would become Ireland's first woman Taoiseach was runner-up to Bertie Ahern in the battle to lead Ireland's largest party, Fianna Fail, after the November resignation in 1994 of Albert Reynolds.

Her decision not to run in this year's general election is a serious blow to the Fianna Fail front bench, which relied heavily on her polished stateswoman's delivery under pressure.

In a surprise statement she complained at "the increasing tendency to regard as fair game" other members of a politician's family "as if all of them had put themselves up for election".

The final straw appears to have been recent tabloid reporting of her 17-year-old son's involvement in a school fracas. "If his mother had been a homemaker, an architect or a businesswoman, this simply would not have happened," she added.

Among the most articulate members of the Dail, the invariably immaculate Mrs Geoghegan-Quinn, 46, is at least as fluent in Irish, her first language. A best-selling novelist, she is also a broadcaster on the recently established Irish language television service, Teilifis ne Gaeilge. She was a prominent figure in the Northern Ireland peace process in the run-up to the 1993 Downing Street Declaration.

Her most recent cabinet post was at the justice department, where, in a famous confrontation she savaged the outgoing attorney-general, Harry Whelehan, a key figure in an extradition scandal, moments before he was to receive seals of office as head of the High Court from the State President, Mary Robinson.

Daughter of a Fianna Fail politician, John Geoghegan, she inherited her Galway West seat in 1975 after a by-election caused by his death.

Her Dail seat had been held by the smallest of margins in recent elections but this is not thought to have affected her decision. Her party may yet woo her as a candidate for the presidency, if Mrs Robinson decides against seeking re-election when her seven-year term ends in November.